Finding A Student Loan Planner Is Hard – Here’s Why

November 15, 2019 No comments exist

By Joseph Reinke, CFA, Founder of FitBUX

I often get asked why there aren’t more student loan planners that work for companies like FitBUX.  The answer is…the finance industry is very archaic. In short, the finance industry doesn’t include student loan planners because its not “traditionally” the way financial experts make money.

This article takes a deeper dive into the “traditional” way the world of money used to work.  Most importantly, this is a great article to read because it highlights the biases of financial professionals that you may work with in the future.  It also explains why I decided to start a “new” way at FitBUX and started the company as a student loan planning company…

Note: The following are all good people just limited in what they can provide. A student loan planner should be able to answer everything from student loan refinancing  to Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Financial Aid Officers

Financial aid officers are great at telling you how to get a loan. However, their expertise ends there.  They have no formal training in personal financial management.

They are no different than any other loan broker. For example, you go to a mortgage broker and they will tell you how to qualify for a mortgage. Then they will help you get the mortgage.

If you ask them how you should pay back the mortgage or which type of loan you should use based on your financial plan, they’ll look at you blankly. That is not their expertise.

Financial aid officers are the same way.  They do not know which student loan repayment plan will best fit you and that is not what they are trained to do.  In short, they are far from being student loan planners.

Federal Loan Servicers

Federal loan servicers (Great Lakes, Fed Loans, Navient, NelNet, etc…) are the most misunderstood group in this article.  THEY DO NOT WORK FOR YOU.  They are not student loan planners!

Their job is simple.  They are contracted by the Federal government to collect payments.  Nothing more, nothing less.

They are not there to tell you which loan is best for you. How could they? They know nothing about you and aren’t there to try and save you money.  Their job is to simply collect and pass on to the government.

In fact, by law, they are required to tell you which plan gives you the lowest monthly payment. That is it. Most of those plans actually cost you a tremendous amount of money over time relative to the other options.

In addition, they are large call centers. Loan servicers try to train their employees about the nuts and bolts of ALL the student loan plans.  However, this is a near impossible task because the call center employees have zero background in finance.

Almost every day we get on calls with Members of FitBUX and call their loan servicers with them.  I used to be amazed how we will be told one thing, hang up, then call back and be told another thing from a different employee.  Now I’m not amazed at all. I actually have come to expect it.

Another fact: loan servicers are incentivized to have you in your loans longer. I.e. the longer you are in repayment the more money they make.

Financial Planner (CFP)

Once people realize financial aid officers and loan servicers cannot help them, they turn to “financial experts”.  The first of these experts are CFPs (Certified Financial Planners).

CFPs are great and have a good body of knowledge. That body of knowledge focuses on 8 key topics which you can view here.  You’ll notice that debt is not one of the major topics.

This always amazed me. The reason being is a complete financial balance sheet incorporates assets and debt. The materials covered in the CFP materials are extremely weighted towards assets and insurance.

However, for most new grads, we have no assets and a lot of student loans. Not only that, but there are a myriad of student loan options. Not knowing about them can destroy your financial plan.  Ask those who lost their homes in the mortgage crisis due to not understanding debt.

For student loans, a student loan planner needs to know about repayment plans, forgiveness programs, and refinancing options….and this is just for student loans. What about debt planning for credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages?

Bottom line, if you are going to work with a CFP, be sure to ask and quiz them on their knowledge of student loans specifically.

Registered Investment Advisor

A registered investment advisor (RIA) is a fiduciary that gives investment advice. The key here is that they make their money when you invest with them. In short, they have no way of making money by giving you advice on debt.

Very few RIAs are good at giving advice on debt. I don’t blame them for this either. Their focus should be on managing your investments.

Also, since they are paid to invest your money, the natural inclination is for them to tell you to invest instead of pay off your loans. This doesn’t mean an RIA is going to give you that advice but you should be aware of biases. This is true for anyone you work with from finances to health care advice.

“Financial Advisors”

I put financial advisors in quotes because so many people call themselves advisors nowadays. Most of these individuals only have an insurance license and their knowledge is limited to the products they sell. I would be very cautious of working with a “financial advisor” because their expertise is extremely limited.

Don’t believe me?  There is a financial advisor down the street from our office looking to hire new financial advisors. Here is a picture of his window:

This of course doesn’t apply to all financial advisors but serves as a cautionary piece of advice.

CFA Charterholders

Yes, I am biased because I am a CFA Charterholder. Most of the time you do not see a Charterholder in wealth management or financial advising because there are so few of us.

There are currently 91 countries that have CFA testing centers. There are only 154,000 Charterholders world-wide and the Charter started being handed out in 1963.

Of the 154,000 Charterholders, only 5% (7,700) are in wealth management/Financial advising.  In short, they are in such high demand that most only manage accounts that have more than $10 million to invest.  Therefore, you don’t hear of them very often because we are really expensive to hire.

This is one of the main reasons I started FitBUX: I wanted to create a platform/technology that takes this expertise and makes them available to everyone.

I, along with my co-founder, who is also a CFA Charterholder, have taken our expertise and applied it to new grads. That is why we’ve been able to help new grads manage over $650mn in student loan debt.  Its our opinion that student loan planners are experts in student loans, obviously, but we also need to help customize the plan based on other aspects of your life and goals.

Ok, enough with the shameless plug and onto the rest of the article….but yes, we are really good and you shouldn’t go anywhere else but FitBUX for free help 🙂

Student Loan Refinance Companies

Student loan refinancing is a great way to potentially save money. However, the more you refinance the more money student loan refinancing companies will make. You should never ask them for advice because of the fundamental bias. Instead, seek help from a student loan planner that is an expert.

Accountants (CPA)

Legally, if an accountant only is a CPA, then they cannot give financial advice.  If they are also licensed as an RIA or CFP then they can.  However, many do not know about student loans.

One quick question to ask an accountant is, “Can you tell me about the tax on an income-driven repayment plan?” If they look at you with a blank stare then you do not need to be asking them for student loan planning advice.

Really Smart Finance People (aka They Have Their MBA or Work On Wall St)

I know many people on Wall St., from bond traders to investment bankers.  They will be the first to tell you they know nothing about personal finance. In fact, many joke around with me about how they are a “train wreck” when it comes to their own finances.

Funny (and true) story: a 30 year old investment banker with his MBA from one of the top schools in the country invested in FitBUX. I asked why he did it, here is his reply: “I have my MBA from XYZ school and work on mutli-million dollar transactions everyday. Yet, I still know nothing about student loans and wealth management. I wish FitBUX was around when I had graduated. Big thing is, if I don’t know about this stuff, what is happening to all those that graduate and don’t have a finance background?”

It’s like going to a heart surgeon and asking for pediatric advice for your child. They may be good at heart surgery but don’t know much about peds….Same thing applies for the “money” guys.

I can’t tell you how many Wall St. people I know that consolidated their loans for no reason and it costs them thousands.

Side Note: I can already hear some of my friends on Wall St. laughing while they are reading this section.

Conclusion

It’s hard to find a student loan planner because the industry is archaic and by no fault of its own. Student loans didn’t exist 20+ years ago. Managing debt was much easier. In short, we didn’t have to worry about 88% of borrowers not knowing how their repayment plan worked.

However, the explosion of student loan debt makes debt management every bit as important, if not more important for new grads than managing investments.

If you work with a CFP, be sure they know about student loans and have the tools to help you. Of course, if you want to work with an expert student loan planner then you should build your profile at FitBUX and schedule your free call.

If you’d like to read more articles about money, please visit our FitBUX Blog.