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Chapter 5: Choosing a Financial Advisor

Many aspects of financial planning can be done on your own. However, there may be times when you will find it helpful to use the services of a professional. Financial services professionals include:

  • Certified financial planners (CFPs): CFPs must complete courses on personal finance and pass a comprehensive board exam. They typically offer advice on a variety of topics, including tax planning, estate planning, investing, and insurance. Some planners earn all of their income from commissions, while others charge a flat fee. (Note: someone who is simply a financial planner, without the certified part, may provide the same services, but they do not have to meet any requirements – anyone can call themselves a financial planner.)
  • Certified public accountants (CPAs): CPAs are accountants that pass an exam and meet certain educational requirements. While they are often thought of primarily as income tax return preparers, many also provide advice on other aspects of tax planning and financial planning in general.
  • Brokers: Brokers are registered representatives that buy and sell securities on behalf of their clients for a commission. Many financial planners are also brokers.
  • Credit counselors: Credit counselors typically offer advice on personal finance topics like budgeting, establishing/using credit, debt repayment, or purchasing a car or home. Agencies that are part of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling require their counselors to go through a comprehensive training process.
Choose an advisor carefully. Most financial professionals are honest and ethical, but some are not. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for references before hiring someone. If available, check with the relevant professional organization to see if the person has a history of complaints. And don’t be afraid to listen to your gut – if it is giving you a bad feeling about someone, that is a good enough reason to not use him or her.
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