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How To Pick a Financial Planner

If trust and expertise is what you want, here's how to find a planner that fits the bill.

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Over 200,000 Planners

What Are You Planning?

Do you want advice on how to invest your savings?  Or how long you need to work? Help in controlling your spending or getting out of debt?  Or help planning your taxes?

When shopping for a financial planner, know that these issues are connected.  What seems like one problem (How can I get more from my investments?) often masks another (How can I spend less and save more?).  So think clearly about what you want, and find someone who can give you more than one type of advice.

Start with Personal References

But Don't Stop There

Financial planning networks, such as the National Association of Personal Financial Planners (847-483-5400, or http://www.napfa.org) or the Financial Planning Association (800-322-4237, or http://www.fpanet.org/), will let you search for accredited planners by location or specialty.

Some other places to find financial planners include:

  • Your bank or credit union.
  • Your retirement plan or IRA administrator.
  • Your workplace.

Trust & Expertise

Who Pays Your Planner?

It’s always good to interview at least three candidates to find the one who can deliver what you need – and who’s compatible with your personal style.

Questions to ask:

Adapted from a list provided by Prof. Tamar Frankel, of Boston University:

What are your credentials?

  • There are lots of credentials in the marketplace, so also ask what the credentials mean.
  • Ask if there are any past or present disciplinary or bankruptcy proceedings against the planner.

How are you compensated?
These questions will help identify potential conflicts of interest:

  • What commissions or fees do you receive, if any, in addition to the amounts that I would pay you?
  • Are you selling only investments offered by your organization, or are you selling investments offered by others?
  • Do you trade in securities you recommend?

What type of advice do you offer?
These questions will help determine if it’s right for you:

  • What types of investment or trading strategies do you recommend to clients?
  • How do you find specific securities or investments to recommend?
  • How do you decide which securities or investments to recommend to particular clients?

How can I trust that you will do what’s best for me?

  • Do you consider yourself a fiduciary, with a duty to act solely on my behalf?
    • If yes, are you willing to put that in writing?
    • If not, why not?
  • And while you’re at it, get the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the planner’s supervisor, accountant, and the “custodian” that holds the clients’ money and investments.

Don’t forget to check:

  • References. Ask the adviser for two or more of his clients.  Then follow up.  Find out how the planner performs in specific circumstances, such as during a financial crisis.
  • State agencies that keep tabs on planners – to see if there have been complaints.

Get It Done

Nothing Happens Unless You Make it Happen

If you like, print out this How-To and put  reminders in your calendar to help you move from How-To to Done!

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