Financial counsellor or financial planner: What’s the difference?

Money and Life
(Financial Planning Association of Australia)


Ok we get it, knowing where to turn to for financial advice can be confusing sometimes! Financial planners and financial counsellors are both types of financial experts, so which one is right for you?

When you’re looking for advice on your finances, it can be hard to know where to turn. Counsellor, adviser, planner? A simple internet search can be enough to make your head spin.

While it might be easy to Google ‘get out of debt’ or ‘make money’, the results are less than helpful (hello $50 surveys) and often downright dangerous (ok please don’t do this!).

Financial planners are sometimes confused with financial counsellors, but the services they provide are quite different. So what does each profession do? And, which one is right for your circumstances?

To answer this question, start by considering why you’re seeking financial advice. Is it to improve your financial wellbeing? Plan for retirement? Manage your debt? Or something else entirely?

What is financial planning?  

Financial planning is all about developing strategies to build your wealth and reach your financial goals, such as achieving financial independence or having a comfortable retirement.

A financial planner, sometimes called a financial adviser, will work with you to develop a financial plan and make suggestions on how to achieve it. Some of the areas they can provide advice on are:

  • investing
  • superannuation and retirement planning
  • estate planning
  • insurance


Importantly, they must hold, or work for a company that holds, an Australian financial services license, which is granted by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

How is it different to financial counselling?

Financial counselling, on the other hand, is a free service that exists to support people in financial difficulty. It is usually offered through community organisations and some government agencies.

Financial counsellors are qualified professionals who provide advice and advocacy to people struggling to manage debt, or unable to meet their ongoing expenses. They aren’t licensed to provide investment advice or invest funds on your behalf.

Some of the services a financial counsellor can provide are:

  • explore your financial options and advise you on the pros and cons
  • develop a budget or money plan
  • prioritise your debts
  • speak to creditors on your behalf and negotiate repayment arrangements
  • help you access government grants or concessions
  • advise you on credit, bankruptcy and debt collection laws.


Unlike financial planners, financial counsellors are not required to hold a financial services license from ASIC, provided they meet strict conditions. This includes not charging clients any fees or accepting any third party payments or commissions. They are also required to be a member of Financial Counselling Australia.

You should never pay for financial counselling services. Anyone charging fees is, by definition, not a financial counsellor.