YOU Magazine - August 2007 - How to Pick a Financial Planner
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Kathleen Petty     Kathleen Petty
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Alaska USA Mortgage AK#157293
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How to Pick a Financial Planner

How to Pick a Financial Planner




Planning your financial future has never been more important. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has warned Americans that they need to increase their rate of savings. But once you have taken this step, the question then becomes what's the best way to invest the money to ensure that you will meet your short- and long-term financial goals? Enlisting the guidance of an experienced professional could make all of the difference. YOU Magazine turned to the experts at Kiplinger for advice regarding how to choose a financial planner.

Financial and investment planning often consists of creating a comprehensive overview of your current financial condition along with recommendations for achieving your future financial goals. Depending on its complexity, such a plan can cost you anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

People are also likely to turn to a financial planner for help with less sweeping challenges. What to do with a lump sum received from an inheritance is a common problem, teeming with tax and investment decisions that need to be made in a hurry.

A good planner will see to it that your investments are diversified and appropriate for your goals and stage in life: growth funds for an IRA, for example, or municipal bonds to generate tax-free income. A good planner can also help you anticipate the tax consequences of your investment decisions.

Even if your planner is going to make your investment decisions, keep informed about what's happening to your account, and don't hesitate to disagree if you become uneasy about what's being done with your money. It is up to you to make sure that the planner stays in tune with your goals and risk tolerance.

A planner's credentials are the most obvious clue to his or her preparation for the job. The best-known credential is the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation. In addition to the CFP, other leading planning credentials indicating extensive training include the ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant), and the CPA/PFS (Certified Public Accountant, Personal Financial Specialist).

The Yellow Pages are full of the names of planners, but start your search with a reference of some kind, from friends, family, or co-workers. Lawyers, accountants, mortgage professionals, and insurance agents are also good people to ask. Once you've got a list of planners with recognized credentials, call or visit two or three, comparing their fee structures and their competence as investment advisors.

Fee Structure
Planners earn their keep in one (or more) of three ways. Some work on a fee-only basis, charging you by the hour or by the specific task. Others collect commissions on the products they sell you, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and insurance policies. Many charge a mixture of fees and commissions.

An advisor's fee structure is no indicator of competence. Just because a commission-based advisor is likely to pick a fund with a sales load and a fee-only advisor would probably choose a no-load fund, it doesn't mean that the commission-based planner isn't acting in your best interest. However, in the end, while you might not pay the commissioned planner any more than you pay the fee-based advisor in the case of that fund load, the sales load is coming out of your investment, leaving less working for you in the market.

Investment Record
A planner you're considering should be willing to give you information on how other clients' portfolios have performed. Compare those records with one another and the performance of the markets as a whole before making a choice. Often the advisor will provide you with comparable performance benchmarks to give you an idea where to look on your own. Pay special attention to how well the planner has done in achieving the objective you'll be pursuing, whether it's for growth, income, or a combination. Ask the planner to sketch out how he or she would deploy your financial resources, and decide whether you like the result.

®2007 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Used with permission. Adapted from Kiplinger's Guide to Investing Success Kaplan Publishing. (® 2006 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc.)


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