Disclaimer: In order to make Wealthtender free for our readers, we earn money from advertisers, including financial professionals and educators who pay to be featured on our platform. Learn more about how we make money.
Are you feeling overwhelmed by debt, unsure how you’ll pay all your bills this month or simply uncomfortable talking about money? You’re not alone.
Fortunately, there are thousands of financial coaches and counselors across the U.S. who offer affordable services to help people tackle their debt and improve their financial well-being.
While there’s generally not an educational or licensing requirement to become a financial coach or counselor, you may want to consider hiring one who has earned financial credentials that demonstrate their knowledge and dedication to the profession.
Of all the professional designations to look for when hiring a financial coach or counselor, the Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) certification is regarded as one of the most highly respected credentials in the industry.
In this article, we’ll help you learn more about the AFC certification, the nonprofit organization behind the AFC and if hiring an AFC may be right for you.
What is an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC)?
An Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) is a financial professional who teaches their clients sound financial principles so they can achieve their short and long-term financial goals.
AFC certification is earned through a combination of experience and educational requirements set forth by its issuing organization, the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE).
The AFC curriculum helps candidates become experts on topics such as budgeting, debt management, mortgages, estate planning, retirement, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and personal income taxes. The curriculum also ensures candidates are well-versed in consumer debt and gain a strong understanding of financial counseling, consumer fraud, and debt reduction strategies. And deeply personal and emotional topics including bankruptcy and divorce-related financial issues like child support are also covered.
Graduates of the AFC program learn much more than the basics of personal finance. They receive the extensive knowledge they need to help clients work through financial roadblocks and opportunities so they can live higher quality lives.
Should You Hire an Accredited Financial Counselor?
An AFC may be well worth the investment if you’re a middle to low income individual or couple who would like to improve your financial situation. And you’re likely to find working with an AFC to be quite affordable or even free in certain circumstances based on your needs.
With an AFC’s guidance, you can:
- Pay Off Debt: If you’re living with the burden of debt, you don’t have to tackle it alone. An AFC can help you design a game plan that’s right for you, so you can repay the money you owe and enjoy a life without high debt payments. You can expect an AFC to share relevant debt payoff strategies so you can choose the right option for your particular budget, lifestyle, and preferences.
- Reverse Poor Money Habits: Poor money habits like spending mindlessly, putting off retirement savings, paying the minimum on your credit card balances, and forgetting to pay your bills on time can lead to a cycle of financial stress. With an AFC, you’ll find it easier to identify these habits, reverse them, and get back on track financially.
- Navigate the Financial Implications of Major Life Changes: If you’ve recently gone through a divorce or are going through the bankruptcy process, you can trust an AFC to get you through these situations that will have a profound effect on your finances.
- Create a Path to Financial Prosperity: Financial prosperity can take away your money stress and help you lead a comfortable life and fulfilling future. An AFC can show you how you can create a plan to achieve it and change your life for the better.
What do Accredited Financial Counselors Have to Say About Hiring an AFC?
Dawn Torres-Gale, AFC®
“Accredited Financial Counselors help clients who are looking to accomplish very specific financial goals, such as having a spending plan that supports their lifestyle and their long term financial goals, or preparing their borrower profile so they can get approved for a mortgage loan.
However, sometimes clients aren’t prepared for the emotions that may arise when working with the AFC and then discover that their feelings are now an unexpected obstacle to carrying out any action plan that the Counselor and the Client might create.
Before meeting with an Accredited Financial Counselor, clients should consider whether they are emotionally ready to do the work that will be required to meet their goals. If not, they should be upfront with the Counselor and discuss whether they think they can work through it or if they need more professional help with someone like a financial therapist.”
Jen Hemphill, AFC®
“Accredited Financial Counselors bring a non-judgmental approach and meet clients where they are in their financial journey. AFCs look at how the client is currently managing their finances and can make suggestions to improve what they are doing to better suit their goals, personality, and lifestyle. Sessions are very personalized versus a one-size fits all approach to money.”
Garrett Philbin, AFC®, CMC®
“One of the biggest benefits of hiring an AFC is that you’ll be working with someone who knows their stuff! Since financial coaching is currently an unregulated field, anyone can say they are a financial coach, hang up their shingle, and start working with clients. While this can be a good thing because so many people need help that more coaches are needed, it’s also important that the person you’re working with isn’t a fly-by-night operation.
AFCs are required to have 1000 hours of experience, pass a rigorous exam, and commit to continuing education each year. These include Core Competencies (defined by the AFCs certifying board the AFCPE) of managing credit & debt, creating action plans, major acquisitions, managing financial risks, estate planning, and more. While this (or any certification) doesn’t guarantee that a coach is ‘good’ at what they do, it certainly reduces the risk that they aren’t good. Not every doctor I’ve gone to has been great, but I certainly wouldn’t go to one who hasn’t been to medical school!
