Stressed About Money? 4 Free Resources for Financial Advice
Does the thought of figuring out your finances during the COVID-19 pandemic leave you so stressed out you end up doing nothing?
Yeah, that’s bad. But I get it.
So do a lot of financial advisers, and that’s why many are volunteering their services.
Not on commission, not a flat fee. For free.
And the best part? They can help you navigate the resources available to you and even practice what to say if you need to call one of your lenders.
Here’s how to find legitimate financial advisory organizations that are ready to help.
How to Find a Free Financial Adviser
Whether you’re struggling to pay the bills or unsure how to reach your financial goals in this new normal, professional financial advice can help you get through the pandemic.
Why Do You Need Financial Advice?
Maybe you’ve never talked to a financial adviser before. Maybe your job hasn’t been affected by COVID-19 (yet). Or maybe you simply don’t think you have enough money to even bother managing it.
Consider this a free chance to change your mind.
“Even if you just have a couple questions — if you think that’s not for me or I don’t need all that — take advantage of the opportunity to get with professionals who are there for you,” said Rebecca Wiggins, executive director of the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning.
Having direct access to an adviser can help you get personalized answers more quickly than having to explain your situation each time you call a lender, noted Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
“People who are experiencing a short-term hardship… in most situations can get the answers they need in that first interaction,” he said. “The experience you get connecting to a counselor will likely be very different than the experience you have had connecting to the customer service department with your credit card company.”
And unlike your auto loan lender or credit card issuer, an independent adviser can offer unbiased opinions about your options.
By using your time with an adviser to get all of your questions answered, you’ll be so much better prepared to speak to a lender about skipping a payment or requesting a hardship program, McClary said.
“This is your opportunity to have a dress rehearsal for all the conversations you have to have with your lenders,” he said. “Because the stakes are so high in those conversations, you really should talk to a non-profit financial professional before you have those discussions.”
4 Resources for Free Financial Advice
The following professional and non-profit organizations offer free financial advice. We’ve included how to contact them and what you need to expect from the service.
1. Accredited Financial Counselors
The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education is a nonprofit organization that offers financial counseling, coaching and education.
The group is currently matching applicants with approximately 500 counselors and coaches across the country through its AFCPE portal.
Stick with our list of organizations. If you get a cold call — by phone, email or text message — offering financial advice or free money, do not give out any personal information. It’s likely a scam.
There are no qualification requirements to participate in the initial consultation or follow-up appointments, all of which are free.
“We anticipate more people are going to come to us because they have questions and concerns related to money issues related to COVID,” Wiggins said. “But anybody who has questions around money management — who is dealing with debt, credit, any kind of financial insecurity — they can use this opportunity.”
2. Financial Planning Association and Foundation for Financial Planning
The Financial Planning Association has assembled a network of more than 60 Certified Financial Planners to serve underserved communities — including low-income individuals or families, military personnel or veterans, domestic violence survivors and people affected by natural disasters, serious medical crises and bankruptcy.
Pro bono services are typically available through the non-profit organizations the FPA works with, but due to the pandemic, direct consultations are available through a list of volunteer Certified Financial Planners, according to Jon Dauphiné, the CEO of the Foundation for Financial Planning, an organization that provides grants to FPA to support its work.
In addition to FPA, Dauphiné suggested checking out other foundation grantees in your area.
“Some of our programs can go on for six months to a year, and there’s a kind of mentoring and coaching that goes along with the planning,” he said. “We’ve seen some amazing results — people who came in drowning in debt who at the end of about a year were able to make a down payment on their first home at the age of 60.”
3. National Foundation for Credit Counseling
With a nationwide network of 57 agencies, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling is extending free consultations to anyone affected by COVID-19.
Before the session, gather relevant information like your income, debts and top financial challenges to expedite the process and allow your counselor to determine the best course of action, McClary noted.
“It’s no different than going to a doctor for a checkup,” he said. “There’s a fact-finding portion of the appointment, and then there is the part where they offer treatment options.”
You can set up an appointment with a credit counselor by registering at nfcc.org or calling 844-865-1971.
The XY Planning Network is an organization of financial advisors who specialize in working with Gen X and Gen Y clients.
It currently has 91 advisors offering pro bono advice to those who’ve been affected by COVID-19. To find an adviser, use the XYPN portal to narrow the adviser specialty to “coronavirus relief” to get the full list.
If a financial hardship is affecting your bank accounts — think: late fees and overdraft charges — check out these banks offering assistance for customers affected by coronavirus.
Use the “contact” button on a profile to reach out to the adviser directly and let them know in your initial contact that how your finances have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
What You Shouldn’t Expect From a Free Financial Adviser
If you’re seeking recommendations for how to handle increased expenses due to the pandemic, how to reconfigure your budget due to a job loss or general guidance about managing your money, the advice from a financial counselor can be invaluable.
However, if you have more complex financial questions about investments, the free advisers won’t offer more than general advice and will direct you to contact the organization that set up your investment, whether it’s the 401(k) provider through your work or the adviser who sold you the investment products.
And although advisers can answer your questions and provide guidance, they may not be able to solve all your financial problems in a single call. But they could provide the guidance you need to get your finances back on track and weather this crisis.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.