Need One-On-One Help With Money? Try a Financial Counselor

A couple get financial advice from a financial counselor.
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There are times when money hurdles can feel insurmountable.

Despite your best efforts to get on the right track financially, you just can’t seem to chip away at the debt, stop your poor spending habits or raise your credit score.

That doesn’t mean you’re destined to be bad with money forever. A little one-on-one help from a financial counselor might be just what you need to turn things around.

What Is a Financial Counselor?

Financial counselors are trained professionals who work with you to resolve the roadblocks you have with money.

“Oftentimes they are going to be helping people with the basics of money management — like getting people on their feet [and] making sure that they’re creating a realistic spending plan,” said Rebecca Wiggins, executive director of the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education.

Financial counselors dig into their clients’ challenges, fears, anxieties and stressors regarding money, she said. They draw connections between people’s emotions and the financial behaviors and patterns that crop up as a result. They’re trained to practice empathy and to be sensitive to the role cultural and religious backgrounds play in clients’ money stories.

From there, financial counselors give advice to improve their clients’ situations based on their unique goals and needs.

“They’re going to help clients with things like building credit, repairing damaged credit, making a budget [and] trying to move toward financial wellness,” Wiggins said.

An accredited financial counselor (AFC), specifically, is a professional who has completed coursework outlined by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, has passed an exam and has agreed to adhere to a code of ethics. AFCs must also complete continuing education to maintain their accreditation.

Financial counselors differ significantly from certified financial planners or financial advisers who often work with higher-income clients to manage investment portfolios and build wealth. Financial counselors, on the other hand, tend to work with low-to-middle income clients to resolve the more day-to-day concerns.

If you need help getting out of debt or making sure your expenses don’t exceed your income, a financial counselor is who you’ll want to turn to.

How to Find a Financial Counselor

Financial counselors work in a wide range of settings including banks, credit unions, college financial aid offices, nonprofit agencies, community-based organizations and private practices.

The financial counselors you’ll find at a bank, school or nonprofit will generally serve their communities at little to no cost to individual clients. Wiggins said counselors who operate their own practice will often offer a fee-based service, with rates that vary.

“Sometimes they’ll offer a sliding scale based on the client’s income,” she said.

The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education has a portal on its website where you can search for a certified professional. You can seek out an AFC in your state or one that provides virtual counseling services.

When seeking out financial counseling, Wiggins said it’s important to make sure the individual you’re working with has credentials from an oversight body that requires the counselor to adhere to education requirements, professionalism and other standards.

The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education also recommends vetting potential financial counselors by asking about their experience with similar clients and requesting referrals.

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Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.