The U.S. debt crisis was political theater at its best. All the elements of a Shakespearean drama were there: suspense, the soaring rhetoric, the grand entrances and exits of key protagonists. Unfortunately, however, the final act sent everyone home disappointed. A last-minute bipartisan deal - long expected to resolve the debate and lift the financial markets - did anything but.

Shakespeare knew there are some sticky situations when you must summon an outside force, a deus ex machina, to clean up the stage and finish the play. Shakespeare brought in the outsider Fortinbras to restore Denmark after the sorry mess created by Hamlet.

To resolve the debt drama, in comes the Gang of 12, aka the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. Their difficult job is to do what all Congress' horses and all Congress' men (and women) could not: Put the U.S. fiscal situation back together again.

Even this congressional deus ex machina may need, however, another "dues." I would suggest a CFP professional participate in the talks, equipped with the six-step financial planning process and our code of ethics. Just imagine how the talks might go if, for instance, the gang started with goals before strategies, and if all the participants agreed to put the interests of their clients - the American public - first.

The CFP might share with the committee that rarely, if ever, are issues of shortfall solved with a single approach, but require a coordinated strategy. U.S. consumers have a lot in common with the U.S. government, in that they are overloaded with debt.

In fact, the total amount of debt carried by consumers comes in slightly below the national deficit: both are in the double-digit trillions. But no CFP would ever advise an overspending and under-earning client to go out and borrow more money, even if his name is Uncle Sam.

The CFP would be there to remind the committee that long-term planning works best when undertaken before a crisis, not during, and that it is impossible to get financially healthy without a detailed budget. The commonsense wisdom informing the practice of most CFPs might be rejected by the Joint Committee as inadequate to the fiscal complexities of the world's largest economy.

But the planner could respectfully point out our profession has managed to do something the political process has not: Increase the confidence of American consumers. Recent survey data from the CFP Board shows that those individuals who have prepared a financial plan with a professional are more confident about the future than those who do not.

As the situation now stands, building confidence may be the most critical task faced by the Gang of 12. The return of confidence could be even better than gold in this crisis.

 

Eleanor K.H. Blayney, CFP, is consumer advocate for the CFP Board of Standards.