Student loan counselors gain an edge by helping clients manage


When writing a client’s financial plan, advisors often consider student loan debt. It’s a complex problem with many moving parts.


Even the most knowledgeable advisors can struggle to master the intricacies of student loans. Borrowers face myriad challenges in tracking their debt and understanding the terms of each loan.

Advisors who want to have an edge in helping clients navigate student loans can get their CSLP (certified student loan professional). The CSLA Institute created the designation. To earn the CSLP, counselors complete an online professional training program.

“It was rigorous,” said Dennis McNamara, a advisor at wHealth Advisors at Red Bank, NJ “I didn’t realize how difficult it would be – the course, the exam. It was almost as hard as getting my CFP (certified financial planner).”

Student loan advice

The issue of student loans hits McNamara hard: his wife, a dentist, graduated in heavy debt when she launched her career.

“Before I got my CSLP in 2020, I made mistakes in how I handled her situation,” he said.

For example, he discovered that the blended interest rate on all his federal loans was 6.67%. So he sought to refinance those loans with a private lender, getting three quotes from established finance companies and choosing the best one.

“We brought his rate down to around 5.75%,” he said. But fast forward to the present – ​​around four years later – and the couple had their first child and started their own business.

“Now we are stuck paying $2,745 a month for 10 years,” he said. “I wish we had gone with an income-based repayment plan that adjusts to how your income changes from year to year. I wish we had that flexibility.”

Stay ahead of changes in student loans

Upon earning her CSLP, McNamara developed a better appreciation for different types of student loans. Some borrowers have a combination of loans in a given semester. Issued by different institutions, they can have varying balances, repayment schedules and interest rates.

Sifting through these slices of debt is part of an advisor’s job. But it’s not easy.

McNamara uses software that he purchases through the CSLA Institute. He runs models to help clients with income-based repayment plans. And it helps anticipate their future tax bill which is tied to their potential canceled debt as a loan comes due.

The nature of student loans is never static. Loan terms and provisions are constantly changing. And with the total amount of American student debt exceeding $1.75 trillion, the scope of the problem is huge.

As part of the CSLP course, counselors receive a history lesson on the evolution of these loans.

“They walk you through the last 20 years, changing laws and executive orders,” said Danika Waddell, certified financial planner in Seattle. Xena Financial Planning. “You get a deep understanding of the different types of repayment plans. There’s a lot of complexity there.”

Find out how student loan forgiveness works

For advisors looking to attract young professionals as clients, student loan expertise can be a differentiating factor. They may present a wider range of options. Counselors can find strategies to repay loans or qualify for loan forgiveness.

Jared Andreoli, Certified Financial Planner in Milwaukee Financial Simplicity, obtained his CSLP a few years ago. This helps him woo doctors who are just starting their careers.

Recently, he met a woman who had just graduated from medicine. With $250,000 in student loans, she thought she could use a counsellor. Her father joined her as they spoke with Andreoli. They listened intently as Andreoli explained how she could participate in the civil service loan forgiveness program.

“It was the first time his father had heard of the program,” Andreoli said. She became a client in large part because of her in-depth knowledge of student loans and her ability to incorporate them into her overall financial plan.

Andreoli’s CSLP courses also covered federal “Parent PLUS” loans. The loans allow eligible parents to borrow money to fill their child’s funding gap for school fees.

Find student loan options

Andreoli became aware of the double consolidation process for Parent PLUS program borrowers. Although only applicable in limited situations, it can reduce monthly payments and provide more options for managing debt.

Mastering the intricacies of student loans allows advisors to dangle additional value-added service. When Derek Delaney, Certified Financial Planner at Pharmaceutical financial planning in Owatonna, Minnesota, meets prospects in their 40s and 50s with kids who plan to go to college, reviews their student loan options.

“I charge a flat fee, so they like getting that extra service,” Delaney said. “Once their college planning problem is solved, they can really focus on their retirement plan.”


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