By Charlestien Harris
2023 is almost gone, and 2024 will be here before you know it! Most of us make New Year’s resolutions that may sometimes involve our finances. While I stress that budgeting is a crucial part of ensuring financial fitness, there are ways to stretch your budget by taking advantage of highly recommended “free” services that could benefit you greatly.
Sometimes you need help with your finances when you are low on cash. Getting personalized guidance from a financial advisor would be great, but there are plenty of free and low-cost alternatives out there as well. Numerous educational resources, volunteer organizations, and government-run programs are available that offer valuable, unbiased financial advice for free or at a low cost. These are not substitutes for personalized financial advice, but they could provide useful information that helps you see your way to a bigger and better financial picture. Check out my list of suggestions below and see what you think.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
The CFPB is a U.S. government agency “dedicated to making sure you are treated fairly by banks, lenders, and other financial institutions.” In support of its mission, it provides a host of articles, guides, and news reports on the topics of credit cards, debt collection, mortgages, and more. As a taxpayer, you have already paid for the information and services that the CFPB has developed and distributed. You can find more information and download numerous financial tools by visiting https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/. This is also the website to visit when you have a consumer complaint, and that link is https://www.consumerfinance.gov/data-research/consumer-complaints/.
- HUD-Approved Counselors
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers comprehensive home advice for free or at a low cost. HUD-approved counselors can offer guidance not only on buying a home but also on rental housing services, foreclosure avoidance, credit issues, and reverse mortgages. HUD partners with local nonprofit agencies to host seminars, workshops, and housing services that may include housing discrimination complaints, foreclosure/default mortgage resolutions, and housing affordability. Southern Bancorp Community Partners is a nonprofit that is also a HUD-approved housing counseling agency. We have four HUD-certified housing counselors on staff. You can contact us at https://southernpartners.org/housing-counseling/. If you are not a resident of Mississippi or Arkansas, you can access a list of HUD-approved counseling agencies on that same page.
- Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education
The AFCPE is a national nonprofit organization and the nationally recognized leader in financial counseling, coaching, and education. It brings together research, education, and practice. In addition, it supports the profession through comprehensive training, professional development, and offers high-quality resources to help improve the economic well-being of individuals and families worldwide. I am an AFCPE member, and I currently hold the Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) designation. You can find AFC counselors located all over the United States by visiting the link: https://findanafc.org/. I do want to say that not all AFC services are free, and you might have to pay a nominal fee because some of them are in private practice, but the information or services you have access to can be considered priceless.
- Financial Planning Association (FPA)
The FPA offers pro bono financial planning for underserved and at-risk communities. The association has 80 active chapters in states all over the country. It is the leading membership organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals and those engaged in the financial planning process. FPA is your partner in planning by helping you realize your vision of professional fulfillment through practice support, learning, advocacy, and networking. It also has a list of financial planners providing pro bono financial planning for post-9/11 military veterans and individuals diagnosed with cancer. You can find this resource by visiting the link: https://www.financialplanningassociation.org/networking/find-your-chapter.
Free financial resources can make you more money-conscious, but the information gained can’t replace personalized advice in all situations. For more advanced financial planning, it might be worth paying someone instead. This is especially true if you have complicated estate planning or tax questions since these go beyond the scope of free financial advice services. Complex tax and estate planning questions justify a fee – making mistakes here can cost you big time and can cause long-lasting legal issues.
In general, volunteer, or pro bono services are best for helping with basic, day-to-day financial planning. If you’re going through a major life change, like finishing college, approaching retirement, or getting married, it can be quite natural to seek out financial advice. But if your budget is tight, there are plenty of free resources out there, though some offer more personalized advice than others. Starting with free resources is a good idea, but just to be safe, be aware of their limitations.
For more information on this and other financial topics, email me at Charlestien.Harris@banksouthern.com or call me at 662-624-5776.
Until next week – stay financially fit!