How to Select a Financial Planner

In these financially unsettling times, wouldn’t it be nice to know you can still send your children to college, retire at 65 and be able to mail postcards from exotic locations to your future grandchildren? It’s not only possible, it’s probable when your finances are in the right hands.

While you may be skilled at handling certain money matters, chances are you don’t even realize you’re inept at others. To be safe, it might be time you considered the benefits of personal financial planners. Even if you feel you can perform several of the functions of a financial planner yourself, putting them all together into a cohesive strategy that produces solid, long-term returns is no easy feat. A financial planner can make that happen.

When considering how to choose a financial advisor, you’ll want to sit down and really evaluate your needs. This depends, at least in part, on your stage in life, your goals and what you expect to receive in return. Are you a new college graduate with $50,000 in debt, $30,000 in income with a brand-new 401(k)? Or are you a 60-year-old trying to prepare for retirement? Once you figure out what you’re looking for, it’s easier to determine how much help you need and where to look.

How to Choose a Financial Planner

Financial planners deal with everything from estate and tax planning to insurance and debt management to college savings and retirement funds. When figuring out how to find a financial planner, make sure to look for one who has experience working with others in situations similar to yours. As with any professional service, you’ll want to start by asking for suggestions from people whose judgment you trust. Ask acquaintances who have needs similar to yours, since a planner focused on the needs of young families may not be a good choice for recent retirees.

Questions to Ask a Financial Planner

Before selecting a financial advisor, you’ll want to do your research. Ask the following questions (created by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors) to ensure they have the expertise and qualifications necessary to guarantee reliable service, and that they are the right fit for your particular situation:

What is your educational background?

College Degree:

Graduate Degree:

What are your financial planning credentials/ designations and affiliations?

NAPFA-Registered Financial Advisor

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)

Certified Public Accountant/Personal Financial

Specialist (CPA/PFS)

How long have you been offering financial planning services?

Do you have clients who might be willing to speak with me about your services?

Will you provide me with references from other professionals?

Have you ever been cited by a professional or regulatory governing body for disciplinary reasons?

What more can you tell me about your experience in providing financial planning services?

How many clients do you work with?

Are you currently engaged in any other business, either as a sole proprietor, partner, officer, employee, trustee, agent or otherwise?

Will you or an associate of yours work with me?

Will you sign a Fiduciary Oath?

Do you offer advice on:

Goal setting

Cash management and budgeting

Tax planning

Investment review and planning

Estate planning

Insurance needs

Education funding

Retirement planning

Charitable planning

Do you provide a comprehensive written analysis of my financial situation and recommendations?

Does your financial planning service include recommendations for specific investments or investment products?

Do you offer assistance with implementation of the recommendations?

Do you offer continuous, on-going advice regarding my financial affairs, including advice on non-investment-related financial issues?

Do you have a minimum fee?

If you earn commissions, approximately what percentage of firm’s commissions comes from:

Insurance Products


Mutual Funds

Limited Partnerships

Stock and Bonds

Coins, Tangibles, Collectibles


Does any member of your firm act as a general partner, participate in, or receive compensation from investments you may recommend to me?

Do you receive referral fees from attorney, accountants, insurance professionals, mortgage brokers, or others?

Do you receive on-going income from any mutual funds that you recommend in the form of 12b(1) fees, trailing commissions, or other continuing payouts?

Are there financial incentives for you to recommend certain financial products?

How is your firm compensated and how is your compensation calculated?


Commissions Only

Fee and Commissions (Fee-Based)


Do you have an agreement describing your compensation and services that will be provided in advance of the engagement?

Do you take custody of, or have access to my assets?

If you were to provide me on-going investment advisory services, do you require “discretionary” trading authority over my investment account?