Athletes have coaches. Actors and singers, too. So what about consumers? Should your everyday wage-earner have the advantage of professional advice to hone his performance? A recent brief from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that answer is a resounding yes.
First, what is financial coaching? It's not financial counseling, which is usually more narrowly focused on resolving a problem such as a low credit score or an outstanding debt. Nor is it financial advising, which involves choosing the best investment vehicles. Financial coaching is a more broad-based form of education that helps individuals identify their financial goals then lay out concrete plans to reach them. The ultimate goal is to create consumers who are self-sufficient, competent managers of their own finances.
And it seems to work.
The CFPB report, released earlier this month, looks at two studies and concludes that attending even one financial coaching session can have an appreciable effect on the financial health of low-income or middle-income workers. Study participants created budgets, lowered their debt, increased their savings, and were less likely to be delinquent on their bills than those who did not receive coaching. It should, perhaps, come as no surprise that such little intervention can have such outsized effects, given how rarely the basics of personal finance are taught in public schools.
If you think you would benefit from financial coaching, a few things to keep in mind:
•There is no official license for financial coaches; anyone who wants to call himself a coach can do so and sell his services under that title. There are, however, certifications that can indicate a professional has been trained as a coach. Look for coaches who have been certified by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education or the National Financial Educators Council.
•You shouldn't have to pay. Sure, there are those who would offer results for a fee, but many nonprofit financial education organizations also offer access to free coaching. In Massachusetts, contact MassSaves for up to three no-cost sessions with a certified coach.
•Look for a partner, not an instructor. A coach should listen to your needs and desires and work with them, rather than simply telling you what to do. If you find yourself working with a professional who doesn't ask for and engage with your ideas, it might be wise to find another coach.
Got a consumer question or complaint? Reach Sarah Shemkus at firstname.lastname@example.org.