Financial Planners vs. Financial Coaches: What’s The Difference?
While many of us could use some help when it comes to money, not everyone knows where to look for a trusted professional who can help us figure out our finances. Research shows that more than 71% of Gen Z (those aged 18 to 25) and 72% of Millennials (people aged 26 to 41) say there are financial topics they want advice on — they just aren't sure how to get it, according to a 2022 survey from digital advisory firm intelliflo. Also, research shows people who use financial planners tend to make better financial decisions on a number of counts than those who don’t.
That’s important — because we have a lot of decisions to make. Often, we may decide we need financial advice when we hit a crossroads in our lives — perhaps we find ourselves earning more money, having a baby, moving cross-country, or changing jobs. But once you start looking for someone to work with, the long string of credentials after a professional’s name (and exactly what they mean) can get more than a little confusing. Here’s a breakdown on all the designations out there and what they mean.
After sorting through the list, many people find themselves deciding between a Certified Financial Planner (just one of the many types of financial planners) and a financial coach. But what are the main differences between these two designations — and which one is right for you? Here’s a breakdown.
Certified Financial Planners
If you want a holistic pro to help you with not just your investing decisions, but also to establish a financial plan that you can follow to help you meet your goals — including weighing in decisions about borrowing and homeownership, even when to take Social Security, you’re talking about a CFP. Working alongside a CFP can help take the emotion out of investing. This is especially important when the stock market is volatile and your portfolio may be down. They can also advise you on important decisions to make if you’re falling short of your goals, and they can provide referrals to other experts you may need, such as a tax attorney or an estate planning attorney.
CFPs have 6,000+ hours of professional experience and have passed a rigorous exam to earn the (CFP) designation from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Much like a doctor completing a residency, CFPs must also perform three years of hands-on work in the industry and undergo a background check before becoming accredited.
Importantly, they’re also subject to the fiduciary standard — this means that they must always act in their clients' best interest, and prioritize what their client needs above all else. Some financial professionals earn commissions based on financial products they either sell or recommend. CFPs also have a "duty of loyalty" to their clients, which means they must avoid any conflicts of interest that could compromise their objectivity.
We’ve all heard of athletic coaches or life coaches — they work with you to help you make lasting changes that can improve your life, and help you realize your goals. A financial coach does the exact same thing, only for your money. They can help you get on (and stick to) a budget, learn the money fundamentals that you should have been taught in school, and develop positive money habits that can help set you on a path to true financial freedom.
Financial coaches can also earn a variety of designations, but a good one to look for is the AFC (Accredited Financial Counselor) designation from the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education. While these professionals aren’t licensed to recommend specific products, they are skilled at helping you develop all your savings and budgeting goals.
Financial coaches can work with you one-on-one, or in a group setting. For those who benefit from being surrounded by like-minded peers, the program FinanceFixx teaches participants how to build good money habits via weekly video sessions and one-on-one training with a money coach. Developed by financial expert and HerMoney CEO Jean Chatzky, FinanceFixx is an eight-week money makeover that offers participants the support (and accountability) they need to achieve their financial goals.
A qualified financial coach will be there for you to help you make smart money decisions, and will be accessible when you have questions and need to adjust your plans as your life (and earning power) evolves.
Reflect (And Vet) Before You Select
Once you’ve decided on the type of professional who can best guide you through your next financial chapter, it’s time to select a few people you think you might want to meet, and confirm their credentials. You can find and vet a CFP at letsmakeaplan.org, or you can find and vet a financial coach with a AFC certification at findanafc.org.
Once you’ve found someone you trust, remember that you’re in a judgment-free zone, and it’s time to lay all your financial cards on the table. The more open you are with your planner or coach, the better-equipped they will be to help you. It can feel a lot like therapy — and that’s a good thing! Your planner or coach can’t make substantial headway for you if you’re not comfortable opening up to them about your anxieties and concerns. And if you need to try working with a few professionals before you find the right fit, that’s okay, too. If you can’t see yourself sharing personal information with a certain person, you should probably keep looking. Trust your gut.