Financial planners can help consumers make objective decisions

Posted: Friday, November 07, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) Some people are pretty good at creating a budget, holding down debt, managing investments, buying the right amount of insurance and saving for retirement.

Most people, however, could benefit from a little help, and that means hiring a financial planner.

So how should consumers go about finding a planner, and what should they expect?

''A lot of people equate financial planning with investment advice, but it's so much more than that,'' said David B. Yeske, president of the Financial Planning Association. ''It's about helping people marshal all their human and financial resources to achieve their goals.''

Done right, Yeske said, a solid financial plan gives a consumer ''the flexibility to deal with the unexpected events in life,'' from a bear market to losing a job.

So a planner will look at how families are saving to educate the kids and fund their retirements. But the planner also will make sure they're selecting the right employee benefits, buying the appropriate amount of insurance, setting aside enough money in an emergency fund and considering the tax implications of saving and borrowing decisions, he said.

In addition to a holistic approach, financial planners can bring objectivity to the table, said Fredrick Adkins, chairman of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

''Many things are easy to do yourself,'' Adkins said. ''But what you never can do is do it objectively.''

A financial planner, he said, ''is a disinterested party who can be a sounding board to help you avoid bad decisions and get out of bad situations.''

Adkins suggested that the best way to find a good planner is to ask friends, co-workers and relatives for a recommendation.

Families also can find the names of planners on the Web Sites of professional associations:

Financial Planning Association, www.fpanet.org

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants-Personal Financial Planning Division, www.aicpa.org

National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, who are fee-only planners, www.napfa.org

Society of Financial Service Professionals, www.financialpro.org

The next step is to call several planners and interview them about their expertise and the services they offer.

''Ask the planners to describe their educational backgrounds, experience and specialties, the size and duration of their practice (and) how often they communicate with clients,'' the CFP Board of Standards recommends.

Consumers should not be embarrassed to ask about the cost, Adkins said. And they can request a written contract.

''Certified planners are required to fully disclose compensation from all sources,'' he said, whether it's fees or commissions based on products they sell.

Many planners will do an initial meeting for free, where the consumer and the planner can determine if they are compatible. At the very least, planners generally will mail brochures with information about their philosophies and techniques.

Some planners deal only with wealthier clients and charge hefty fees. But there are a growing number of planners that help consumers with more-modest means.

Adkins' firm, the Arkansas Financial Group, helped set up the Financial Decisions Institute in Little Rock, which charges a $300 upfront fee for preparation of a financial plan, then a $100 a year retainer for ongoing reviews.

''Many of the institute's clients are single moms who had no one to turn to,'' Adkins said. ''It's been a big help for them.''

The Garrett Planning Network, based in Shawnee, Kan., has planners in more than 30 states who can prepare full plans or help with specific problems for fees of between $100 and $200 an hour. The group maintains a Web site at www.garrettplanningnetwork.com.

Consumers should also check with the human resources department at the companies where they work. Financial planning whether in person or via telephone is sometimes offered as a company benefit, generally at a reduced rate.



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