Counselors, coaches, therapists, advisors … the list of financial guides available today goes on and on. But how, exactly, do they differ? When should you choose a coach over a therapist or turn to a counselor over an advisor? Here, we break it down and discuss the average cost of meeting with each type of professional.
Financial counselors tend to focus on the basics of money management such as budgeting, cash flow and debt. Some might help with navigating public benefits and military or disability entitlements as well.
Jessica Moorhouse, an accredited financial counselor based in Canada and host of the More Money Podcast, says counselors are also a great resource for when you’d like to get to the root of your money habits. “That might include exploring your ‘bad’ money behaviors and how to unlearn those behaviors and address certain financial issues.”
Just be sure to choose an accredited financial counselor—that is, someone who is officially authorized and trained to give you money advice.
Cost: Financial counselors typically work at credit counseling agencies (some of which are nonprofits and may offer low or no-fee services) or independently (in which case you might expect to pay between $100 and $300 per hour).
For help with savings and investments, insurance, estate planning and taxes, you should seek out a financial advisor.
These professionals must be licensed to practice because they are essentially managing your finances, “something a financial coach or unlicensed individual cannot do directly,” says Natalie Bullen, a financial advisor and owner of Unapologetic Wealth Management LLC.
If they follow the fiduciary standard, it is their duty to put your interests ahead of their own and to ensure they’re making the best recommendations to help you reach your financial goals.
Cost: Some are paid based on a percentage of assets under management, or AUM, while others charge a flat fee (typically 1% or in the range of $150 to $400 per hour). Given the complexities of investment management and financial planning, Bullen says it generally takes more than a single session to cover all the bases.
In contrast, financial coaches don’t offer specific financial advice but can guide clients in creating financial plans and short- and long-term goals—and give them the tools (aka coaching) they need to execute those plans and achieve those goals.
“Financial coaches help clients become more confident and competent when it comes to dealing with money,” says Kelley Holland, founder and CEO of Own Your Destiny, a financial empowerment coaching practice, and author of the forthcoming book You Are Worthy: Change Your Money Mindset, Build Your Wealth & Fund Your Future.
“Women come to me when they feel anxious about their finances, uncertain about their future or want to change their money behaviors,” Holland adds. “Together, we unpack their money history, identify what they want their money to do for them, and then create a clear, actionable plan to reduce debt, increase savings and achieve well-being.”
While investment advisors need specific certifications, the world of financial coaching is relatively unregulated. Holland herself is a chartered financial analyst with an advanced diploma in coaching, but there are no certifications required to be a financial coach, so be sure to look into the background of any coach you’re considering.
Cost: Fees can vary based on experience and specialty but might fall somewhere between a couple hundred dollars per session and a couple thousand for annual bundles (again, you’ll probably need more than one session).
Then there’s financial therapy, a growing field that people often stumble upon or are referred to by a therapist or a financial professional.
Magdala Adeleke, a certified financial therapist and owner of Financial TheraPeace, says that seeking out this type of expert (versus seeing a regular therapist) is often a last resort after someone has tried all other avenues with underwhelming results.
“When therapy doesn’t work to help alleviate anxiety or bring about changes in their lives, people may realize that most of their problems are related to money,” Adeleke says. “They realize that perhaps their problems are more emotional and behavioral. They hear things about ‘the money mindset’ and ‘the psychology of money’ and think, ‘yes, that is what I need to make lasting changes.’”
Financial therapists can be certified by the Financial Therapy Association and are typically mental health practitioners or financial professionals who help their clients understand and improve their relationship with money. Mental health specialists may obtain finance designations, while financial professionals might seek behavioral training or mental health licenses.
Cost: Adeleke says the average for individual sessions can range from $250 upward. More comprehensive (and expensive), ongoing programs sometimes combine financial planning and therapeutic support.
Millie content is licensed from Meredith Corporation, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle and more.
Esther Goh is a freelance writer based in Auckland, New Zealand.