How to find financial advice when struggling financially: ‘It’s never too late’


One vexing thing about financial planning is that if you have lots of money, you can get advice for free, but if you don’t have much then it can be hard to find any help at all.

The federal government has acknowledged as much in its current financial literacy strategy.

“While relevant and unbiased financial advice is available to those who can afford it, low cost or free options for advice are limited,” wrote the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

But while many Canadians fall into the space of finding it difficult to get advice on everything from budgeting to tax help to retirement plans, there are options out there, and more on the way.

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For those with low and moderate incomes, a search for non-profit credit counselling or financial counselling will often lead to free community resources, as opposed to looking for certified financial planners that can run into the thousands of dollars for detailed advice.

Not only is the affordability starkly different, but so is the kind of advice offered.

“It’s not your average financial adviser,” said Elizabeth Mulholland, chief executive of Prosper Canada, a national group focused on financial empowerment.

Partnering with community groups, Prosper Canada has been working to expand offerings that help people figure out budgeting, filing back taxes and securing a range of government benefits that many are missing out on.

Counsellors are ready to help with urgent financial problems like someone who can’t afford their rent, or their benefits were just cut off and they don’t know what to do.

“So, really working one-on-one with people to kind of stabilize the situation and to resolve the issues, whatever they are and to get them on a better track,” said Mulholland.

Prosper Canada has been helping to create short-term pilot programs, but in the April federal budget, it secured $60-million from the federal government to expand its options. Over the five years of the program, Prosper expects to build financial stability for a million low– and moderate-income Canadians and connect them to $2-billion in income benefits they’ve been missing out on.

“We are very excited. This is a really direct and powerful response to the money challenges that low– and modest-income people are feeling across the country,” said Mulholland.

The group is still working through the paperwork, with expanded programming not coming until likely early next year, she said.

There are other existing options though such as non-profit Credit Canada, which can provide financial advice along with compassion and referrals to other support networks, said chief executive Bruce Sellery.

Along with basic counselling, the group offers a financial coaching program that’s geared toward those struggling with some kind of debt.

“We think very holistically about their entire financial life and we help them develop a plan to really move the needle in a number of different areas, not just debt,” said Sellery.

He said the approach of the program is very much financial planning, where participants set out their goals, develop a plan around expenses, income, and other areas like taxes, along with ways to make sure they take action on the plan and stay engaged.

Those last two tasks, focused on following through on the plan, can be the hardest, said Sellery.

“From a psychology standpoint, it is exceedingly difficult for us to toggle between our present self and our future self,” he said.

“But if you take a breath and look at your future self, decades down the road, you will be so grateful that you took the actions today that made life for that person much easier.”

While the government has cited perceptions about cost and mistrust of advisers as barriers to people getting help, Sellery said one of the biggest challenges is just getting people to acknowledge the problem and start looking for help.

“There is a real challenge in people just picking up the phone,” he said.

And while some might put off looking for help because they’re just too overwhelmed, Sellery said it’s always worth trying.

“It’s never too late, and there’s always something that you can do.”

For those who might not fit credit counselling options but still need affordable financial advice, the Financial Planning Association of Canada offers a pro bono session with a planner.

The association suggests the one-time session could fit well if there’s a major life change like a marriage, divorce, birth of a child or death in the family, retirement on low income or otherwise starting a new chapter in life.

There’s also options like Planswell, which offers free financial plans and a review with an adviser.

The company, using both automation and advisers, helps create a plan that takes into account investing, insurance, mortgages and debt management. While the plan is free, they do try to sell financial products along with it.

Overall, financial counselling is there to help set out an action plan, and to help people stick to it though life’s ups and downs, said Mulholland.

“We all falter when we make our plans. Life happens, there’s setbacks on the road, and part of the process of coaching is assuring them that’s OK,” she said.

“We all have setbacks. The important thing is to get back on track and just keep going. It might just take a little longer to get there.”

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