In their 2008 book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein maintain that the way in which choices are arranged can influence the decisions people make. The authors encourage the use of “nudges” to guide people to make more rational and beneficial decisions. This issue of Cascade explores several topics related to the financial decisions that people make and ways to encourage better decision-making.

For many years, homeownership was deemed the most effective way to build assets — particularly for low- and moderate-income (LMI) households. However, with the economic downturn, many households lost a significant amount of their housing equity and, consequently, a significant portion of their wealth. Ray Boshara and Bill Emmons make the case for greater diversification of assets and maintenance of low debt levels. Dan Hochberg’s article highlights one potential model for asset diversification — tax-time savings programs.

Lisa Servon, a professor at the New School in New York City, recently spent several months working as a teller at a check casher in the South Bronx. Her experience sheds light on not only why low-income households rely on alternative financial services providers but also on the ways in which these institutions engage and serve the LMI population.

After spending almost 30 years at the Federal Reserve, 10 of those as the director of the Federal Reserve Board’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, Sandra Braunstein will be retiring early this year. We hope that you will join us in acknowledging her dedication to advancing consumer protection and community development, and we know that you will enjoy her reflections.

Finally, we are excited to open registration for the 2014 Reinventing Older Communities conference, which features leading research and practice. This year’s conference theme is Bridging Growth & Opportunity. The conference will focus on ways to encourage inclusive growth and create more equitable communities. We look forward to seeing you at the conference in Philadelphia on May 12–14.