Dear Dr. Don,
I am looking for a retirement adviser who is excellent and not tied to a product. I lost my pension with a bankrupt company and, sadly, a large sum of money in the dot-com days. Are there real experts to be found somewhere?
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With all the information available to people these days, what benefit is there in having a financial planner? If there is a benefit, what type of financial planner should one use? Is it OK to just use a brokerage website and do it yourself?
-- Jodaki Jump-start
A financial planner can help you develop a comprehensive financial plan. A comprehensive financial plan is a lot more than managing your investments. A comprehensive financial plan can include budgeting, taxes, insurance, retirement, college savings and estate planning. You may not need to touch all these bases, but a comprehensive plan will make sure you don't miss a topic important to your goals. A holistic approach to financial planning considers life goals versus just financial goals.
The financial planner considers income, assets, risk tolerance and financial goals in developing a financial plan. A financial planner is a lot like a coxswain in crew, making sure the team is pulling together and is on course. Your financial team may include an accountant, an attorney, an insurance agent, an investment adviser and of course, the financial planner. A team member can perform more than one role, but be cautious in using a jack-of-all-trades.
While there's a lot of good information about financial planning on the Web, including at Bankrate.com, consumers have a hard time integrating it into a cohesive financial plan. Do-it-yourselfers are likely to have holes or blind spots in their plans.
There are a host of professional designations for financial planning, including Certified Financial Planner, or CFP, and Chartered Financial Consultant, or ChFC. The Bankrate feature, "Financial planners: Not just for millionaires anymore," discusses these and other professional designations.
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A recent publication from the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, "Pursuit of a Financial Advisor Field Guide," is free and available on the NAPFA website. In just 16 pages, it provides a great overview on how to find a financial adviser.
If you can't get comfortable with a financial professional, keep looking. Get a second opinion if necessary. Understand how the adviser is compensated for the work he or she does for you.