A clinic that serves the surrounding community by integrating free holistic financial planning with therapy sessions. A program that enables students to prepare 500 to 1,000 tax returns annually without charge. Planning seminars offered gratis to sororities, fraternities and other groups. A radio show that teaches the basics of smart financial management.

A hive of these and other pro bono financial planning activities is humming at the University of Georgia.

For their dedication and creativity across so many fronts, the 2017 Pro Bono Runner Up Award goes to the professors and students at the University of Georgia who volunteer their time offering services to people who could not otherwise afford them.

One of the university’s older initiatives, the Aspire Clinic, has provided free one-on-one planning sessions to hundreds of students and others in the community since 2009. “We target low-income families because they are priced out of fiduciary advice,” Associate Professor Joseph Goetz says of the program, which he co-founded to give planning students the chance to work directly with nonpaying clients. “We’ve had clients who have had 20 sessions.”

Joe Goetz cofounded the Aspire clinic and Lance Palmer founded the tax preparation program.
Joe Goetz cofounded the Aspire clinic and Lance Palmer founded the tax preparation program.

FINANCIAL THERAPY
While the clinic provides stand-alone planning sessions, the most effective ones integrate the financial component with traditional therapy.

“We are probably one of the first [academic] entities in the country to provide financial therapy,” says Goetz, who believes that all good advisers, whether they have trained to do so or not, “are practicing financial therapy.”

With a new $1 million infusion from a corporate donor and the university, the clinic is on the verge of a significant expansion to become “a world class training facility,” says Sheri Worthy, head of the department of financial planning, housing and consumer economics in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Matt Goren (left) and Michael Thomas host their radio show, “Nothing Funny About Money,” which airs on a local NPR station.
Matt Goren (left) and Michael Thomas host their radio show, “Nothing Funny About Money,” which airs on a local NPR station.

Through another outreach program, founded by Associate Professor Lance Palmer, planning students also earn advanced certifications from the IRS to provide tax preparation services for free — which can shield people in the community from predatory tax preparers selling them “inappropriate products,” Goetz says.

NEW NPR PLANNING SHOW
Two other university figures have teamed up to launch a radio show, “Nothing Funny About Money,” which airs on a local NPR station. Matt Goren, a newly hired adjunct assistant professor of financial planning, and planning doctoral student Michael Thomas co-host the program. Thomas also runs a for-profit practice, Modom Financial Services, which serves mass-affluent clients.

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Ann Marsh

Ann Marsh

Ann Marsh is a senior editor and the West Coast Bureau Chief of Financial Planning. Follow her on Twitter at @Ann_Marsh.