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Where to find free financial help

·5-min read
(Source: Getty)
(Source: Getty)

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia, the nation’s economic situation was already looking pretty dire.

Now, however, unemployment has reached lows not seen in 91 years and millions of Australians are hanging by a thread thanks to government stimulus payments.

According to Financial Counselling Australia, 13 per cent of the population – or more than 2.5 million Australians – live with high levels of financial stress, and these figures have likely risen since Covid-19 hit.

If your financial situation has deteriorated because of the health-turned-economic crisis, you might think financial help is outside of your reach – but there are places you can turn to.

Both face-to-face meetings with professionals as well as free online resources can help you make sense of your finances.

Here’s where you can ask for help, and some helpful resources to help you get started:

1. Call your bank

Your bank most likely has financial planners on hand (especially if they are Big Four banks) who can help you put a financial plan together.

Will that cost money? Implementing a financial plan will – but the initial consultation is typically free of charge. If you’re at a loss for where to begin, you can book a free appointment with a financial adviser from your bank.

2. Your super fund

Superannuation funds also typically have a team of financial advisers available to you. Like with the bank, organise a chat over the phone and glean as much information as you can from that initial meeting.

3. Meet with a financial adviser

You can also find your own financial adviser through your own research. Again, implementing a financial plan will come with costs, but the first appointment is usually free – so take advantage of that.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, a Sydney-based financial adviser (who preferred not to be named) said consumers can often learn a lot just by teeing up an appointment and coming to the meeting equipped with several questions.

4. Financial counsellor

In certain ways, a financial counsellor might be your first port of call: where a financial adviser or planner helps you invest your money, a financial counsellor helps those in debt or who are unable to meet their expenses.

The important distinction is that financial counsellors won’t charge you any fees and don’t receive payments or commissions from third parties either, and they do help you develop budgets and money plans.

They’ll also help you prioritise certain debts, access grants or concessions, negotiate with creditors, access dispute resolution services. Counsellors will also help you understand your rights and access legal help if need be.

Not only that but they are also trained to deal with the emotional aspect of financial stress.

Here’s where you can find a financial counsellor.

5. National Debt Helpline (1800 007 007)

If you want to speak to a financial counsellor, the National Debt Helpline may be the best place to start; the National Debt Helpline puts you through to professional, independent financial counsellors who assess your situation and can suggest services that can help you further, or set you up for a face-to-face meeting.

6. Moneysmart

Moneysmart is the corporate watchdog ASIC’s easy-to-understand guide to your money, and is a very handy place to start if you’re more inclined to researching information online before speaking to someone.

While obviously you don’t get the benefit of speaking to someone about your situation or to answer questions, Moneysmart contains useful information, such as getting debt under control, problems paying bills, your credit score, dealing with debt collectors, repossessed assets, and more.

7. Other online resources, platforms

Fox and Hare co-founder and Sydney-based financial adviser Glen Hare pointed to the following resources to improve financial literacy.

“In many ways we work with those that ‘graduate’ from these resources and are potentially keen to take their finances, to the ‘next level’,” he told Yahoo Finance.

Fellow co-founder Jessica Brady has also launched a video-based online platform Ladies Talk Money, an initiative designed to specifically address women and their particular barriers to investment and talking about money.

If you’d like financial tips drip-fed through social media, some Instagram accounts are popular particularly for younger people, such as thefinancialdiet, cnbcmakeit, and mrsdowjones.

More broadly, financial comparison platforms such as Finder, Canstar and Mozo are also excellent resources as they provide unbiased information to help you make the best financial decisions on things to do with your bank account, your mortgage and other loans, various types of insurance, utilities, credit score, and much more.

Note that seeking assistance with money matters is a separate issue to emergency financial relief. If you have fallen into financial hardship, there are several charities you can get in touch with in the case of emergencies.

Get in touch with the Department of Human Social Services to see if you are eligible for government assistance payments. Moneysmart has put together a guide for those who need urgent help with money.

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