Lenz says he knew he'd found the right adviser in Janet Stanzak of Financial Empowerment LLC in Bloomington, Minn., because they had the same attitude about financial planning. And Lenz liked the more personal touch to her office, which "wasn't one of those high-rises" downtown, he says, but is connected to an auto repair shop her husband owns.
With his initial failed attempt at working with a financial planner in mind, Lenz had a particular set of criteria he wanted to meet, including finding out how each adviser was paid.
Don't be afraid to ask how a planner is compensated, says Tim Minard, senior vice president of distribution at Principal Financial Group.
"Have transparent conversations about how and what they get paid," he says. "Any adviser today really has to be fully transparent."
For Lenz, finding a fee-based adviser was a must, because he didn't want to work with someone who was concerned with pushing products. He paid Stanzak $2,500 for several months' worth of meetings during which they developed a plan, which included asset allocation, retirement planning and saving to send his kids to college.
Advisers also recommend checking out credentials. Look for professionals with designations like Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) or the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®), or do your search through organizations like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
"You can trust that they have a certain amount of expertise," Hunter says.
You can also vet the firms advisers work for by checking financial strength ratings with Moody's or Standard & Poor's, says Chantel Bonneau, an adviser with Northwestern Mutual in Los Angeles.
"Look for advisers that work for a strong company," she says. "It is also important to have a company that has ample resources and research as your needs change."
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Even if you think you can't afford a financial planner, Minard cautions not to judge your need for financial advice on the level of assets you have. If you're just starting out in the workforce or don't have money to invest — at least yet — that doesn't mean you won't be able to find an adviser willing to work with you.