Selecting a Financial Planner

5/3/2004

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Consumers look to financial planners to provide objective, knowledgeable advice about managing an important aspect of their lives: their money. Because the field is largely unregulated, however, the title "financial planner" does not guarantee any level of qualifications or expertise. Consumers therefore need to exercise caution when choosing someone with whom to entrust financial resources.

Recommendations from friends, relatives, and colleagues may be a good first step to finding a financial planner. Carefully consider the education and professional background of prospective planners. Financial planners who hold the designations RFC (Registered Financial Consultant), CFP (Certified Financial Planner), or ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant) or who are members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors have codes on ethics, honesty, and conflicts of interests which they are obligated to uphold.

Once you have selected a prospective planner, schedule a preliminary interview. Question the financial planner about his or her professional background, education, employment history, investment philosophy, and areas of specialization. Ask for the names of recent clients and examples of plans and monitoring reports. Does the planner keep current on financial matters through continuing education and training? Also ask how the financial planner expects to be compensated (e.g., fees, commissions, or a combination of the two) and get a written estimate of the cost for services.

Remember, a good financial planner should help you get a clear picture of your financial situation and lay the foundation for future investment decisions. Beware of planners who offer few or no alternatives in your investment plan, which may indicate the planner's intent to steer you into a fraudulent scheme or sell a specific product for the commission. Similarly, avoid planners who use high-pressure sales tactics or promise unusually high rates of return on investments. Be on guard for possible Ponzi schemes that can masquerade as tax shelters, precious metals, commodities, high-tech stocks, and other investment vehicles.

Further protect yourself against fraud by contacting your Better Business Bureau and state securities agency to determine if the planner has a background of noncompliance with state and federal laws or a history of complaints.

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