Are you looking for help with short-term financial planning, setting investment goals, or making long-term plans about retirement? If so, you’ll probably want to hire an expert to give you objective, reliable advice about how to get started.
It’s important to realize that when people say they need a “financial planner,” that term can mean a lot of different things. So, your first step is to decide exactly what you need. For example, say you simply want to come up with a monthly budget that pays off high-interest credit cards, allows you to save a bit of money each month, and organizes your general finances.
If that’s the case, you’ll probably do best with a financial planner or even consumer credit counselor. Fees are low for general help like this, and you won’t be making any major commitments to use the person’s services more than once or twice.
Here are some other essential details about how to find the right financial professional for your particular needs:
Know the Letters of the Specialties
There are five specialties you should know about: CPA, EA, CFP, CFA, and PFS. They’re all “financial professionals,” but their areas of expertise, and amount of education, are quite different.
CPAs, certified public accountants, are highly educated, all-around financial experts who can assist individuals and business owners with budgeting, planning, tax issues, retirement accounts, and estate management.
EAs, enrolled agents, are tax specialists who can help you file personal or business tax forms. They can even represent you in front of an IRS legal hearing if you need that kind of assistance.
CFPs, certified financial planners, do a wide range of things related to budgeting, long-term planning, short-term financial goals, and related chores.
CFAs, chartered financial analysts, tend to focus on giving sophisticated investment advice to their clients. If you have $100,000 to invest, a CFA can give you some insight about where to park the money for the best long-term results.
PFSs, personal financial specialists, work with individuals who need budgeting and planning help of all kinds.
Do Basic Research about Financial Advice
Spend an hour or two online making a list of all the pertinent financial professionals near where you live. You can connect with an online service provider, but many folks prefer to “keep it local” so they can meet with financial planners and advisors in person if need be. Plus, it’s easier to find reliable references for local providers.
Part of your research should include asking friends and relatives who they use for financial guidance. Sometimes, a personal referral is the fastest, safest way to find a person to help you with your money questions.
Ask Questions for the Financial Planner
When you hire any kind of financial service provider, it’s important to ask questions like “How long have you been doing this?”, “What is your educational background?”, “Can you help me come up with a realistic retirement plan?”, “Do you offer credit counseling?”, “Do you charge a flat fee or operate on a commission basis?”, and many more.
The questions you ask will be directly connected to the kind of financial advice you’re looking for, so be sure to write down at least a half-dozen queries for each person who makes your short list of candidates.
Trust, But Verify
It’s human nature to want to believe the best about people. Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples in the financial planning niche. The best way to avoid them is to check the credentials of anyone you consider hiring. If they claim to be a CFP, for example, you can easily check their certification status with the national organization. The same is true for CPAs and others.