When Should You Seek Financial Counseling?

By:Denise Keiser AFC®, Counseling Programs Manager

Financial Counselor On The Phone With A Consumer

No matter your income level, chances are that you’ve had a financial misstep sometime in the past, perhaps more than one. Maybe you’ve had an overdrawn checking account or maxed out a credit card. Or perhaps you’ve experienced a financial hardship that led to late payments, medical collections, foreclosure, or bankruptcy. More commonly, these days, you may have overwhelming student loan balances. All of these are ideal reasons to reach out to a Financial Counselor. And many of these real-life examples bring clients to BALANCE for guidance in navigating these sometimes complicated financial matters.

However, seeking the advice of a Financial Counselor isn’t just for those who’ve experienced a financial blunder in the past. For clients looking to accomplish financial goals, counseling can be a supplement to what they already know. There is no shortage of financial goals these days. But, the challenge with financial goals is that many clients don’t know where or how to start. For example, clients come to BALANCE with questions like “Is now is the right time to buy a house? Should I pay down debt or start saving for retirement? How much is enough for a financial cushion in case of an emergency? How much should I contribute to your retirement account?”

And then there are the life events that surprise us, the good and bad ones. For example, sudden death may leave a family in debt with insufficient income. On the other hand, a loss of a loved one may also lead to a surprise inheritance. Positive life events like marriage and kids lead to many other financial matters like saving for a house, kids’ college, or long-term retirement savings.

How does Financial Counseling Help?

Financial Counselors are certified professionals who educate and guide clients to help them achieve financial goals. The process requires refined skillsets that include genuine curiosity, active listening, sincere empathy, problem-solving, and client collaboration. Financial Counselors are topic experts and deliver advice and education to clients.

Beyond education and advice, Financial Counselors fill a gap between know-how and can-do when guiding clients to achieve financial goals. Most clients come to BALANCE with some basic knowledge of financial topics, which they may have acquired from the good-ole school of hard knocks, friends, or family, or a simple Google search. While these informational sources provide a basic understanding of the topic at hand, they may not be enough to encourage the necessary action to achieve many financial goals. Clients often need innovative ways to apply the knowledge they already possess. Financial Counselors collaborate with clients to develop specific action steps to help them move closer to accomplishing their financial goals.

What does a Financial Counselor do?

Who better to tell the story of Financial Counseling than our financial Counselors? As part of BALANCE’s ongoing training program, we recently asked Counselors to evaluate their roles as Financial Counselors. We asked Counselors, “what does a Financial Counselor do?” Here is what they had to say:

  • “Financial Counseling is the art and craft of understanding a clients’ finances, helping the client understand them better, and empowering the client to make informed financial decisions and create financial well-being.”Daniel Andaya, AFC®, Financial Counselor Team Lead.
  • “We provide one-on-one Financial Counseling that helps our clients overcome obstacles and guides our clients on how to improve their Financial Health.”Manny Diaz, CFC®, Financial Counselor.
  • “Financial Counseling helps clients explore their budget and finances to empower them to have more control and understanding to achieve any financial goal they set their mind too.”Cris Murillo, AFC®, Financial Counselor.
  • “Financial counseling is the business of educating individuals from all occupations about how to get the most out of their finances via communications, knowledge, options, resources, planning, and reevaluations. Financial counseling builds a relationship on mutual respect and unconditional positive regard.”Omar Wells, CFC®, Financial Counselor.


What is the “secret sauce” of Financial Counseling at BALANCE

If we compare Financial Counseling to a favorite gourmet meal, the “secret sauce” that makes Financial Counseling at BALANCE a “gourmet” service includes ingredients like accountability, encouragement, and collaboration. Financial Counselors empower clients to be successful by helping them identify and eliminate roadblocks and guiding them to achieve their financial goals.

To be successful, Financial Counselors acquire knowledge more profound than the basics of personal finance. They possess various counseling skillsets, including actively listening to understand the client’s knowledge levels and identify client needs. Listening to understand rather than respond is no easy task, and it’s one skill that BALANCE Counselors excel in.

Other required skills include a sincere empathy for clients and the ability to pose powerful questions that help clients identify financial behaviors that may impede their success in achieving financial goals. Financial Counselors regularly employ open-ended questions and statements during sessions like “What else? Tell me more. What’s one “aha” from this conversation? Or What’s one small step you can take in the next week?” Such probing questions invite clients to explore financial behaviors and provide feedback that allows the counselor to measure their ability and willingness to take the necessary action steps that will likely guide them closer to achieving their financial goals.

Below are two examples of how Financial Counselors apply these “secret” ingredients during counseling sessions:

  • “I create a safe place for a client to discuss their financial goals and their hardships and obstacles to achieving those goals. I assist the client in organizing their income and expenses and gently suggest ways to improve their situation while keeping their goals at the forefront of the conversation. I encourage the client and praise them for their progress. I share knowledge and answer the client’s questions in a way that will benefit and motivate them.”Kelsey Robinson, AFC®, Financial Counselor.
  • “I introduce Balance and who I am. I listen on several levels. I listen with my empathy – feeling the challenges they face, but without taking them on as my own. I listen with my financial skills – what I have learned through BALANCE training and my learning. I listen with my problem-solving skills. I am pretty good at presenting multiple views of a situation, which comes in handy when clients work through problems. I affirm and praise the client’s skills, problem-solving, and resilience. I acknowledge the challenge they may be facing.” Carol Graham, AFC®, Financial Counselor.

How do you know a Financial Counselor is successful?

Based on individualized approaches, Financial Counselors serve each client to help them achieve their financial goals. Financial Counseling at BALANCE employs flexible tactics that can work for many clients with a wide range of financial goals. Clients who receive financial counseling demonstrate:

  • Increased financial goal achievement
  • Effective money management skills
  • Increased savings and credit scores
  • Reduced debt loads
  • Improved financial wellness

More importantly, as Financial Counselor and Team Lead, Jamina Veasey, shares below, Financial Counselors are successful when clients begin to make more informed financial decisions and know where to go when looking for financial advice:

  • “Ultimately, a Counselor’s success is how well they can improve an individual’s financial well-being. Overall, a Counselor has made an impact if they were able to build a relationship where clients know they have someone reliable to count on for financial guidance and help carry out life challenges.”Jamina Veasey, AFC®, Financial Counselor and Team Lead

Want to learn more about Financial Counseling at BALANCE?

Contact us, the Partner Relations Group, at Partner-Relations@balancepro.org for more information and pricing for implementing a financial counseling service at your credit union, bank, or place of employment.

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