Please fill out this short user survey of only 3 questions in order to help us improve the site. We appreciate your feedback!
Financial Distress Research Project
Last registered on August 18, 2017


Trial Information
General Information
Financial Distress Research Project
Initial registration date
August 17, 2017
Last updated
August 18, 2017 4:33 PM EDT

This section is unavailable to the public. Use the button below to request access to this information.

Request Information
Primary Investigator
Harvard Law School
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
University of Maine School of Law
PI Affiliation
University of Connecticut Law School
Additional Trial Information
On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
In the United States, low- and moderate-income (“LMI”) individuals experience personal financial crisis through the lens of law. Small claims court debt collection, bankruptcy court, and contract negotiations with creditors dominate the experience. But LMI individuals are priced out of the private attorney market, and resource constraints prevent free legal services providers from offering traditional legal assistance to all LMI individuals in financial distress. The result is a challenge: propose and test ways to provide low-cost self-help legal assistance to LMI individuals in financial distress. This study assesses legal and financial outcomes of LMI individuals when randomly assigned to two treatment contrasts. The first treatment contrast is a set of innovative, behaviorally informed, cartoon-based self-help packets covering the legal aspects of financial crisis versus a traditional attorney-client relationship with a legal aid attorney covering the same scope. The second contrast is “live” financial counseling (Internet or telephone call, as required by Congress to obtain a bankruptcy discharge) versus financial counseling delivered via a paper packet. Outcome variables include litigation results from court files; credit scores and over 200 credit attributes from a credit reporting agency; and survey responses focusing on financial knowledge and stress levels. Each of the four cells in the saturated design will have 300 subjects. Available cost information will facilitate efficiency comparisons.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Greiner, James, Dalié Jiménez and Lois Lupica. 2017. "Financial Distress Research Project." AEA RCT Registry. August 18. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.2140-1.0.
Former Citation
Greiner, James et al. 2017. "Financial Distress Research Project." AEA RCT Registry. August 18. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2140/history/20589.
Experimental Details
In the United States, low and moderate-income (LMI) individuals must navigate financial crisis through the law as they engage in bankruptcy, litigation defense, and/or contract negotiations with various creditors. Unfortunately, there is systematic location available for legal help. And existing self-help materials are ordinarily difficult for LMI individuals without legal training to use. Three examples of structural problems in such self-help materials are: 1) failure to address behavioral and psychological barriers preventing LMI individuals from taking effective action, 2) fixation on explaining concepts and defining jargon rather than providing a holistic set of instructions and 3) refusal to implement consensus principles on learning from the adult education and public health literature. From a literature review, the researchers hypothesize that with several interventions, LMI individuals can avoid financial distress.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Prevailing in the debt collection lawsuit and by how much, credit score and composite measures of 200 other credit attributes, bankruptcy filing rates, new access to credit markets, survey data, etc. The result will include a panel dataset of repeat observations of about 400 variables that reflect each study participant's legal and financial profile over six years.

The result will include a dataset of about 4000 variables that reflect each study participant's legal and financial profile over six years.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The design centers on individual credit card debt collection defendants in Connecticut small claims courts who all have received a telephone number which serves as this study's entry point. Researchers then obtain consent and record 80 variables on the participant's financial profile. Additionally, they will obtain up a survey that focuses on legal/financial knowledge and measure stress levels. Via randomization, individuals are assigned to one of two treatments out of treatment contrast #1: 1) cartoon-based legal self-help packets or 2) an offer of representation from an attorney. The self-help pack is the study's primary intervention as it employs hand-drawn cartoons, self-affirmation, algorithmic instructions for various legal situations and lessons on how to convey this information. Treatment contrast #2 includes counseling via 1) self-help packet and 2) MMI, a counseling provider. Thus, overall individuals are randomly assigned to one of four groups.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Computer generated
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
1,200 individuals
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
300 for each of the four groups
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
Harvard University
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number