When the coronavirus crisis hit the United States this past spring, Americans were immediately thrown into entirely new terrain. As many businesses came to a halt and the virus spread quickly through communities, most Americans were forced to reconsider their health and financial situations altogether. 

Americans have balanced general uncertainty with the financial ramifications caused by furloughs, lay-offs, medical bills, new expenses for childcare and homeschooling, and more.

AFCPE certified professionals were quick to answer the call from those struggling financially, providing resources, virtual support groups, informational webinars, and volunteering their time to serve those affected in their communities.

Although many AFCPE certified professionals are comfortable and experienced working virtually, providing financial counseling and coaching during a pandemic is a brand-new experience for everyone. For our counselors, this meant quickly learning to navigate a new system for tracking counseling engagements. For Yellow Ribbon Network, the system provider, it meant making important updates to intake, process, and tracking structures to streamline the process and making it more accessible for all clients. And for AFCPE, it meant honing our communication and outreach efforts to encourage more people to take advantage of this opportunity.

We talked to some of our virtual counselors and coaches who have served for AFCPE’s COVID-19 free counseling and coaching initiative about their findings and experiences working with clients during COVID-19. 

What inspired you to provide free counseling during the pandemic?

A Desire to Help: “I wanted to help any and all individuals during this uncertain, crazy, pandemic time. I am always open to volunteering and/or helping those who need it most, especially with financial counseling/coaching.” – Shay Cook, AFC®, FFC®

An Opportunity to Earn Experience Hours: “Being able to assist individuals during this COVID-19 pandemic is a valuable opportunity to really make a difference in people’s lives. Additionally, as a AFC Candidate I was interested in gaining additional experience as a financial counselor while also earning practicum hours.” – Ambus Hunter, AFC® Candidate 

The Flexibility of Virtual Counseling: “I am an avid volunteer locally but with the stay at home orders I have been severely limited in my ability to volunteer.  This opportunity allowed me to continue to give back to the community but to do so at home.  With my daughter’s school going virtual, I have needed to be home for her, but I still had a desire to go something for the community.” – Tricia Delapaz, AFC® Candidate

What kind of questions were on your clients’ minds?

Counselors were available to answer questions and offer support to their clients as needed. Questions varied from paying off debt, life insurance, wills, credit, advice for using money received under the Paycheck Protection Program, to more specific and individualized scenarios.

Available Resources and Rebuilding Credit: “Most clients requested help better organizing their finances as well identifying temporary resources they would be eligible for. At least one client also had numerous questions regarding rebuilding credit.” – Glenn Sturm, AFC®

Budgeting while Unemployed: Ann James, AFC® worked with an adult client who was currently unemployed and living at home. He had a decent amount in savings but was unsure what to do with it. They worked through his financial numbers, giving him a full picture of his finances, and helped him create a spending plan that worked for him. Although he was unemployed, his current expenses were low, so she helped him see the opportunity to make progress toward his future – without having to sacrifice what was important to him. At the end of their session, through tears of relief, he said a “financial cloud of doom” had been lifted. 

Estate Planning: “My very first client was a mother of two who was concerned about estate planning. Due to her underlying health conditions and the threat of COVID-19, she decided to accelerate the drafting of her will. She reached out for counseling because she was unsure how much to leave for her estranged oldest daughter. 

I assisted her in processing the various directions her mind, heart, and gut were pulling her in. In talking through the financial impact, the emotional toll of what led to the estranged relationship, and what she felt comfortable with leaving for her daughter, I was able to help her arrive at an amount she felt at peace with.

On a personal note, she asked if I would be her accountability partner to help keep her motivated as she works on one of her professional certifications. What a wonderful interaction and I really felt like I made a difference in her life.” – Ambus Hunter, AFC® Candidate

What are some valuable takeaways that you have gained during counseling?

Learning Virtual Counseling: For my own part, one of the most valuable experiences was learning how to effectively provide one-on-one financial counseling from a distance, whether it was via Zoom or phone, meeting settings I had not utilized up to this point. Even when COVID is gone, I do believe that will become a more popular meeting setting as technology becomes more affordable and (eventually) nearly universal. – Glenn Sturm, AFC®

Working with Different Populations: I believe this opportunity provided me with experiences with those not in the military arena.  Before this opportunity, I had only provided counseling to military members and/or their families.  This opportunity broadened my experience level as well as made me more aware of the financial issues in the community. I believe it has helped me to become a more well-rounded counselor.  – Tricia Delapaz, AFC® Candidate

As the coronavirus crisis persists and the United States continues to adjust, virtual counseling and coaching will continue to be available to help Americans build their financial resiliency and understand the resources available to support them. 

Individuals have been slow to sign up for counseling. Knowing who to trust and taking that first step to ask for help can be difficult. Others have been hesitant to ask for help because of how personal it is to share your financial situation with someone, or because they believe there are others who need help more than they do, even if they are struggling themselves.

This is why we are asking for your support to spread the word and help more individuals and families find this important resource. Let them know there are counselors and coaches available to help who are empathic, non-judgmental, and working in the best interest of their clients. And let them know that all of us – regardless of our financial situation – can benefit from financial counseling or coaching during this uncertain time.

Know someone who could benefit from financial counseling or coaching during this time? Connect them to AFCPE’s free financial counseling and coaching program or encourage them to reach out to an AFCPE certified professional.

Want to spread the word? Use the resources on this page to reach out to local news stations, local nonprofits, places of worship, libraries, etc. and let them know about the services available.

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