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How to prepare for financial counseling

by Keith Rawlinson
Volunteer Budget Counselor

If you are having difficulty understanding or implementing the things you are learning here on Eclecticsite.com's Financial Page, or if things just don't seem to be working the way they should, it may be time to see a counselor.  If you are in the Savannah, Ohio area, you can contact me to schedule a counseling session.  If you are not in the Savannah, Ohio area, you can always go to Crown.org and check out their counselor referrals.  You can also go to Dave Ramsey's website
 and check out his counselor referrals.

Wherever you find a counselor, just remember that you are looking for a financial or budget counselor or coach, not a financial adviser or broker.  Counselors are generally there to help you deal with financial problems, or with getting out of debt.  Financial advisers or brokers are generally there to sell you investment products and help you figure out how to invest your money for the future.  The easiest way to make sure you don't get it wrong, is to choose a counselor who in no way tries to sell you anything.  This includes investments, loans, insurance, etc.  Also, at this point, you are not looking for anyone affiliated with Consumer Credit Counseling or any kind of debt-reduction companies who want you to send them money or payments.  Also do not get involved with organizations like Primerica.

What to expect during counseling

First of all, the counselor is not there to reprimand you or make you feel bad for getting into debt or financial difficulty.  The counselor is there to help you discover your mistakes, solve problems, and change your habits and thus your financial future.  Many counselors, myself being one of them, will also help you to deal with and eliminate debt.  If, after two or three sessions, the counselor is consistently dwelling on past mistakes and making you feel ashamed rather than hopeful, you may want to look for a different counselor. A good counselor should tell you what you've done wrong in the past, but should then show you where you could be in the future if you start doing things right.  In other words, after one or two counseling sessions, you should have a feeling of hope, not despair.  The counselor should not look down on you, or think poorly of you because you need counseling.  A good counselor will be impressed that you have the wisdom and determination to get counseling and get yourself on the road to financial freedom.  If you are seriously injured, you go to a doctor, right?  You don't try to fix it yourself, right?  Because you know that the doctor knows things you don't and is there to help you.  Well, it's no different with a financial counselor.  The counselor knows things you don't and is there to help you.  As with the doctor, it is smarter to get help when you need it rather than trying to fix it yourself. If you are smart enough to go to a financial counselor when you are having financial difficulty--then go!

After initial introductions and any necessary pre-counseling paperwork, the counselor will initiate a conversation and ask you some questions about your life and your finances.  The counselor will begin collecting specific information about your financial situation in order to figure out what went wrong and what to do next.  No matter what questions the counselor asks, always answer the questions honestly and completely even if the answers are somewhat embarrassing for you.  If you don't provide direct, honest answers, the counselor may give you the wrong information or advice.  In my counseling sessions, I always tell my clients that it does no good to lie to your doctor, your lawyer or your budget counselor.  Pride is expensive.

What to take with you

In order to make your first counseling session efficient and effective, make sure you take with you the following information:

A list of all of your debts.  This does not mean a total of what you owe in debt, this means an itemized list of each debtor you owe, how much you owe them and what your payment is to each individual debtor.

A list of your assets and their values.  This means such things as real estate, stocks, investments, bank accounts, trust funds, retirement accounts, boats, vehicles, collectibles, etc.

Finally, and most importantly, make sure you fill out the Financial Survey and take the results with you.  

During your sessions, the counselor will let you know if anything further is needed.

After all of the necessary information is collected, the counselor will give you some advice on the spot, take some time to devise a personalized plan for you, or both.

The counselor can't do it for you

Although the counselor can give you some wonderful advice and techniques for dealing with finances, always remember that the counselor can't do it for you.  You have to follow the advice.  You have to stay with it.  You have to fix your own financial problems.  I've been asked on several occasions what is the biggest problem I have in doing financial counseling.  I don't even have to think about the answer:  the biggest problem I have in financial counseling is getting people to follow the plan and stay with it.  Getting out of debt is not easy.  Saving up money is not easy.  Following a budget is not easy.  Becoming wealthy is not easy.  Not only are these things not easy, they take time--sometimes, a lot of time!  After seeing how much effort is involved, I've had clients walk out of a sessions and never do any of the things I suggested.  I've also had many people give up when they find out that I don't have any magic pill that's going to solve their financial problems in a month or two.  On average, just dealing with debt issues takes two or three years.  So, make sure that you give your counselor's advice plenty of time to work.  Things get better slowly but consistently.  It may be very, very difficult at first, but it generally gets easier and easier as you go along.  The first three to six months might be almost unbearable, but the final year might be a piece of cake.  I'm not telling you this to scare you away from counseling, I'm telling you this so that you will understand that deciding to eliminate debt and put yourself on the road to becoming wealthy will not be easy; but, will be worth it!

Please know that all of the thoughts, information, suggestions and techniques given on this site are nothing more than the author's opinion on the matter being addressed.  Do further research before making any decisions.

This article copyright 2007 by Keith C. Rawlinson (Eclecticsite.com).  All rights reserved.

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