What Everyone Needs to Know About Choosing a Financial Planner (And Why You Need One)
When it comes to investing, I truly wish I could get everyone to work with a financial planner. Many people will say they have a “financial adviser,” though too many people are referring to the person that oversees their 401(k) at work when they use this term when they should be referring to a financial professional that does more than look at their retirement account once a year. But I am talking about a qualified financial planner.
Now, anyone can call himself a financial planner. There are actually no laws governing who can use the term and refer to himself as a financial planner. That is a problem; and one that every person seeking quality financial help needs to remember when interviewing people to be their financial planner.
When I speak of a financial planner, I’m not talking about the insurance guy that says he offers “financial services,” or the local financial adviser that got his CFP (Certified Financial Planner) designation and suddenly offers “financial planning services.” Genuine financial planning is a comprehensive service that will entail every aspect of your finances both now and into the future. Anyone that hands you a “financial plan” and says “we’re all done” is not a true financial planner and is not offering comprehensive financial planning services.
So how can you find a good financial planner?
I would suggest that you start here. This article discusses the different types of financial planners and the differences between them. An important aspect of this decision you will make is working with the right professional, one that is qualified. Looking at everything from their experience and personality to the designations and fees associated with their services will play an important part of your decision.
A key statement in this article concerns the lack of laws surrounding who can use the title “financial planner:”
“Many investors assume that any professionals who refer to themselves as ‘financial planners’ have received some kind of certification. Unfortunately, there’s no rule governing who can go by the title of financial planner; anyone can set up shop using that title, whether or not they know anything about finance or have any experience. You’re better off sticking with financial planners who have an actual certification by a governing agency, be it state or federal.”
While your local financial adviser or the helpful guy at the bank do good work and certainly have knowledge of investments, there is a good chance that they do not offer comprehensive financial planning services. Registered Representatives and Investment Advisers work for broker dealers and offer advice on various investments. They are highly trained salespeople that are very good at discussing investments but not other aspects of your financial needs.
After doing your homework, you are likely to discover that a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is considered the best choice for a financial planner. I would agree with this conclusion. However, I will also urge you to go one step farther by investigating how comprehensive the services offered by your CFP are. If you meet with your CFP and are not asked about your tax bracket, social security position, pension, insurance position, debts, or short term and long-term financial goals, you might want to keep looking.
Assuming you feel confident you’ve found someone you would like to work with, I recommend asking some questions to dig deeper and get to know your financial planner and the services offered. Asking questions like these will help you determine if you’ve really found the right person.
Among the most important questions I would encourage you to ask are questions concerning whether your financial planner is commission based or fee based. A fee-based adviser is often considered to have an advantage because regardless of the investment you choose his pay does not change. This means that the financial planner is not driven by high commission payouts when giving advice.
Another important question to ask is whether your financial planner is considered a fiduciary or not. A fiduciary is one who must put his clients needs before his own and always do what is in the best interest of his clients. While you might think every financial planner would be a fiduciary and hold to this standard, such is not the case. So you must be diligent in asking about this yourself. Some firms hold their entire staff to the fiduciary standard while others do not. Consider this carefully.
You should always be comfortable with the financial planner you choose to work with because, ideally, you will work closely with the planner for many years. Regardless of how good someone looks on his or her resume, if the planner doesn’t connect with you and make you feel confident and comfortable, it might be better to find a new planner.
The truth is, working with a qualified financial planner can be a valuable investment in your financial future. A good planner will be able to spot money mistakes you are making and also be able to keep you from making other mistakes. A good planner can help you navigate the “what-if’s” of life with greater confidence and be prepared for the unexpected. So when choosing your financial planner make sure you are confident and comfortable with your planner and then get to work. With the right planner you have every reason to be optimistic.