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How do you Choose a Financial Counselor or Coach?

No matter where you are in your financial life, chances are you could benefit from financial education and support. Even in today’s environment of instant access to information, people often have trouble knowing what information to trust and who to turn to for financial advice.

In last month’s column, we covered the “alphabet soup” of professional accreditations that you are bound to encounter when searching for a financial professional. Different people have different needs. Understanding the “alphabet soup” is crucial, but it’s equally important to evaluate your situation to accurately determine your needs.

The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education® (AFCPE®) is one of the most respected organizations offering certifications in the field of financial counseling, coaching and education. AFCPE® is unique because it works to ensure that individuals and families, like yours, can navigate the “alphabet soup” and have access to the highest standard of financial advice, at any stage of life.

For individuals and families who don’t know where to begin, Accredited Financial Counselors® and Financial Fitness Coaches™ are great resources. Both types of professionals can help you get your financial bearings, tackle an immediate financial crisis, overcome debt, grow your savings, manage student loans, build a sound financial foundation, and even refer you to a different type of trusted financial professional when your needs change.

Before selecting a financial professional, here are some important questions to ask:

  • What experience do you have? Ask for a brief description of financial professionals’ work experience and how it relates to their current practice. Do they have strong experience helping people in a situation that is similar to your own?

  • Is there an oversight body requiring ongoing education and ethics? Ask about the credentials your professional holds and learn how he or she stays up to date with current changes and developments in the personal finance field.

  • What services do you offer? Credentials, licenses, and areas of expertise are all factors that determine the services a financial professional can offer. Financial counselors and coaches do not sell insurance or securities products, such as mutual funds or stocks. They also do not typically offer investment advice unless registered with state or federal authorities.

  • What is your approach? Make sure the professional's philosophy and approach aligns with your needs and values. You also may consider your financial professional’s personality and communication style. Standard wisdom on seeking the advice of financial professionals often overlooks the importance of personal compatibility.

  • What types of clients do you typically work with? Some financial professionals prefer to work with clients whose assets fall within a particular range, so it's important to make sure that the counselor or coach is a good fit for your individual financial situation.

  • How much do you charge? The financial counselor or coach should be able to provide you with an estimate of possible costs based on the work to be performed.

  • How will I pay for your services? Financial professionals can be paid in several ways. As part of your written agreement, your financial counselor should make it clear how they will be paid for the services to be provided.

  • Do others stand to gain from the financial advice you give me? Ask the professional to provide you with a description of any conflicts of interest in writing.

  • Ask for more background. Consider requesting a referral. Also consider asking whether the professional has ever been disciplined for any unlawful or unethical actions.

By becoming an informed consumer, you can choose a financial counselor or coach who is the best possible fit for your financial situation and your life. Whether it be an Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®), a Financial Fitness Coach™ (FFC™) or another reputable certified financial professional, asking questions is a necessary first step to making the best choice to meet your needs and goals.

UP NEXT: Taking a closer look at Accredited Financial Counselors®: Who We Are and What We Do.