Dear Kirk: I’m finally making some real money—yay!—and I’m considering the idea of a financial planner, but I have no idea what to expect. How do I go about finding a planner that suits my needs? And what can I expect as far as costs go?
Kirk Says: Think of a financial planner in the same view as your doctor, lawyer or accountant. You need someone that you trust with your well-being, someone who is an expert in their field and someone who capable of clearly communicating with you. It’s essential to find someone who understand your concerns and is able to express solutions in a way that is both easy to understand and easy to act on.
I know these criteria may sound elementary, but without these characteristics in a planner, you may not achieve much as a team.
Let’s start by understanding how financial planning professionals get paid. There are two ways that these folks earn their living. First, most get a commission from the products that they recommend and you ultimately purchase. Does this create an environment where the planner may have a vested interest in what products he recommends to you? Absolutely. Hence, as we mentioned before, it is vitally important that you trust that your financial advisor is looking out for your well-being and not his/her own.
The remainder of financial planners get paid a fee for their plans. This fee may be a flat hourly fee, a flat fee per customized financial plan, or a percentage of the assets that they manage for you. This is great for you, the consumer, because it pulls the chance of impropriety out of the mix. Meaning: If you have paid a flat fee for the plan, you can then choose to purchase the products they recommend (or any other products of your own choosing) from any outlet. However, you are still going to have the commission charge to pay for the product that you purchase. In this case, you may be paying double what you should to have the peace of mind that you were not hoodwinked in some way.
Next, let’s consider how to find the right fit for you. When you’re researching potential planners, look for designations. Financial planners that are worth their weight will have professional designations following their name that indicate that they have invested time and money to become better educated. These designations also come with an oath of fiduciary responsibility to look out for you, the client, first—and not their own interests. These designations even require continuing education to keep them current. The most important designations to look for as a consumer are the CFP (Certified Financial Planner), CHFC (Chartered Financial Consultant) and CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter).
As always—do your due diligence. Make a list of a half dozen financial planners in your area, looking for those designations. From that list, make appointments with three of them and go visit for an hour to explain what you are looking for and what your goals are. Visit them at their office. Does their place of business give you a safe, professional feeling? If you seem to have a connection with one of these professionals, congratulations. If not, keep looking. Your money is too important to throw away, or to trust in the hands of someone who is less than capable (which may essentially be the same thing).
Kirk Gwaltney is a Chartered Financial Consultant and a Chartered Life Underwriter in Brentwood, Tenn. Learn more about him at kirkgwaltney.com.