Since we’ve been spending so much time talking about benefits you can earn in the future, let’s talk this week about something which can use while you are still in the service. You have noticed how a lot of my topics so far have involved a lot of numbers and dollar signs, right? Well, wouldn’t it be nice if there was someone – other than me, of course – who could sit down with you and personalize all those numbers, even help make them make more sense? Good news. There is such a person.
Every branch of service has personal financial counselors (PFCs) available to help you and your family understand your finances as they are right now and help you develop a plan to improve your situation in the future. I have worked with several of these individuals over the years and have seen firsthand how valuable a resource they can be. Though they may have different job titles, they all have the relevant education and experience to help you out. These are civilian professionals contracted by the military from different companies (the National Guard, for example, uses Zeiders Enterprises). These companies vet the counselors’ qualifications and manage their assignment to various locations.
All PFCs are Certified Financial Planners (CFPs), Chartered Financial Consultants (ChFCs), Accredited Financial Counselors (AFCs), or some other variant within the financial consulting profession. Some of them are better versed in areas such as investing or life insurance, but they all have an overlapping level of education and experience which of beneficial to service members and families. Regardless of their certifications, PFCs can assist with financial issues such as:
- debt reduction
- estate planning
This is by no means a complete list. There is much more these people can do for you.
Let me go over some of the education these people have. All PFCs have, at a minimum:
- A bachelor’s degree
- Specialized financial training
- Certification from an accrediting agency
- At least 1,000 hours of experience before certification
- A requirement of at least 30 hours of continuing education every two years
- Continuous recertification from their accrediting agency
Here is an example of a typical job announcement from Zeiders for a PFC. You can find a link to this announcement in the references section below.
The Personal Financial Counselor (PFC) program is seeking qualified individuals to work full-time with Service Members and their families on personal financial issues such as budget planning, credit management and debt reduction, as well as retirement and estate planning. These full-time positions are located on military installations throughout the continental Unites States and selected overseas locations.
The majority of Service Members and their families will require financial counseling and education to assist with establishing a basic level of financial literacy, good financial behavior and habits, long term financial planning to include retirement planning.
The PFCs will be responsible for:
- Identifying immediate and long range measures to increase income, reduce household expenditures, and avoid additional financial burdens.
- Personal budget/financial planning to reduce, eliminate, and avoid debt and to achieve solvency and stability.
- Teaching Service members (and their families) money management techniques to encourage them to live within their means.
- Understanding credit, finance charges, interest rates and the implications of only paying the minimum amount each month.
- Educating military families on the importance of maintaining excellent credit histories and ratings.
- Establishing, monitoring, and protecting their credit.
- Teaching Service Members to make informed decisions and to be aware of associated costs such as insurance, maintenance, fuel costs, etc.
- Educating and counseling Service Members – about their retirement systems and providing financial models to assist them in establishing a comprehensive retirement plan.
- Assisting with tax planning.
- Teaching Service Members and their families how to save for emergencies, unanticipated contingencies, and both short and long-term goals.
- Other duties as assigned.
PFCs will traditionally provide support in one of three ways. Any combination of the three may be requested by the installation coordinator.
- Face-to-Face financial counseling: PFCs support and educate individuals and families to help address specific needs, including provision of appropriate resource referrals.
- Financial briefings: Facilitate briefings designed to promote awareness and educate Service Members and their families on various personal finance topics. PFCs facilitate requested briefings using a library of approved presentations and handouts on a variety
of financial topics.
- Resource table: PFCs perform outreach and engage event attendees in conversations about setting financial goals, guidance to appropriate resources, as well as discussions on all areas of personal finance.
- A minimum of a Bachelor’s degree coupled with 2+ years of experience in financial counseling or education.
- A national certification as an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC), Certified Financial Planner
- (CFP), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC).
- Counselors shall maintain a valid, unrestricted motor vehicle license.
- Demonstrated experience in utilizing MS Office products (Excel, Word, PowerPoint).
- A criminal history background check that includes a credit check, as well as an FBI fingerprint check are required to work in this program.
- Previous military experience (including military spouses and/or as a service provider)
- Ability to travel up to 10% including some weekends with advanced notice.
- Ability to facilitate financial workshops and trainings to large groups and ability to tailor presentations to audiences as needed.
- Knowledge, skills, and abilities such as:
- Working knowledge of military, state, federal, and local resources.
- Understanding, sensitivity, and empathy for Service members and their family members.
- Ability to develop trusting helping relationships.
- Ability to work effectively with individuals and families from diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
- Ability to use sound professional judgment, ethical practice, and common sense. Ability to develop, implement, and evaluate financial needs of individuals and families.
Now that I’ve hyped up the PFCs, you might have a few questions going through your mind. I’ll try to predict some of them and answer them for you now.
Is there any cost to use the Personal Financial Counselors?
Not at all. While financial planners can charge as much as $150 per hour or an initial flat fee around $2,000, they are available at no cost to you.
Will the PFC recommend financial products for me to purchase or refer me to outside financial services?
Again, the answer is no. Many of the contracted PFCs do have practices in addition to their consultation contract, they are forbidden by that contract from making recommendations for products and from referring you to either their or another financial planning business. The PFC will offer advice and education only. If you choose to make use of such a company in addition to consulting with the PFC, that is your prerogative.
How can I find a Personal Financial Counselor?
For the National Guard, the PFCs are usually attached to your state’s Family Programs branch. You often can find contact information for family programs through your state’s National Guard website. I have included a few useful links in the references section. The best news, though, is the PFCs will assist any currently serving military member or military family regardless of branch. Like any of us, they need numbers of contacts in order to maintain their positions. Help them out and make an appointment to speak with a PFC when you’re able.
I think that is enough to get your mind working on a few things such as your current financial condition and questions you’d like to ask the PFC. I hope this has been an informative and useful article for you.
Join me next week when I will talk about an issue specific to officers (though there is a similar thing for enlisted members): the mandatory removal date and how it can affect a career path.
As always, please post any questions or comments in the comments section below. If you think this article can be beneficial to another person, please share the link with them and spread the word about this website.
Thanks again for joining me today and, of course, thank you for your service.
Certified Personal Financial Counselor Job Announcement – Zeiders Enterprises
National Guard Financial Management Awareness Program
Personal Financial Management and Taxes (Military OneSource)
How to Access Financial Counseling Through Military OneSource
Army Reserve Family Programs
Service Provider Network
MyArmyBenefits Resource Locator