If you’re facing big financial decisions, you can find financial advice that fits your budget. Here’s how to find credible resources online – and how to avoid unhelpful or inaccurate advice.
When you need help making decisions with your money, hiring a financial adviser may not be in your budget. The good news is there are plenty of places you can find money advice that don’t cost a dime. But you’ll need to know how to tell good advice from bad. If you’re looking for the best resources for free financial advice, these tips can help.
Where to get free financial advice
Start with your bank or credit union
Your bank may hold a wealth of financial information that’s just waiting to be tapped.
For example, some of the financial advice resources your bank might offer may include:
- Budgeting guides
- Strategies for paying down debt
- Educational resources to help you save for college or retirement
- Mortgage guides for first-time homebuyers
- Tips on building and managing credit
- Advice related to managing cash flow if you run a small business
The advantage of seeking out financial advice from your bank is that they’re already familiar with your background.
“Your banker can peek into your financial underwear any time,” says James Chittenden, founder of One Click Advisor. “They have your transaction history, information on loans, credit score and in many cases, your investments.”
That can make it easier for your banker to offer customized advice based on your situation and needs. But keep in mind that this advice may only take you so far.
“Banks and credit unions can offer good information, but they’ll often be limited in their recommendations by the products and services they offer in-house,” says Todd Christensen, accredited financial counselor and education manager at Money Fit Credit Counseling.
See related: Credit union cards: Weighing the pros and cons
Get free financial advice where you invest
If you’re saving money for retirement in a 401(k) or you have an individual retirement account set up at a brokerage, free financial advice may be just a click away.
Your 401(k) plan administrator or brokerage might offer free online guides to help you figure out investing and retirement planning. For example, if you don’t know the difference between a stock and a mutual fund, you may be able to read articles, watch videos or complete tutorials through your brokerage’s website.
You may also be able to access advice on how to make investment decisions based on the current recession following the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the federal CARES Act allows you to withdraw up to $100,000 from your IRA penalty-free. If you’re short on cash, you might be wondering if withdrawing retirement savings for a short-term emergency is a good idea. Your brokerage might offer educational resources to help you weigh the pros and cons.
If you’re not investing yet, you might be able to schedule a free consultation with a financial planner or adviser.
“There are plenty of professional financial advisers who still offer free financial advice,” says Joseph Polakovic, owner and CEO of Castle West Financial in San Diego. “They do this to get people in the door and begin a relationship with them.”
Look for financial advice through your workplace
It’s also worth checking to see if your employer offers a financial wellness program as part of your benefits package. These programs can offer help and advice with things like:
- Managing your budget
- Creating a student loan repayment program
- Building credit or reducing debt
- Saving for short- and long-term goals
- Managing financial emergencies
Your human resources department should be able to tell you whether a financial wellness program is included in your benefits package.
Check government websites
Government websites can offer a collection of articles and guides on just about every financial topic, from home buying to credit and bankruptcy.
Chittenden says the user experience for different government sites can vary but overall, you can trust the information you find. A great example is the Small Business Administration’s website, which offers comprehensive advice to help business owners manage finances and get funding.
If you’re browsing government websites, keep in mind that the scope of what you find for free financial advice may be limited.
“Government websites can offer unbiased information but tend to avoid the good and helpful information available from nonprofit and for-profit professionals,” says Christensen.
These sites can be a good starting point for getting free financial advice from government agencies:
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Federal Trade Commission
- Department of the Treasury
Try a credit counseling agency
Credit counseling agencies can offer free financial advice, particularly if you’re struggling with debt.
“Nonprofit credit counseling can offer great unbiased education and counseling on budgeting, credit building and debt elimination options,” says Christensen.
Those options might include debt consolidation, debt management or debt settlement. All three could help you pay off personal debt, but read the fine print.
See related: How to deal with credit missteps
While nonprofit credit counselors don’t operate for profit, they can still charge a fee for certain services, including debt management plans. If you’re paying a fee, you should understand what you’re getting in return.
Also pay attention to the potential credit score impact of any debt management options a credit counselor offers.
See related: Best balance transfer credit cards
Read personal finance websites and blogs
Personal finance websites can offer a wide range of free financial advice that’s accessible and often actionable, so you can start addressing your biggest money challenges. But as you look for free financial advice online, consider how much of your time you’re investing doing research. Polakovic says hiring a financial adviser could help you get the information you need faster – while preserving your time.
If you’re on the fence about making that investment, Christensen offers a tip:
“Although somewhat arbitrary, one rule of thumb would be to consider paying for advice when there’s any chance or risk of losing twice the amount of the fee,” he says.
See related: Balance transfer calculator
Just because financial advice is free doesn’t mean its sound or that it’s something you can apply to your situation. Seeking out advice from different arenas and comparing them can help you weed out scams and false information, says Polakovic.
Banks may have an inherent bias to promote their own products and services over another financial institutions. While there are plenty of reputable financial advisers and credit counselors out there, there are also individuals and companies that aren’t 100% legit.
Checking out Better Business Bureau ratings, reviewing FTC complaints and using a tool like FINRA’s BrokerCheck can help you minimize the odds of falling victim to a scam.
“If the advice you’re receiving doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion, just like you would with medical opinions,” says Chittenden. “Get a third opinion. Get as many as you need to get comfortable with a financial course of action.”