Financial Planning

Signs You May Need a Financial Planner (And How to Find the Right One)

From your first paycheck to your first child, tips for seeking out the best financial adviser

Recent findings from Northwest Mutual showed a big disconnect between what Americans know they should do financially and what they end up doing. The study also showed that 58 percent believe their financial planning needs improvement, with a third admitting they have not taken any steps to plan for their financial future.

While these results showcase an uptick in ‘non-planners,’ the findings aren’t surprising. Regardless of income level or occupation, many people just don’t think about their finances the same way they consider other pieces of their lives—health, marriage, education, children, happiness etc.

Ironically, financial health is intertwined with most of those core components and stages. In fact, when it comes to relationships, fights about money are among the biggest frictions in a marriage and top contributors to divorce. Similarly, financial well-being has been linked to overall health and well-being. So why aren’t more people creating a financial plan for success?

A common reason I’ve seen in practice is not knowing where to start. And while some choose to tackle their finances on their own, taking on a financial planner may be a good avenue to explore. Below is my advice on why one would seek out a financial planner and how to find the right one.

You’re Finally Making Money. Unlike taking your driver’s test at the ripe age of 16, there isn’t a predetermined date for taking on a financial planner. With that said, getting your first paycheck can and should trigger expense and savings discussions, especially when that paycheck begins to grow. And the earlier you start, the better chance of success. So, if you’re at a point when you’re bringing money in, it may be a good idea to put a plan in place to start accumulating wealth and planning for the future.

Money in Motion. Some may realize the need for financial planner in the midst of a major life event, such as a marriage, a first (second, third) child, looming retirement or a separation. Naturally, there are a lot of emotions to process, but it could also be a great time to access your financial situation and put a plan in place. For instance, if you are getting married, consider how to best couple your finances, create a college fund or start investing. The more financially prepared you are for the journey ahead, the better the outcome.

Dealing with Pesky Debt. It’s no surprise that most people come out of college or grad school with serious debt. In fact, as of January of this year student debt was at an-all-time high of $1.1 trillion, with nearly 20 percent of student borrowers being in default. Now we know not all debt is created equal, and some may even be good for you. The key is to focus on the debt and fees you can control and minimize those expenses wherever possible. A financial planner can help identify opportunities to reduce expenses such as interest, so you have more money in your pocket to save and invest.

How Do You Find the Right One?

As with any professional services you seek out in life, a lot of it boils down to trust and understanding. Do you trust this person to put you in the right position to succeed? Do you understand how he or she conducts business and receives compensation? Do you agree with his or her philosophy? And of course, can you see yourself working with that person and growing you financial wealth for years to come?

A good way to start is looking at the professional designation. While there are plenty of great advisors that don’t have a professional designation, a respected and recognized credential, such as a CFP® or a CFA® can add another level of comfort. For instance, A CFP® has completed extensive training in financial planning, estate planning, investment management, insurance, taxes and retirement planning. A CFA® also is also trained in financial planning, with a special emphasis on portfolio management and financial product analysis. Both adhere to the fiduciary standard, which is the highest level of ethical standards and, in my opinion, extremely vital.

Another aspect to consider is compensation. The industry is changing fast, and new compensation models mean more choices for consumers. Take a look at whether the potential planner takes commission when they buy or sell a financial product or is commission-free (or fee-only). The latter have chosen not to take commission and instead charges a flat, transparent fee.

When starting the search, consider visiting websites that allow you to search for a professional based on credentials and compensation, such as letsmakeaplan.org, plannersearch.org or brightscope.com.

Of course, your due diligence process can only take you so far. Often, trust and personality become the deciding factor. So take the time to meet with your potential planner and really get to know them. At the end of the day, financial wellbeing shouldn’t be painful; instead, similar to many other important parts of your life, creating a financial plan and accumulating wealth can be a pleasant and rewarding experience.

Taylor Schulte, CFP® is founder and CEO of Define Financial, a San Diego-based fee-only firm. He is passionate about helping clients accumulate wealth and plan for retirement.

About the Author

Taylor Schulte, CFP

Founder and CEO, Define Financial

Taylor Schulte, CFP®, is founder and CEO of Define Financial, a fee-only wealth management firm in San Diego. In addition, Schulte hosts The Stay Wealthy Retirement Podcast, teaching people how to reduce taxes, invest smarter, and make work optional. He has been recognized as a top 40 Under 40 adviser by InvestmentNews and one of the top 100 most influential advisers by Investopedia.

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