Julie Tran, AFC® strives to help her community toward financial stability and financial independence through empowering individuals – helping them to recognize the skills they already possess and grow their confidence to manage their own personal finances.

Julie: I want to be a strong advocate to impact the system and raise awareness for issues facing the community, which is why I just began a three-year term serving as a Human Rights Commissioner for the City of Tacoma and will be joining the governance board of a local credit union as a board fellow. Furthermore, this fall, I will be focusing the last year of my Graduate Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree at University of Washington on strengthening my policy analysis, public leadership, and public finance skills in order to be a better advocate.

AFCPE: What inspired or led you to pursue a career in this field?

Julie: As a GED/ABE instructor for the vulnerable homeless populations, I worked with community non-profits to help students overcome the education barriers in order to obtain employment. However, with an emphasized focus on employment, there were few discussions around what happens after an individual is employed and receives their paycheck. This inspired me to create a GED-Math curriculum, combining basic math skills with personal finances, which was a double bonus. Students can learn some fractions, proportions, and budgeting! Who wouldn’t want to learn how to maximize their food benefits and their money? In that moment, I saw first-hand the powerful impact of financial education and just how impactful even one sliver of financial education could be! Imagine what we could achieve if more of financial literacy was combined with traditional math and English-reading curriculums

AFCPE: What is the most rewarding career experience you have had so far?

Julie: My client’s car, which she purchased from a predatory car lot, had a 25%+ interest auto loan. Her mother had bought from a lot and she did as well. It did not occur to her that there was another way to purchase a car. Through multiple financial counseling sessions, we discussed refinancing options and how each option would impact her finances. At the end, we refinanced her car at 13% interest and saved her almost $150/month. This was a great result but the rewarding part was what happened after this! She took what she learned from this experience and coached her aging mother to get an auto refinance since she lived in a different state!  It was rewarding to see the ripple effect and how the empowerment of one individual can lead to the empowerment of more individuals and the larger community as the individuals and the networks grow.

AFCPE: What is one myth/misconception about your job?

Julie: Perfection – “you must have perfect credit” or “you’re a natural saver!” This is an absolute misconception that because I’m a financial counselor, my credit has always been perfect and saving money comes naturally to me — neither of which are true. I was fortunate to have a supportive network of friends and family to help guide me through my finances. Even then, my money personality is a spender and it took me years of hard work to build in enough bumpers and guard rails to ensure that I am saving toward my goals and retirement.  Through that journey to becoming financially stable and independent, not only did I realize how valuable the knowledge was that my network provided, but also, how this work as a financial counselor is so important. Finances are a game and when you are missing the rules, it is difficult to do well regardless of how much effort or how hard you try. I share this with my clients because it is a great conversation starter, and it’s important for them to know that I am also still on the journey to financial independence.

AFCPE: What is something you wouldn’t have known when you started your career that you know now?

Julie: When I started, I assumed that my job was to tell people how to structure their personal finances and make people track their budgets and cash flows. The best part of my job is that I do not tell anyone what to do and I do not make anyone do anything they do not want to do. I get to listen and ask questions as my clients figure out what they prefer and what would be best for them. I am privileged to be a resource to provide potential options and be a non-judgmental sounding board to discuss the impact and implementation of those options.

AFCPE: What is the most valuable/surprising thing you’ve learned or gained through the AFC® program?

Julie: When I first started out, I was the only one without a finance background or accounting degree. As a result, I did not believe that I was a “real” financial counselor even though I was helping my clients raise their credits scores and access banking for the first time. Through the AFC® program, I have valued the emphasis on a client-centered approach. With financial literacy skills being increasingly more accessible, financial counselors’ main purpose is no longer just about an information access point. It’s now more crucial to have the communication skills and be able to guide clients through the trial and error of discovering what techniques and which strategy will work with their lifestyle, their preferences, and their financial goals. I was surprised by the emphasis on the communication skills when I was studying for the AFC exam, but it has proved to be one of the most valuable skills I have learned and continue to strengthen.

AFCPE: What would you say to another young professional thinking of pursuing this certification?

Julie: I would highly recommend it. The AFC® program will provide you with the same basic financial skills, or the technical parts that you may receive from another program. However, the communication, learning how to build rapport, and setting the stage with our clients, is a huge part of financial counseling and sometimes, it doesn’t get the highlight it deserves. Truly, you could be the master of credit, but if the client doesn’t trust you or doesn’t want to talk to you, it will not matter what you know.

AFCPE: What is your hope for the future?

Julie: My hope is that as more individuals realize the impact of financial literacy and the value of financial independence, this field of financial counseling will grow and find more innovate ways to collaborate because finances affect everything! As the awareness increases and more people engage in discussions, we can help communities be empowered to take control of their personal finances, minimize their exposure to predatory lending, and create a ripple effect to help the next generation.

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