Financial planners advise clients on how best to save, invest, and grow their money. They can help you tackle a specific financial goal—such as readying yourself to buy a house—or give you a macro view of your money and the interplay of your various assets. Some specialize in retirement or estate planning, while some others consult on a range of financial matters.
Don’t confuse planners with stockbrokers — the market mavens people call to trade stocks. Financial planners also differ from accountants who can help you lower your tax bill, insurance agents who might lure you in with complicated life insurance policies.
Anyone can hang out a shingle as a financial planner, but that doesn’t make that person an expert. As with all things pertaining to your money, be meticulous in choosing the right planner.
Typically, financial planners earn their living either from commissions or by charging hourly or flat rates for their services. A commission is a fee paid whenever someone buys or sells a stock or other investment. For reasons we’ll explain later, you may want to avoid financial planners who rely on commissions for their income. These advisers may not be the most unbiased source of advice if they profit from steering you into particular products.
A growing number of financial planners make money only when you pay them a fee for their counsel. These independent financial planners don’t get a cut from life insurers or fund companies. You might pay them a flat fee, such as $1,500, for a financial plan. Or you could pay an annual fee, often 2% of all the assets—investment, retirement, college-savings and other accounts—they’re minding for you. Others charge by the hour, like lawyers.
You might also encounter financial planners who cater exclusively to the rich and refuse clients with less than $250,000 to invest. Don’t take it personally—hugely successful planners would just prefer to deal with big accounts rather than beginner clients. You want a planner who’ll make the time to focus on your concerns and is interested in growing with you.
Should You Use a Financial Planner?
You can certainly go it alone when it comes to managing your money. But you could also try to do it yourself when it comes to auto repair. In both areas, doing it yourself is a brilliant idea for some, and a flawed plan for many, many others. Mastering personal finance requires many hours of research and learning. For most, it’s not worth the time and ongoing effort.
As you get older, busier and (it is hoped) more wealthy, your financial goals – and options – get more complicated. A financial helper can save you time.
Financial planners can also help you remain disciplined about your financial strategies. They’ll make the moves for you or badger you until you make them yourself. Procrastination can cause all sorts of money problems or unrealized potential, so it pays to have someone riding you to stay on track.
We’re not suggesting that you ignore personal finance and turn over all your concerns to an adviser. But even if you know the basics, it’s a comfort to know that you have someone keeping watch over your money.
It may sound crazy to give someone 2% of your annual assets to manage them, but you get a buffet of advice about almost anything related to personal finance. The price becomes sensible when you consider that you’re paying to establish a comfortable retirement, save for your child’s college or choose the right mortgage when borrowing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
How to Find the Right Financial Planner?
To start, ask people like you if they can recommend a planner. If you have kids, ask a colleague who also has children. If you’re single and just out of college, check with a friend in the same boat. If possible, you want to find a planner with successful experience advising clients in the same stage of life as you.
An easier way to access financial planners near you, check the our free guide to locating the Best financial planners near you CertifiedFinancialAdvisor.co . These planners are prescreened and certified, which means they have been vetted through a rigorous process and licensed to perform the functions of a financial planner.
A few more tips for finding the best planner for your situation:
Look for a fiduciary.
In short, this means the planner has pledged to act in a client’s best interests at all times. Investment professionals who aren’t fiduciaries are often held to a lesser standard, the so-called sustainability standard. That means that anything they sell you merely has to be suitable for you, not necessarily ideal or in your best interest. This point is critical, and should be a deal breaker if a prospective planner is not a fiduciary.
Check to ensure the credentials the person claims to have are current. Google them.
Beware of market-beating brags.
Warren Buffet outperforms the market averages. There aren’t a lot of people like him. If you have an initial meeting with an adviser and you hear predictions of market-beating performance, get up and walk away. No one can safely make such guarantees, and anyone who’s trying may be taking risks that you don’t want to take.
Asking someone whether they’ll beat the market is a pretty good litmus test for whether you want to work with them. What they should be promising is good advice across a range of issues, not just investments. And inside your portfolio, they should be asking you about how many risks you want to take, how long your time horizon is and bragging about their ability to help you achieve your goals while keeping you from losing your shirt when the economy or the markets sag.
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