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The rise of the financial coach for the not-so-wealthy. Their focus tends to be on budgets and debts

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

9 Aug 2020

By Tim Grant

Photo: Steph Chambers/Post-Gazette

Shay Port, owner of Financial Wellness With Shay Port, is a financial coach who works with people to tackle their debt and get control of their spending habits with a budget. Her clients range from newly married couples in their 30s to people who are getting prepared for retirement. Unlike a financial adviser who invests money for clients, she works with people on developing good financial habits that will allow them to save enough money to invest.

David Wysocki worked his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and made decent money in the ticket operations department over three decades with the organization. But as he got closer to retirement two years ago, he started to worry about his $20,000 debt and why he couldn’t seem to get rid of it.

“I had a car loan for $10,000 and a home equity loan for $10,000, and I felt like the balances were going nowhere with the payments,” said Mr. Wysocki, 66, of New Castle. While searching for someone to help him figure out what was happening with his finances, he logged onto a website that offered to connect him with a trained professional in the Pittsburgh area who would become his financial coach. Hiring a financial coach proved to be a winning decision for him. After a year of being guided by his coach, Mr. Wysocki paid off his car and the home equity loan that had nagged him for eight years.

Financial coaches fill an often uncelebrated yet critical role in the financial services industry, and more people in recent years have been willing to pay for the kind of help they provide. Their services differ from what a financial adviser or wealth manager would offer. Financial advisers invest their client’s money in stocks and bonds, and manage tax strategies and estate plans. They also need a license and must meet regulatory requirements.

Financial coaches don’t need a license, and they’re not subject to regulatory oversight. But the type of people they serve are not likely to get the kind of help they need from a traditional financial adviser who manages wealth.

Typically coaches’ clients are drowning in credit card debt and have no emergency fund. They may have no assets at all, or even a negative net worth.

Financial coaches deal with people who have no idea how much money is coming in, going out or where it’s going. The coach helps the client create a road map to get out of debt and save money. The coach is there to hold the client’s hand and be an accountable partner on the journey. “Without a written budget, you make the monthly payments and the rest of the money disappears without you knowing where it went,” Mr. Wysocki said. “You find money you didn’t know you had when you give every dollar a name.” It’s a good thing he prioritized getting out of debt when he did. He had planned on continuing to work part time with the Pirates as long as his health would allow him. But COVID-19 happened, and he was laid off last month after 32 years.

Still, Mr. Wysocki, who never married and has no children, feels fortunate for his years with the team and for being in a position to retire debt-free. “I have a major league pension,” he said. “It’s not as lucrative as the players. But I can pay my bills and put food on the table. I can collect Social Security at full pay now that I’m 66. And I can work a part-time job with no penalty because I’ve reached the maximum age.” It takes time The financial coach Mr. Wysocki used,

Beverly Miller, of Fawn, said out-ofcontrol debt is the most common reason people seek her out, although it’s not the only reason. When she started her financial coaching business in 2011 she would work out a budget for clients and do single sessions for a fee. But she soon discovered that financial coaching is not a onetime event but instead a process more effectively managed over a period of six months or more. “It allows me to walk with them through life for a period of time,” Ms. Miller said. “People come with different situations. Not everyone gets completely out of debt while working with me. “The types of debt are all over the place,” she said. “But some of the biggest, scariest debt I see is student loans — sometimes more than $100,000 worth of it.”

Ms. Miller, who holds a Ph.D. in biotechnology from Carnegie Mellon University and worked 15 years as a paint chemist, considers what she does now her retirement gig. After leaving the workforce in 2001, she heard an episode of the Dave Ramsey talk radio show and realized he was preaching the same debt-free philosophy of personal finance that she and her husband had practiced their whole lives. That led her to contact Mr. Ramsey’s company and make arrangements to teach his patented Financial Peace course in group settings at her church — St. Paul’s Lutheran in Sarver. Before long, class members started asking her for one-on-one help.

“I did coaching casually for a few years,” Ms. Miller said. “It took me a few years before I got the confidence that I could do it as a pro. Then I realized there was a financial coach training course I could take, and I decided to go for it.” Although Ms. Miller received her training from Ramsey Solutions, she is not an employee of the company. She pays a monthly subscription fee to be listed on the company’s website as a preferred service provider, which is how she was connected with Mr. Wysocki.

Chris Campbell, senior director of financial coaching at Ramsey Solutions, said demand for coaches has grown in the past 12 to 15 months. The company has about 800 financial coaches nationwide. There’s at least one in every state and three in the Pittsburgh area. The coaches pay a monthly subscription fee of $149. Any coach listed on the referral service must complete the company’s training course. They can use the knowledge to volunteer for nonprofit organizations, work part time or build their own business charging clients between $100 to $250 per session to coach them on how to handle money, get out of debt and save for retirement. “Coaches charge what they choose to,” Mr. Campbell said. “We don’t regulate that. They decide their value and the level of problems they help solve for someone.”

Whole lot of coaches The International Coach Federation based in Lexington, Ky., estimated in 2018 there were 53,300 personal coaches of all types, including financial coaches, in the U.S. The organization predicted the market for personal coaching of all types would hit $1.34 billion by 2022. Tax accountant Shay Port combined her financial coaching business with her CPA practice in Shadyside, which she has operated since 2014 when she moved back to Pittsburgh. She started her business in 2010 in Los Angeles at a time when she said there were few people in the financial coaching business. Her company, Financial Wellness With Shay Port, is not affiliated with the Ramsey coaching network. She said she has developed her own budgeting system, which differs from the one Ramsey teaches based on using separate envelopes to hold money budgeted for certain expenses. She said her system is online-based because most people have access to computers nowadays.

Her clients range from newly married couples in their 30s to people getting ready for retirement. “I would say the two biggest areas that people struggle with are either too much debt and not knowing how to get out of it, or spending habits where they are not able to save and invest for the future,” Ms. Port said. “I help people transform their habits. It’s not so much about long-term financial planning. It’s more about day-today personal financial management.” The Squirrel Hill native consults with between five and 20 clients a month in Pittsburgh as well as clients in other cities who come from word-of-mouth referrals or her website. She also works with the nonprofit Hebrew Free Loan Association, which hires her through a grant to do financial coaching for the organization. Doing checkups Coaching isn’t meant to go on forever. The goal is to help clients get their financial affairs in order and develop new financial habits. But that doesn’t mean clients don’t need checkups from time to time.

Pete and Michelle Kaminski, of Castle Shannon, come back to Ms. Miller for a financial review every year. They sought help three years ago, and Ms. Miller showed them how to pay off their car and cash flow grad school for both of them instead of going tens of thousands of dollars into debt. “At the time, we had been married two years,” said Mr. Kaminiski, 31, an engineering consultant. “Neither of us had classes in high school or college that taught us how to take out a mortgage or balance a budget. She helped us lay out a plan for the future.” His wife, 30, a health care project manager, is expecting a baby in the fall. The couple are looking forward to selling their townhouse and buying a bigger house in the not-too-distant future.

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