Insights & Advice

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Finding the Right Financial Planner for You

Let’s assume you decided to follow the advice in my last column and are now ready to develop a savings and retirement plan on your own or with some help. Either way, you’ll need to find a qualified financial planner.

Planners can provide you a complete soup to nuts service or simply offer recommendations on how to implement a self-created plan. Before beginning your search for a planner you should determine how much help you are going to need because planners don’t come cheap.

Fee-only planners typically charge by the hour (approx. $250), which is best if you are willing to do most of the work yourself. You can also pay project by project with the total package costing upwards of $800 for a comprehensive retirement plan. If you need ongoing help a retainer works best.

In my case, I prefer the hourly rate because I do my own planning and only need a reality check once in a while. My wife, on the other hand, is provided an on-going financial planning service through her employer who keeps a planning consultant on retainer.

“Fee-based planners” are a different kettle of fish. They charge an hourly fee for advice plus commissions on any financial products they might sell you. I’ve been to a number of so-called financial planning conferences that were only an excuse to pressure me into buying life insurance policies, annuities, portfolios of stocks, bonds, or funds and money management services. In many cases these fee-based planners or financial consultants make much more on product sales than they do on retirement planning advice.

You also need to know and understand what those acronyms mean on a planner’s business card. For example, a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) is not the same as a CFA (Certified Financial Analyst) or CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and for a financial planner to dispense investment advice, they must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In my case, as a Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) representative, I am required by law to always place my client’s interests above my own. It’s called “Fiduciary Responsibility.” Even though many brokers/consultants may call themselves “advisors” they do not have that same fiduciary obligation so buyers beware.

Once you know what you need, use all your resources– family, friends, and coworkers—in your search. Ask for names of planners they have used and liked. If that fails, access one of several websites like the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (napfa.org), the Financial Planning Association (fpanet.org) or The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc, (CFP.net/learn).

After settling on a couple of prospects interview them in person or by phone. Most local planners will offer to meet with you in person for an introductory, no-fee presentation. Once you’ve decided, make one final check to be sure the planner’s certification has not been suspended or revoked by calling the CFP Board at (888)237-6275.

I know that sounds like a lot of work but finding a good planner is worth it. They can set you on a financial path to successful retirement and insure you stay on it. Remember too that consumer protection begins with you especially when it comes to your finances.

Posted in A Few Dollars More, Financial Planning