Karin Price Mueller: 2010 Heart of Financial Planning Award Recipient

Financial planners are not the only people/firms that the Financial Planning Association recognizes for their extraordinary work in the field of financial planning. FPA realizes that all disciplines of the financial planning community are critical in getting the message out about the importance of financial planning and financial literacy.

Journalism is one of those critical disciplines and Karin Price Mueller is a standout in that field.

Price Mueller was a recipient of the Heart of Financial Planning Award in 2010 for her work as a journalist serving the financial planning community. She has dedicated her life’s work to helping individuals, especially those who have not been traditionally served by the financial planning community. In her words “Educating people – helping people learn to help themselves – is the favorite part of my job.”

Well, Price Mueller must really be enjoying her job. She is educating thousands of readers through her newspaper, magazine and web columns, books she’s co-authored and her own website. She has touched so many people and made a difference in their lives.

Michael Gibney of Highland Financial Advisors in Riverdale, N.J. was very enthusiastic in his nomination of Price Mueller. He said: “Her stewardship and integrity in continually reaching out to populations underserved by the financial planning community is commendable.”

We asked Price Mueller about her work and for her thoughts about the award.

FPA: How did you first get involved in writing about money and financial planning?

Price Mueller: It was all a big accident. As a teen, my dad – who was always a big saver – encouraged me to read the Business section of the New York Times. I wanted no part of it. He was huge fan of Lou Dobbs when he anchored Moneyline and my dad always enticed me to watch. No interest. Not even a little. “Boring,” I thought, in my teenaged wisdom.

When I went to New York University for a television journalism degree, I imagined I’d cover the sexy stuff young journalists dream of: The White House, a war, the overthrowing of a despot. When I looked for work, my dad influenced me again. He taught me that I needed benefits, whatever or wherever the job. CNBC was the first to offer health care and a 401(k). I took it.

I knew very little about money management, but my first assignment was to produce a show called “The Money Club.” I learned on the job from co-workers, and from paying attention to the fantastic people we interviewed, from Vanguard’s Jack Bogle to PIMCO’s Bill Gross to one of my favorites — yes, partly because of the accent — Jean-Marie Eveillard (at the time) with SoGen Funds.

FPA: Why did the FPA become important to your work?

Price Mueller: Early on from my time at CNBC, I knew CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professionals were among my favorite “experts.” I understood that their in-depth education on a broad range of topics meant I could always count on a CFP practitioner for the expertise I needed. I also needed pros with ethics before I’d present them as reliable experts to my audience.

When FPA formed in 2000, my favorite CFP professonals became members, and FPA became an essential resource. Even now, I often turn to FPA members to do money makeovers for readers of my column in The Star-Ledger, and after all these years it remains the first place I turn to when I’m looking for a reliable source.

FPA: Your nomination letter cited some books you co-wrote with a faith-based group. How did that come about?

Price Mueller: In addition to my newspaper, magazine and website work, I’ve also ghostwritten, co-written and edited books. I was contacted by Rev. Luis Cortez, president and CEO of Esperanza USA, the largest Hispanic faith-based community-development corporation in the country. He was also named one of Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals” in 2005.

Rev. Cortez had such passion about his work and about genuinely helping people — it was infectious. He asked me to work with him on books that would help an immigrant population understand how certain transactions worked in this country. The first on his list was a book about credit. After seeing so many in his community make credit mistakes — and therefore doom themselves to big financial challenges in the future — he wanted to offer a clear, lingo-free guidebook to give this community the tools it needed.

Educating people — helping people learn to help themselves — is the favorite part of my job.

FPA: Of all of your accomplishments in the financial planning community, what is most meaningful to you and why?

Price Mueller: I’ve got two, and I feel very lucky because these are ongoing.

The first is the ability to teach readers about how they can improve their lives. It’s not how much money you have, but what you do with it, that can make a real difference. Just about every week, I think my stories open a reader’s eyes to a strategy or a process they hadn’t considered before. Many of these readers will never hire a financial professional for help.

The second is my newest column, Bamboozled, for The Star-Ledger. It’s not personal finance specific, but a consumer affairs column. Readers who feel they’ve been wronged or bullied by a company or government agency contact me for help when they feel they have nowhere else to turn, and I try to act as something of a mediator. In one case, I was able to help a family of modest means convince a life insurance company to pay out a $100,000 death benefit the company previously refused to pay. I’ve helped consumers get money back from unethical contractors, encouraged banks to track down payments that were made but magically lost, shown readers how to navigate red tape. I hate bullies.

FPA: What does the Heart of Financial Planning Award mean to you?

Price Mueller: It’s such an honor to be recognized by a group that I hold in such high esteem. So many of the FPA’s programs are similar in goal to what I try to do every day, and the FPA’s core values are ones I live by. When I look at the extraordinary work done by so many in the financial planning community and those who have been honored before me, I’m blown away to be in such company.

FPA: Why is it important that we nominate those within our community?

Price Mueller: It’s a way to say thank you. You probably feel good when you see someone doing great work, selfless work, the kind of work that really makes a difference in someone’s life. It’s something to be proud of. And chances are the person doing the good work is modest and not one to toot his horn. You should toot it for him.