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How to Choose a Financial Planner

Professional Help: How to Find the Right Financial Planner

With so many people offering financial advice, it's hard to know who to turn to; our partners at LearnVest offer us some tips on how to know what type of advisor is right for you.

While there are many financial tasks that you can accomplish on your own — like setting up a budget that works best for your lifestyle — sometimes you just need to call in the pros.

Financial planners and financial advisors with formal training can help get you to the next level of fiscal health — or give you the necessary push to reform some bad money habits. They aren't just for emergencies or for people with considerable assets, either — in fact, consulting the appropriate professional before anything goes wrong may circumvent a whole host of potential problems.

But with so many types of experts out there, it can be hard to figure out what kind of financial advisor will be most effective for your particular situation and needs.

So we've simplified things a bit by putting together this helpful go-to guide to the seven most common financial services professionals — from experts who offer the most comprehensive list of services to financial advisors who specialize solely in investing — to help you figure out who to call when. Keep reading.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

A Certified Financial Planner is an expert who has met the educational, professional and ethical requirements determined by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. This includes at least three years of professional experience — or two years of apprenticeship experience under a CFP — in the industry, as well as the successful completion of a rigorous, ten-hour exam.

A similar certification is the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC). A person with this certification performs similar tasks to CFPs, but this credential was developed with an emphasis on insurance.

CFPs and ChFCs can help you:

  • Address cash-flow problems, and set up a budget
  • Determine the types of insurance that you need to protect yourself
  • Figure out whether you have the right mix of investments in your portfolio
  • Make sure that your estate planning documents are in order

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

CPAs are highly trained, certified accountants or financial professionals who specialize in matters related to taxes. While all CPAs are accountants, not all professionals who call themselves accountants are CPAs.

CPAs can help you:

  • Prepare income tax returns
  • Plan your taxes
  • Organize your investment and estate planning to reap the maximum benefits, while paying the least amount in taxes
  • Guide you on the best way to save for college and retirement

Chartered Life Underwriters (CLU)

Chartered life underwriters are experts who specialize in life insurance and estate planning. If you’re specifically looking for a financial advisor to help you with these issues, you can seek out an expert with this certification. Many CFPs and other financial services professionals also have the CLU distinction.

CLUs can help you:

  • Find the right life insurance policy for your needs, and update it accordingly
  • Set up a family corporation, if you have considerable assets
  • Establish trust funds
  • Manage your will and estate

Credit Counselor

Credit counselors are experts who work with individuals who are struggling with debt issues or who are considering bankruptcy. Before filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you should speak with a credit counselor to make sure that you really can’t pay off your debts. It’s important to work with a credit counselor who’s approved by the government.

Credit counselors can help you:

  • Create a plan for paying off debt
  • Delay or stop legal action and collection calls resulting from your debts
  • Declare bankruptcy

Registered Investment Advisor (RIA)

A registered investment advisor isn’t always a person — the certification also applies to financial firms that provide investment advice and are in compliance with the Securities and Exchange Commission (which doesn't allow registration for people or companies managing under $25 million in assets). You're most likely to work with an RIA if you have significant investments. And since the certification can be held by a company, any company that's an RIA can employ individuals with additional certifications, such as CPAs or CFPs.

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