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Ask The Experts: How Do I Pick a Financial Planner?

My husband and I have made the decision to start working with a financial planner this year. The problem is there are so many to choose from. How do I know who I can trust and who is a good fit for me? -Sally, IL

Sally, the term “financial advisor” is a very broad term so you should begin to narrow your focus by determining what you need – a generalist, or a specialist in areas such as retirement, tax, investments, or estate planning, etc.

Anyone can call themselves a financial planner or financial advisor; at this point there is no minimum experience or education required by law. To protect yourself, I suggest you only work with a person who has attained the CFP or Certified Financial Planner designation, and has a minimum of 5-10 years experience counseling individuals. This credential demonstrates a base level of knowledge, a degree of integrity, adherence to a strict code of ethics, and a continuing education requirement. While there are millions of “financial planners” nationwide only 55,000-60,000 of those individuals have completed the coursework to become a CFP professional. This should be a starting point for you.

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Next, I’d start my search by asking friends, family, colleagues who they know, like and trust. At a minimum you should interview 2-3 professionals before deciding on a choice. Ask the advisor how he charges (hourly, flat fee, percentage of assets, or commission), what his experience is, how he’d handle certain situations, how many clients he serves, his philosophy, how often he’ll communicate and will meet with you, how long it takes for him to returns calls/emails, and ask to speak with at least three of his existing clients as a reference.

Finally, be wary of advisors who have switched firms a lot, have less than 5 years experience, only can offer insurance products as solutions to your problems, push proprietary products, and someone with high client turnover. Make sure there are no complaints or violations against him. Be sure to check out your potential advisor on the web sites of the SEC, FINRA and EthicsCheck.com.

Bill’s Bottom Line: Don’t rush into a relationship with an advisor. Take your time. Do your homework. Trust your gut. Make an informed decision.

Bill Losey, CFP®, CSA, America's Retirement Strategist®, is the resident retirement planning expert on CNBC’s “On the Money”. He has been named one of America’s Top Financial Planners and is the author of Retire in a Weekend! The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Making Work Optional. He also publishes Retirement Intelligence, a free weekly award-winning newsletter. Bill can be reached online at www.MyRetirementSuccess.com.