Where to find free, non-bogus financial counseling in New York City

Whether you're looking to deal with debt, finally build a budget, or just protect yourself from the endless onslaught of financial scams, we've got free and vetted options for you.

Where to find free, non-bogus financial counseling in New York City
If you're gonna do this with your cash, just don't do it on the subway. (Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash)

You heard it here first: if someone on the phone asks you to put $50,000 cash in the backseat of a stranger’s car, don’t do it babe!! Great, now we’ve gotten that out of the way.

Whether or not your group text spent the entire past week dissecting the above horror story from none other than The Cut’s dedicated financial advice columnist (seriously, even the chair of the Federal Trade Commission weighed in), you’re probably brutally aware of how many scams are out there — and how much bad financial advice.

But you may be much less aware of the fact that there are actually quite a few places where New Yorkers can go to get free financial counseling and education, whether you’re looking to manage debt, save up for a down payment, or simply bolster your defenses against identity theft scammers. (This isn’t the same thing as the advisors rich people hire to manipulate their piles of money via investments and creative accounting; what we’re talking about here is guidance to help any of us get our financial house in better order.)

“We would like financial coaching to be something that clients come to us to prevent [future] issues,” said Damara Parra, the director of the financial empowerment and advocacy unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group. “But unfortunately, most of our clients come to us when they’re in crisis mode.”

Want to get a better handle on your money situation, and feel confident that you won’t be conned into handing over money to some huckster in the process? Below we’ll run down a handful of the city’s best free options, as well as broader tips on seeking out solid financial advice — and avoiding getting scammed yourself. 

Support us
The Groove doesn’t exist without you. Join us as a member today to support our journalism, and get access to member benefits.

New York Legal Assistance Group

As mentioned above, the NY LAG, a non-profit, offers free financial counseling to anyone over the age of 18 who lives or works in New York City. 

“There are legitimate financial counselors out here in New York,” Parra told The Groove. “What we do is we meet with clients one-on-one and talk to them about their finances, specifically four main categories: budgeting, savings, banking, and credit/debt.” 

If this sounds like exactly the kind of thing you need help with, click the link above to browse their services and set up an appointment.  

(Note that counselors at these types of agencies are not here to offer investing advice or manage your accounts. “That’s out of the scope of services,” Parra said. “We’re not going to make decisions for the client; we’re going to support them and show them options.”)

The New York Public Library

God, is there anything on this earth that the library doesn’t help us out with? The NYPL offers a few different options for “Financial, Credit, and Medicare Counseling,” including an option to book a free 30-minute session with a Certified Financial Planner. Click through to see which services best suit your needs, and to book an appointment directly through the NYPL website. The Brooklyn Public Library offers similar services too.

NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection

The city itself offers a variety of financial counseling services via the DCWP’s Financial Empowerment Centers, including one-on-one meetings with financial counselors, help setting up a “safe and affordable” bank account, and support with contacting student loan providers. Browse options, create a profile and book an appointment here, or call 311 to get started.


At Bronx-based non-profit Ariva (which operates throughout the city), the entire focus is on financial education, with services including free tax prep and small business coaching as well as traditional one-one counseling. Read more about their full suite of options here

The New Economy Project

It’s not quite the same as the options above, but The New Economy Project offers a Financial Justice Hotline — staffed in English and Spanish, with interpreters available in a variety of other languages, as well — to provide information, legal advice, and referrals to other organizations dealing with money issues including unfair banking fees, payday loans and pawn shops, sending money home to relatives, preparing for a credit check by an employer and more.

A note on your broader options

Outside of the New York City-specific options, there are plenty of other reputable places to get free or mostly-free financial advice — Nerdwallet has an excellent and thorough rundown of them here. Options here include but aren’t limited to your own bank or credit union, as well as the company that operates your company’s 401(k) plan, if you’ve got one.

You could also spend the rest of your days on this earth wading through the sludge-filled sea of personal finance books, blogs, newsletters and podcasts, if you so choose. (And if you do that, by all means, check that stuff out from the library instead of paying for it!) With the caveat that I don’t know your life and what will resonate or motivate you most effectively, I have spent a good chunk of my career editing personal finance stories, and consuming that content in my free time to soothe my own money anxieties.

And based on all of the above, I would say to stay well clear of some of the long-running big names in the biz — think Dave Ramsey, whose advice centers around shame and Jesus, or Suze Orman, who popularized the idea that coffee purchases are single-handedly ruining your life, not years of catastrophic macroeconomic upheaval. They’re here to book speaking gigs, sell books, make you feel bad and keep you stuck in my (and a lot of other people’s) opinion.

No one entity’s advice is perfect — and should never be treated as such — and most of it is varying degrees of corny, but as a rule you’ll find better, more normal-brained advice from a younger generation of personal finance authors who acknowledge realities like systemic inequality, and the fact that you can only be so smart about your money if your boss isn’t paying you a fair wage. Ramit Sethi, Tory Dunlap and Chelsea Fagan are a few reliably sane media personalities with plenty of free, publicly available advice on offer.

How to scare your freelance boss into finally paying up
“It was like a day after mentioning the Freelance Isn’t Free Act that I got paid, after 105 days of not getting paid.”

Now, about protecting yourself from scams

So back to the $50k scam thing. Once everyone’s done dunking on the lady who had $50k sitting around to stuff into a shoebox and did so in spite of giving money advice for a living, we should probably also take a second to acknowledge that we’re living in something of a golden age of scammers, and younger people are actually more likely to fall for them than their boomer counterparts. (We must unfortunately give the boomers a rare win on this one.)

Seriously, there’s a scam for every possible weakness. Fitness scams! Romance scams! Charity scams! “Oh no I accidentally sent you thousands of dollars on Venmo can you please send it back right now???" scams.

All of which is to say it’s well worth taking a peruse of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rundown of the most common current scam varietals, as well as the FTC’s pages on common scams in general and identity theft specifically.

When in doubt, don’t pick up the phone (or hang it up already, come on!!!), verify a sender’s identity before clicking on any links, Google something if it seems weird and don’t believe anyone who tells you that a transaction has to happen immediately, and that you can’t tell anyone, not even your spouse or a lawyer about it.

After all, you need to keep your money safe and sound for the truly enriching things in life, like ghost tours, vegan food and…. subscribing to the (NOT a scam!) New York Groove.

New York Groove members get access to bonus content, swag and more. Join us today.