5 Things to Consider While Selecting a Financial Planner

Unlike someone calling himself a CPA or a physician, just about anyone can call himself a “financial planner” or a “financial advisor” regardless of their educational background and professional experience. Moreover, not all of them are unbiased in their advice and not all of them always act in their clients’ best interests.

To ensure your financial planner is well-qualified in personal finances and impartial in his advice, consider the following five things:

1. Planning Credentials: Having a highly-regarded credential in financial planning, such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), confirms that the professional you intend to work with has acquired the education and experience necessary to serve as a financial planner. CFP and PFS credentials are awarded to only those individuals who have met the certification requirements of education and experience in planning for personal finances. In addition, they have to pass the certification examinations and agree adhere to the practice standards and continuing education requirements.

2. Subject Matter Expertise: Financial planners are planning professionals, not necessarily subject matter experts. For example, a financial planner will be skilled in tax analysis and planning,but unlike a Certified Public Account (CPA) or an IRS Enrolled Agent (EA) he might not necessarily be a subject matter expert when it comes to tax rules Similarly,a he could be skilled in chalking out an investment plan, but unlike a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) he may not be an authority in the subject of investments. Work with a financial planner who is also a subject matter expert in those areas of personal finance that are important in achieving your financial goals.

3. Client Specialization: Not all financial planners serve all types of clients. Most specialize in serving only certain types of clients with specific profiles. For example, a personal planner may build his expertise and customize his services to serve only those individuals and families who are in certain professions, or a particular stage of life with specific financial goals and net worth. Ask whether the planner specializes in serving only certain types of clients with specific profiles to determine whether he is the right fit for your situation and financial goals.

4. Fee structure: The fee structure largely determines whose interests he serves best – his client’s or his own. A Fee-Only professional charges only fees for their advice whereas a Fee-Based professional not only charges fees but also earns commissions, referral fees and other financial incentives on the products and solutions they recommend for you. Consequently, the advice from a fee-only one is more likely to be unbiased and in your best interests than the advice from a fee-based financial planner. Work with a professional whose fee structure is conflict-free and aligned to benefit you.

5. Availability: He or she should be regularly available, attentive, and accessible to you. Ask the planner how many clients he currently serves and the maximum number of clients he is planning to serve in the future regularly. This clients-to-planner ratio is one of the key factors in assessing your planner’s availability to you in the future. Also, ask which planning activities are typically performed by the planner and which ones are delegated to a para planner or other junior staff members. Lastly, make sure the planner is easily accessible via phone and email during normal business hours.

Once you have shortlisted a few well-qualified and unbiased financial planners in your local area, consult the ones who offer a FREE initial consultation first. During the initial consultation, assess the planner’s availability and any other professional attributes you are seeking in your financial planner.

Having a well-qualified and unbiased financial planner by your side is extremely important in your journey towards your financial goals. When searching for one, consider the planner’s professional credentials, client specialization, subject matter expertise, fee structure, and availability to select the right financial planner for your needs.

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Money Mistakes & Their Easy Fixes

Sometime during our lifetime we spend more than we planned, saved less than we should have or just made some horrible financial decisions. A few financial misfortunes here and there can add up to a lot of lost cash. Check out these common money mistakes and follow the advice to help put you on the path to a brighter financial future.

Money Mistake #1: No idea where your money is going.

What’s The fix? Making a budget is the best thing you can do to find out all the ways you are throwing away your money. At the end of the month you see you have spent $250 on fast food and $0 on paying down your high interest credit card then you need to make some spending adjustments.

Money Mistake #2: Not having an emergency fund.

What’s The Fix? Try and save a chunk of money in case something unexpected happens. It’s a good rule of thumb to have 3-6 months of expenses saved in case of an emergency. Set a goal and don’t stop saving until you hit your goal. If you’re not sure how much to save look at your monthly budget and figure out where you can cut to start saving for a rainy day.

Money Mistake #3: Waiting to save

What’s The Fix? Start saving NOW. Opening a retirement account in your 20s can potentially give you twice as much money as someone who starts one in there 30s.

My recommendation is to follow the Ten Cent Law. Take ten cents of every dollar you earn and put it in your savings account. It won’t be hard to Live on 90% of your income, and you’ll soon have a very nice nest egg.

Money Mistake #4: Using High-Interest Debt

What’s The Fix? If you are regularly overdrawing your checking account, using credit card advances or payday loans, you are essentially throwing your money away. Borrowing is OK, but those forms of debt are way to expensive. These forms of debt most always come when you have exhausted all other options.

Money Mistake #5: Paying off debts in the wrong order

Bigger balances on things like student loans and mortgages can seem overwhelming, but it’s the smaller credit card bills that can really hurt you.

What’s The Fix? Pay off the card whose balance is closest to its limit (having balances close to your limit lowers your credit score), and then start chipping away on the card with the highest interest rate. Also, refinance big-ticket balances (mortgage, etc.) to make payments a little more manageable.

Money Mistake #6: Spending money on items you could get for absolutely FREE

What’s The Fix? Did you know you can get music, books, magazines educational classes, book clubs, and even printing services at the local library? Just access their website and see what they have available. Also, get involved in a clothing swap, borrow from a friend instead of buying, and maybe talk a walk in the park or hike a national park instead of going to the mall. There are plenty of free options. You just need to find them.

Money Mistake #7: Buying NOW

If you MUST have things BEFORE you have money to cover them, you’ve fallen prey to the great American debt trap. Just look at interest charges – debt isn’t cheap.

What’s The Fix? Are you buying things before you have the money to pay for them? Remember, debt isn’t cheap. I believe in good things come to those who wait. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. If you can wait until later to buy that all important item and put money away to save for it, you won’t have to use high interest credit cards. That’s how you become debt free.

Money Mistake #8: Spending too much on housing

What’s The Fix? As we all know, it’s easy to spend way too much on housing. The rule of thumb is, you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of your income on housing. If that doesn’t work for you, living with parents or roommates is a perfect strategy. And, when you decide to move out on your own make sure your mortgage or rent do not put your long-term financial goals in jeopardy.

Financial mishaps are certainly a part of life but it is easy to recognize your mistakes and learn from them. Make it your goal to stop making these common money mistakes. In the end, your piggy bank will thank you.

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