There’s retirement to plan for and college tuition for the kids. Insurance. Estate preparing. And, oh, don’t forget a wedding for the daughter. If all this sounds familiar, it could be time for you to start shopping around for a monetary planner.

Certain experts, such as share brokers or tax preparers, exist to help you deal with specific aspects of your own financial life. But if you don’t have an overall plan, you may well be re-writing your wheels trying to get ahead. Which where financial planners come in. One who’s trained and astute will typically draw up a written plan that focuses on such things as your pension and insurance needs, the investments you need to make to reach your objectives, college-funding strategies, plans to tackle debt – and finally – methods to correct any mistakes you have made in haphazardly trying to plan on your own.

Before starting shopping for a planner, one word of caution: Unlike brain surgeons, hairdressers, and plumbers, a financial planner doesn’t have to crack a book, take an exam or otherwise demonstrate competence before hanging out a shingle. In other words, anyone can claim the title – and thousands of poorly trained people do. That means finding the right planner to suit your needs and your family will take more work than researching the best new flat-screen TV. And so it should. After all, it’s your financial future that’s at stake.

Here’s how to get started:

The old-boy system

One easy way to begin looking for a financial planner is to ask for recommendations. If you have a lawyer or an accountant you trust, ask him for the titles of planners whose work your dog is seen and admired. Professionals like that are in the best position to judge the planner’s abilities.

But don’t stop with the referral. You should also look closely at credentials. A certified financial planner (CFP) or a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) must pass a strenuous set of exams and have certain experience in the financial services field. This abc soup is no guarantee of excellence, but the initials do show that the planner is serious about his or her work.

You get what you pay for

Many economic planners make some or all of their profit commissions by selling investments plus insurance, but this system sets up an immediate conflict between the planners’ interests and your own. Why? Because the products that will pay the highest commissions, like expereince of living insurance and high-commission mutual funds, generally aren’t the ones that pay off best for the clients. In general, we think the very best advice is to steer clear of commission-only planners. You also should be wary of fee-based planners, who earn commissions and that also receive fees for their guidance.

That leaves fee-only financial organizers. They don’t sell financial products, such as insurance or stocks, so their advice is not likely to be biased or affected by their desire to earn a commission payment. They charge just for their guidance. Fee-only planners may charge a flat fee, a percentage of your investments — usually 1 percent – under their particular management or hourly rates starting at about $120 an hour. Still, you can generally expect to pay $1, five hundred to $5, 000 in the initial year, when you will receive a created financial plan, plus $750 to $2, 500 for ongoing advice in subsequent years.

Where to get help

If people you trust aren’t recommend planners in your area, or if you need to broaden the field from which you choose, you can find lists of local planners from the following trade organizations. Check out every group’s website.

* National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
* Financial Planning Association
* American Company of Certified Public Accountants

Trust but verify

After putting together a list of at least three candidates, arrange face-to-face interviews. These consultations are usually free of charge. Among the questions you’ll want to ask are usually:

* Do you specialize? Many organizers try to be jacks-of-all-trades and take any client who can pay. Some, however , work primarily with a certain type of client, such as small business owners or widows. Others tend to focus on one part of financial planning, such as retirement problems or college funding. You’ll want to make sure the planner has experience working with people whose financial lives are similar to your own.

* How are you compensated? Any reputable planner won’t flinch when you ask this question. It’s imperative to find out in advance both how you’ll be charged and how much.

* May I see your ADV form? This is a report the planner files with regulators. Part I of an ADV (the name stands for adviser) will tip you off to legal or regulating problems in the planner’s past. Component II outlines his or her experience, investment decision strategies and potential conflicts of interest. Planners are legally required to teach you Part II if you ask. They can refuse to show you Part I, yet that’s a good reason for you to refuse to provide them with your business.

* May I have what they are called of three clients similar to me personally? You’ll want to talk to these clients about their experience with the planner. It is . a good idea to ask to see at least one latest written plan; the planner may block out the name of the client to protect his / her privacy
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