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"How to shop for a financial planner" by Julie Jason

Originally published: October 4, 2018 (distributed by King Features Syndicate)

Let’s talk about shopping for a financial planner.

If you recall, we started that conversation with J.M., a San Jose, Calif., reader, by laying the regulatory groundwork. How a financial planner is regulated, if at all, is always the place to start. (If you missed the column, email me at readers@juliejason.com, and I’ll send you a copy.)  

While I have no connection or affiliation with any financial planning organization, I do believe that you would be well-advised to seek out a financial planner with credentials, such as those conferred by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (a nonprofit organization that seeks to foster professional standards in personal financial planning).

Assuming that you agree with me, you’d start with a visit to the credentialing organization. Again, taking the CFP as an example, you would go to “Find a CFP Professional” at https://tinyurl.com/y6v6kg48.

If you enter your city and state, you’ll get a long list of local CFPs, showing their names, firms, addresses, phone numbers and specialties.

You also will find compensation method (“Commission and Fee,” “Commission Only” and “Fee Only”), and you will see minimum investable assets ($0 to $99,000, $100,000 to $249,000, and so on, with a highest bracket of $5 million-plus). You can do a more advanced search that targets your needs better.

For example, J.M., may want to focus on San Jose, with payment to be “Fee Only” and investable assets of under $99,000 (I’m making up this number).

As to specialization, there are 47 choices listed to choose from. “General Financial Planning” might be a good choice for J.M. Other examples include “Comprehensive Financial Planning,” “Budget Development,” “Asset Allocation,” “Charitable Giving,” “Long Term Care,” “Tax Preparation,” “Socially Responsible Investments” and “Social Security Planning.”  

This type of search will help with finding a good fit. As FINRA points out: “You’ll want to make sure you fully understand which areas of your financial life a particular planner can — and cannot — help with before you hire that person.” FINRA is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Your search will give you a list of people to review and possibly interview.

I asked CFP Board Ambassador and CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger to give me her perspective.

(CFP Board Ambassadors are Certified Financial Planner professionals “chosen after completing a rigorous application process and based on their demonstrated leadership skills, passion for the financial planning profession and commitment to the CFP Board’s mission to serve the public.”)

“With a CFP, you’re going to someone who is going to go through a thorough examination of the key issues in your financial life,” said Schlesinger. “CFPs are trained to take a holistic approach in looking at your financial life. Most CFPs will do that. However, each individual professional charges in a different way. It’s important to ask, ‘How am I going to pay for your services?’”

J.M. will find some candidates to interview by doing a search. When she talks with them, she will likely probe to uncover these additional elements that J.M. feels are essential:

“Even if they are technically salespeople, the type of planner we are looking for would be someone who loves their job, loves people, loves helping and educating, and oh, by the way, is making pretty good money doing it versus sell, sell, sell. We can feel that a mile away, even on phone conversations,” said J.M.

I’m sure you’ll agree that passion for helping people achieve their financial goals is paramount.