As part of our “Financial A-Team” blog series, we talked to Melissa Mittelstaedt – an Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC) Candidate – about her work and advice on adding an AFC to anyone’s Financial A-Team.

We’ve talked before about the “5 Types of People You Need on Your Financial A-Team,” and an accredited financial counselor can fit into a couple different categories – depending on who you pick and how your relationship develops.

We know it can be intimidating to get started (all those acronyms!) so we talked to Melissa about what she does, her process and how she recommends you search for an AFC to add to your Financial A-Team.

Check out our conversation below!

1: What is your title? How did you earn the title? What does it mean? 

I am an Accredited Financial Counselor®, Candidate, getting my accreditation through AFCPE®. I earned my title by passing the AFC exam and am working toward satisfying my experience hours requirement. As for who a Financial Counselor is, think Financial Coach — we are trained to educate in a myriad of financial topics: debt management, credit reports/score, lending options, clarifying insurance products, and of course financial goal setting. Long story short: we’re there to guide you in setting up a plan all while offering resources/insights. 

2: How do you help your clients achieve Big Financial Goals?

By understanding your values – when we look at our money through the lens of what’s important it helps shape our goals. And, seeing the numbers, the unknown can be intimidating with finances. When you have clarity on numbers and know your values, you can make some big moves with confidence.

3: What are some of the questions people should ask an AFC before they officially join their Financial A-Team?

I’d start by having a conversation. Do you mesh with that person? Do they understand your needs? If not, continue the search, it won’t hurt our feelings to say we’re not the right match. 

Next, I’d ask: What’s your understanding of being a fiduciary? If they don’t say something along the lines of putting you and your needs front and center, maybe chat with someone else

Then I’d ask, “What is your specialty area?” Yes, an AFC’s role is to have knowledge about a lot of the personal finance industry, but we all have our different flavor. Some folx work mostly with military members, some work mostly with debt management, some work well with variable income earners (me!).

When it comes to variable income earners, understanding your money can be taken to a whole new level. How do you have a plan when you don’t know how much money you’ll be making in a month… It starts with having separate bank accounts for business v. personal. Add a little structure and a whole lotta love and we can turn variable income earning into a gift! 

4: What are some red flags that an AFC may not be the right fit for someone?

If an AFC comes out of the gate with a “you should do this” approach, that’s a red flag. It’s never our role to tell someone what they SHOULD be doing.

5: Who is on your Financial A-Team?

1. First and foremost, my husband — he hasn’t always been on the team because I had the mentality of “I keep track of our finances” and that wasn’t healthy for either of us.

2. The Pledgettes — having womxn to chat money with is imperative to financial health.

3. Insurance broker (for vehicle and RV insurance) — one of the best decisions we’ve made. They run numbers for us annually to see if we’re getting the best deal.

4. Financial Planner — he helped us understand life insurance and determine how much was appropriate to make us feel comfortable + outline how much we need to save for retirement to live the lifestyle we want.

5. Vanguard Robo-Advisor — this one is new for me. I’m still an investing novice. I have my retirement money in a ‘set it and forget it’ account that Vanguard digitally monitors based on my current risk tolerance and potential retirement date.

6: How can people find you and connect with you?

Instagram: _melissamitt

Website: (to learn more about my offerings)

Join Melissa for a PAL session (the Pledgettes Accountability League)! Our Q2 group starts in April.