Think of someone who has their AFC as someone who is trained to help you understand your financial situation, where things stand right now, and help you create a plan for where you want to go. Different AFCs have different expertise, such as coaching clients around the emotional/behavioral side of money (like myself), helping people navigate divorce, plan for their children’s college, etc. The AFC is an important designation, but also make sure to ask questions of your prospective coach to make sure they’re the right fit for your situation as well.”
What Does it Take to Earn and Maintain the AFC certification?
Those interested in earning their AFC certification must fulfill certain requirements set forth by the AFCPE. Here’s a brief overview:
There are several ways candidates can meet the education portion of the AFC. They may opt for a self-paced study option, which they must complete within three years from the date they register. There’s also a Financial Education Challenge option and Professional Designation option that needs to be fulfilled within a year of registration. A University program option and Distance Learning option are also offered.
To sit for the AFC exam, candidates must have a minimum of 1,000 hours of financial counseling experience. This may include one-on-one or group personal finance counseling or coaching, curriculum development, and financial counselor management. They may gain this experience while they are preparing for the exam or once they complete it. Any relevant hours they’ve secured up to two years before they registered for the AFC can count as well.
The AFC exam consists of 165 multiple choice questions. It’s administered on a computer in three hours. A score of at least 70% is necessary for candidates to pass and they’ll receive their test results right after they take the exam.
In the event they don’t pass, they can retake it up to five times as long as they wait 30 days in between each exam and pay the retake fee.
Financial professionals who earn the AFC certification pledge to uphold the Counselor Code of Ethics. These ethical standards require that AFCs maintain high standards of professional competency, act with integrity and only accept compensation that is fair and reasonable.
Once a financial professional passes the AFC, they will need to complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years. They’ll also be responsible for a yearly fee to maintain their certification.
What AFCPE Leadership Says about the Value of AFC Certification
We asked AFCPE’s Executive Director, Rebecca Wiggins, to offer her perspective on what distinguishes the AFC certification from other professional designations.
Rebecca Wiggins, Executive Director
“The AFC certification program content covers the entire financial life cycle so that professionals understand how each financial decision impacts another. The content also helps professionals better understand how diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences impact individuals’ money behavior, so they can support individuals and families in developing successful strategies to achieve personal financial goals.”
“The AFC remains the “gold standard” in the industry of financial counseling and education because, in addition to its rigorous education and experience requirements, it also requires participation in ongoing professional development to stay ahead of field changes and to ensure that professionals can adapt to their clients’ evolving needs.”
“AFCPE also offers AFCs and other professionals an incredible community in AFCPE Membership. Membership includes a diverse and inclusive network of professionals working across all areas of financial education, research, and practice. For someone exploring certification, AFCPE Membership is a good place to start, as it also offers discounts on professional development, training, and certification.”
How to Find the Best Accredited Financial Counselor for You
With more than 3,000 active AFC certified professionals to choose from, you’re likely to find several who may be a good fit for you. Not all AFCs are accepting new clients and some may only work with members of the military or clients of a non-profit organization. But many others offer their services within their community as well as online to help clients across the country.
Accredited Financial Counselors Featured on Wealthtender
ENRY Financial Coaching, LLC
For people that are wanting to take control of their personal finances.
How can I confirm the financial professional I’m working with holds the Accredited Financial Counselor Certification?
You can confirm the status of an Accredited Financial Counselor on the AFCPE website.
What if I have a complaint about the Accredited Financial Counselor I’m working with?
If you have a complaint about a financial professional holding the Accredited Financial Counselor certification, you’ll find details on how to file a complaint on the AFCPE website.
Is the Accredited Financial Counselor certification only held by financial coaches and counselors?
No. While many Accredited Financial Counselors are financial coaches and counselors, the certification may also be held by financial advisors and other experienced professionals who meet the AFC requirements and pass the exam.
If I’m interested in becoming an Accredited Financial Counselor, where can I learn more?
Where can I learn more about other professional designations held by financial advisors and coaches?
Refer to this list of popular financial certifications prepared by Wealthtender to help you learn more about each designation. You’ll find a brief description of each certification, plus links to in-depth articles if you want to learn more about a particular designation.
About the Author
About the Author
Brian is CEO and founder of Wealthtender. He and his wife live in Texas, enjoying the diversity of Houston and the vibrancy of Austin.
With over 25 years in the financial services industry, Brian is applying his experience and passion at Wealthtender to help more people enjoy life with less money stress.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.