As hard as it can be to admit it's time to bring in a personal financial planner, the harder work lies in actually hiring somebody. Do you want a certified financial planner, a personal financial specialist or a chartered financial analyst? Do you want to pay an hourly fee, a yearly percentage of assets or sales commissions? Where, in short, do you start?
Jordan Goodman, author of Everyone's Money Book, says the first decision is which compensation structure you're comfortable with. Allowing planners to earn commissions is the least costly, but some people fear it compromises their objectivity. Paying an hourly fee or percentage of assets eliminates the potential conflict, but it raises the upfront cost. And in between, some planners charge fees but also accept commissions for specific products.
Regardless, picking the wrong financial planner just because he or she charges less "is the tail wagging the dog," Goodman says. "The fees the financial planner can make are so anathema to people, they'd rather let their own finances fall apart than pay." Hire the right person, he says, and you'll save far more than you spend.
That settled, ask people in similar situations to your own for the names of their financial planners. You can also get a list of area certified financial planners--generally considered the minimum acceptable designation--from the Financial Planning Association. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisorswill provide a list of fee-only professionals.
Identify a few local planners who have experience working with people like you. Ray Ferrara, a member of the Financial Planning Association board of directors, says he recommends in-person interviews with at least three planners, probing their educational background, their client base and their experience. "Anyone should give you a one-hour free consultation to meet you and discuss your objectives," says Ferrara, himself a planner in Clearwater, Florida.
The Financial Planning Association publishes a helpful brochure on how to hire a planner, including the sometimes complicated task of sifting between the designations, and another that lists 10 questions to ask every professional you interview. But in the end, Goodman says, the decision usually comes down to chemistry. "Once you have all the technical stuff taken care of--their credentials, the fee structure, etc.--you have to feel comfortable with their judgment."
Scott Bernard Nelson is a financial writer at The Boston Globe.