How a FINRA Fellowship Can Help Military Spouses Become Accredited Financial Counselors

Two sets of hands hold a pen and a calculator respectively, implying that the people attached to the hands are looking over financial paperwork.
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For military spouses, maintaining a stable career path can prove challenging. Portable, in-demand skills are essential. For spouses with an interest in financial education, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation's Military Spouse Fellowship Program can help them earn their accredited financial counselor (AFC) certification.

FINRA stands for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a nonprofit with congressional authority to oversee the financial broker-dealer industry. Spouses selected to a fellowship receive accessible training to prepare them for the AFC certification, including exam prep; support in obtaining the required experience hours; and a network of other military spouses who are AFCs.

Applications for the 2024 fellowships are open through April 15. A webinar explaining the program is scheduled for Thursday, March 28.

What Is an AFC?

An accredited financial counselor (AFC) is a personal financial professional who has completed education, testing and experience in financial counseling. AFC credential holders assist individuals and families in managing their finances effectively. They provide guidance on various financial topics, including budgeting, debt management, saving, investing and retirement planning.

Army spouse Samantha Gonzales loves helping others. "This fellowship gave me the opportunity to formalize my experiences and gave me the tools needed to help educate others to prevent them from amassing significant debt, to plan for their futures and to have confidence in their financial knowledge and ability," she said.

AFC professionals work in a wide variety of settings, including military family readiness centers, banks, credit unions, higher education institutions, government and private practice. Andi Wrenn was in one of the first fellowship classes. "I was lucky enough to get the fellowship, and within a year, I was hired to run a program in the government as a government contractor," she said. 

And there are so many more options to put this credential to work. 

"I was so lucky and grateful that with this credential and this type of work, I was able to keep my job every time we moved," said Katie Leiva, who currently works as the financial capability staff development manager at a credit union.

What's Included with the Fellowship?

The FINRA Foundation fellowship is a comprehensive package to help you become an AFC.  The fellowship award includes the course materials and online access to the required educational components. It also includes an eight-week webinar review series that helps you learn the material. The fellowship covers the first two examination attempts.

Angelina Adame-Gignac was selected for the fellowship in 2022. Thanks to mentorship and training, she said she feels well-equipped "to guide others to a path of understanding financial literacy" and its importance.

In addition to academic and professional resources, the program includes an amazing community of military spouses, mentors and industry professionals. Through networking events, mentorship programs and online forums, participants can connect with peers facing similar challenges, share experiences and access valuable advice and guidance from seasoned professionals.

However, "the best thing about it," according to Leiva, "was the professional network that I became a part of, and that network continues to grow."

An important aspect of the program is that it is self-paced and can be done from anywhere. Heidi Clemons worked her studies around kids, homeschooling and a permanent change-of-station (PCS) move. "It took me awhile to finish out my hours," she said, "but now I've been helping the military and launched my own business to continue serving the military, help other AFCs and candidates and mentor FINRA fellows."

More About the Fellowship

The FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship is a partnership between the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE) and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation (FINRA Foundation). More than 1,700 fellowships have been awarded since the program's inception in 2006.

One of the many great things about this program is that not only does it support the military spouses who get their AFC credential, but those fellows turn around and help others. Alise Jackson was a 2023 FINRA Foundation fellow and recently received her AFC credential. "The program itself and the opportunities to hone my skills were amazing," she said, and she learned a great deal that she "can now use to help others."

How to Apply

You are eligible for the FINRA Foundation fellowship if you are the spouse of a currently serving or retired member of the uniformed services or a surviving spouse of an active-duty or retired service member. Visit the foundation’s website to learn more and apply by April 15.

While the application is not particularly long or difficult, it will take some time. Plus, there is an optional letter of recommendation. So don't procrastinate until the last minute!

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