Although people often conflate the roles of financial counselor and financial advisor, the two professions differ slightly. Financial advisors, on the one hand, are paid to provide advice concerning insurance policies, retirement accounts, investments, and more, and to set up accounts, policies, and portfolios as requested. Advisors, as the name implies, advise. Financial counselors, on the other hand, work with clients to address their financial issues, provide debt counseling, and help them learn how to better manage their finances on their own. So a person looking to invest their hard-earned money and plan for future retirement would probably go to a financial advisor. Someone who is drowning in debt and has no clue how to dig their way out and get on track for a healthy financial future should see a financial counselor instead. And if the latter appeals to you in a professional sense, there’s no reason not to pursue a career in which you help people to overcome their debt problems and get back on track for success with their finances. But how do you go about earning the title of financial counselor?
There are a couple of ways to reach your professional goals. First and foremost, you should know that becoming an accredited financial counselor does not necessarily require you to complete a four-year degree program. You should, however, start with a good head for numbers and a background in mathematics. If you’re not good at math, you may not be well suited to straightening out financial tangles. From there you’ll want to seek out an accredited program that is recognized within your industry, such as the one offered by AFCPE, or Association for Financial Counseling , Planning, and Education.
In order to become accredited in financial counseling through this organization you must complete several steps. You’ll start with coursework, after which you’ll be required to complete two examinations, earning a minimum score of 70% before you may move on. Once you have passed your exams you will be required to complete 1,000 hours of related experience, which could include services like counseling clients and training other counselors, just for example. You will also have to agree to uphold the code of ethics prescribed by the AFC, as well as provide letters of reference (from a supervisor, a colleague, and a client) before you can officially become an accredited financial counselor and get to work.
Of course, you could also attend a financial program at a college or university that offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance. Or you could become a CPA, but that may be education overkill for this type of profession, considering you can become certified to practice in as little as six months to a year if you so choose. And once you have completed your training and met all requirements, you can begin helping those in need by unsnarling their financial snags and helping them learn to better manage their own finances down the line. It may not be quite as exciting as taking a job as a financial advisor, setting up investments and life insurance policies with a firm like Diamond Consultants, for example. But it can provide you with the challenging and rewarding career you crave, as well as the opportunity to make the lives of your clients a little better.