To find free financial advice from a money professional, Americans can turn to a number of resources. Pro bono providers range from the Financial Planning Association to the federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
That should be welcome news for the millions of Americans who continue to be stressed about the state of their personal finances. For many, COVID-19 has disrupted their source of income, resulting in mounting debt, unpaid mortgage or rent, and the inability to fund emergency expenses such as medical bills.
“The need for financial advice is great,” says Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner and CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, based in Maryland. Cheng says the three most frequently asked questions she’s heard since the COVID-19 crisis erupted in March 2020 are: How do I file for unemployment benefits; how do I manage my cash flow, including which bills to pay; and which of my financial resources can I tap for money?
Hiring a dedicated certified financial planner, or CFP, who can help you heal your ailing finances is the best medicine, but it’s costly, too. That makes it out of reach for most financially strapped Americans.
Fortunately, a growing number of certified financial planners are volunteering their time and services to help those in financial need at no charge. Even better, those financial professionals are no more than a phone call away (or a few clicks of a mouse).
Here’s where Americans can look for free financial advice from a professional:
— Financial Planning Association
— National Foundation for Credit Counseling
— Foundation for Financial Planning
— The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
— The Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education
— Savvy Ladies
— Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
— Department of Housing and Urban Development
Before working with a pro bono financial professional, it’s wise to check whether you qualify to receive free advice. Some organizations may limit their services to underserved communities, low-income folks, military personnel, people with disabilities or other communities.
Financial Planning Association
The Financial Planning Association is the the largest community of CFPs and the principal membership organization for more than 22,000 certified financial planners. Providing free, no-strings-attached financial planning guidance to those in need has been a hallmark of the FPA since its organization in 2000.
Its COVID-19 Pro Bono Financial Planning Program provides a list of about 80 CFPs throughout the country.
Advice seekers can click the pro bono program’s link to contact a CFP in their area. If you work with a CFP, you’ll be asked to complete a letter of engagement that outlines the terms and expectations.
National Foundation for Credit Counseling
Through a national network of member agencies covering all 50 states and U.S. territories, you can schedule a free, one-on-one consultation with an accredited counselor who will conduct an in-depth review of your finances, discuss the challenges standing in the way of affordable debt repayment and provide a range of solutions.
“Paying off the debt isn’t the only benefit of the program,” says Bruce McClary, senior vice president of communications for the NFCC. “What differentiates a debt management plan administered by the NFCC from a for-profit company is that it’s coupled with ongoing financial education, coaching and guidance from a financial professional. This is not what you would get from a for-profit debt-relief company or if you file for bankruptcy.”
Foundation for Financial Planning
Since 1995, the nonprofit Foundation for Financial Planning provides the means to quality financial planning on a one-on-one basis to those in need, pro bono.
The FFP’s grants fund opportunities for personal interactions between volunteer financial planners and people in need. Its Consumer Resources page offers a bevy of free financial planning resources, such as workbooks, worksheets and helpful links to help people understand and improve their financial health.
National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many financial professionals to give back to their communities by providing free financial advice. Members of NAPFA, which represents fee-only advisors, are waiving their fees and helping those in need.
It has a growing list of nearly 50 CFPs in 21 states (some of whom are also available through the FPA’s website).
Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education
The Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education, in conjunction with the Wells Fargo Foundation and the nonprofit military assistance group Yellow Ribbon Network, are offering free virtual counseling and coaching sessions, and free COVID-19 financial resources, with accredited financial counselors and financial fitness coaches.
You don’t need to be a member of the military to participate. Sessions are virtual and free.
With 3,000 volunteers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Savvy Ladies provides access to unbiased, independent advice by certified professionals for women of all ages and backgrounds.
This 501(c)(3) nonprofit has served 20,000 women, providing a variety of services including webinars, online courses and its free financial helpline. Fill out a helpline request form with your question, and you’ll be connected to a volunteer financial expert. Each question is limited to one phone call.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program through Benefits.gov provides free tax help to those who make $54,000 or less, or people who have disabilities, the elderly or are limited-English-speaking taxpayers.
Volunteers, who are IRS-certified, provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Department of Housing and Urban Development sponsors housing counseling agencies throughout the country that can provide advice on a variety of housing-related issues, from buying a home to foreclosures and credit issues.
How to Start Finding Free Financial Services From a Professional
Before reaching out to a pro bono financial advisor, it’s important to first take stock of your current financial situation:
— Assess your finances. Organize your paperwork and list your assets and debts to determine the state of your finances.
— Access your free credit report. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to retrieve your latest credit report for free. The three credit-reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are continuing to offer free weekly online credit reports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
— Visit reputable personal finance news resources. Read personal finance resources, including U.S. News & World Report and its financial advice content, for the latest financial news.
— Go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for answers. The CFPB isn’t just for filing consumer complaints. It’s also a repository of vetted, reliable financial advice and education tools, backed by the U.S. government, for Americans to access free of charge. “It’s very stressful when you’re facing financial challenges and not knowing where to turn,” says Desmond Brown, assistant director of consumer education for CFPB. “We want to help people lower their stress.” Brown’s Consumer Education department offers, for example, a concise primer on credit counseling, as well as a report differentiating between nonprofit and for-profit credit counseling services. Ask CFPB gives clear, impartial answers to hundreds of financial questions, and Your Money, Your Goals helps people increase their financial knowledge, skills and resources to meet their money goals.
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