The right planner can play a central role in helping you reach your life goals and achieve financial security, and taking the time to select a financial planner who is competent, trustworthy and relates to you is worth the extra trouble. Since your future may depend on your choice, here are some key points to consider for selecting the right financial planner.
Not all financial planners are created equal. Be wary of people who call themselves financial planners with the intent of pushing a particular product. True financial planning professionals have an ethical obligation to hold your financial interest above their own. Look for a professional who focuses on finding appropriate solutions, not selling products.
Not all financial planners are regulated. Anyone can call themselves a financial planner. One safe bet is to look for a planner who holds the CFP or Certified Financial Planner designation through the FPA. These professionals are held accountable to the FPA's Code of Professional Ethics for their financial planning recommendations and procedures. In addition to the ethics requirements, a CFP is required to pass a rigorous comprehensive examination, acquire several years of financial services experience and submit to annual continuing education requirements.
When evaluating the planner with whom you are going to work, you should not only interview the planner in person, you should also carefully check references. Information you should look for or ask for includes:
Education. Is it applicable to the planning industry?
Work experience. Make sure the planner has been in the industry at least 10 years. Ask for a brief description of how his or her work experience relates to your situation.
Qualifications. Ask what qualifies him or her to offer financial planning advice and if the individual is recognized as a CFP, CPA/Personal Financial Specialist or a Charter Financial Consultant.
Services performed. Does the planner have a well-rounded background and specialize in a broad spectrum of financial planning disciplines, or does he or she have a limited focus?
Compensation methods. Avoid commission- and product-driven advisers. A fee-based adviser may provide the most objective and unbiased advice.
True costs. Get your costs in writing, as well as a detailed description of the services to be provided. Watch out for hidden fees, commissions and transaction costs.
Other office professionals. It is important to see what additional expertise and experience a particular firm brings to your unique situation. Look for a firm with a deep talent pool.
Number of other clients served. Ensure the professional will be able to provide you with the level of attention you deserve. ;
Financial planning approach. Is it consistent with your needs and objectives?
Business affiliations. Does the planner have a business affiliation with any company whose products or services he or she is recommending? Avoid conflicts of interest.
References. Check existing clients and professional references such as bankers, accountants and attorneys.
Legal or industry complaints. Check with the FPA, the NASD and the SEC for any violations, lawsuits, censures or complaints.
As more people call themselves financial planners, finding the right professional to address your financial planning needs can be difficult. Take your time and do thorough research before making a decision. Become familiar with the planner's business style, personality, qualifications and experience. Make sure you understand the level of services he or she provides before you are committed to the relationship.
And finally, look for a measure of the planner's commitment to ethical behavior and adherence to high professional standards. Look for a financial planner who will put you and your unique needs at the center of every financial decision. J. Preston Byers II, CPA, CFP, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a financial planner with Consolidated Planning Corp., a registered advisory firm in Atlanta. He has more than 14 years of experience and expertise in the financial planning and investment industry providing sound advice to individuals, families and small business. Byers specializes in the areas of income tax planning, estate and gift planning, retirement planning, charitable gifting strategies and investments. Reach him at (404) 892-1995. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, member NASD/SIPC.
Never mind that I was already down at least a half dozen strokes. I ended up in a sand trap, and not the green side bunker; the one 50 yards in front of the green. It must have been the wind, right?
Playing to win can be tough; any golfer who has tried to reach a long par five green in two strokes can attest to that. But a difficult shot can suddenly become impossible with the addition of adverse conditions like strong wind, pouring rain or the lack of golf skills.
Investing can be viewed in a similar light.
Few would turn down the opportunity to invest when the markets are yielding eye-popping returns. It is human nature to want to invest when we feel good about our jobs, our family, the economy and the financial markets.
However, when the stock market moves south and we no longer have that warm, fuzzy feeling, most people don't invest as prudently as they should. Human nature often dictates that we do the exact opposite of what we know is in our best long-term interest, and we pull out of the market. Yet dropping out of investing altogether is as absurd as quitting a round of golf because you don't like the placement of the pins.
Instead, investors should re-examine their long-term plans, risk tolerance and investment mix, and make changes only as necessary. The important questions remain the same regardless of the market conditions: How much money do I need? When do I need it? What do I need it for? Am I still on course to get there?
Here are some tips to help you through unstable times, which are as inevitable as sand traps.
First, despite what the 24/7 financial news channels tell you, never panic. Market corrections and volatility are a fact of life. They can be severe, but when it comes to investing, what goes down usually comes up again. In fact, there has never been a bear market that we did not recover from and ultimately attain new highs.
Second, adjust your expectations. Many investors set unrealistic investment goals when they do not factor in current market conditions; don't fall prey to the same mistake.
Next, buy well and often. Down markets present potential opportunities to buy more with your hard-earned money. For example, if you always invest the same amount, you accumulate more shares when the market is down. When the market stabilizes, your return can rise proportionally. This investment principle, known as dollar-cost-averaging, may enable you to get more for your money.
However, dollar-cost-averaging does not assure a profit and does not protect against loss in declining markets. Since it is a strategy that involves continuous investments in securities regardless of fluctuating markets, consider your financial ability to continue purchasing during market downturns before implementing this strategy.
Finally, spend wisely. In an effort to increase your available cash, estimate your expenses and track your buying habits. Write down your expenditures for the next month. This will help you get a handle on your purchase patterns.
You can then highlight areas that are needs vs. wants, and evaluate remaining items to determine where you could spend less. Any excess that you discover can subsequently be redirected to your investments so you may take full advantage of dollar-cost-averaging.
The roller-coaster market that we are experiencing is more than just frustrating. For most, it is causing great concern, even fear. Investing, like golf, can be tough and requires great discipline. And like golf, the most consistent investors usually make the most successful investors in the long run.
Here's hoping that you get up and down in two. I didn't.
J. Preston Byers II, CPA CFP, a vice president with Consolidated Planning Corp. in Atlanta, is a Certified Financial Planner and Certified Public Accountant with more than 14 years of experience and expertise in the financial planning and investment industry, providing sound advice to individuals, families and small business. He specializes in investments, income tax planning, estate and gift planning, retirement planning and charitable gifting strategies. Reach him at (404) 892-1995 or email@example.com.