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When To Get Advice

It's time for a little financial soul searching. Are you looking for a general checkup to make sure you and your family is properly insured and has an estate plan that's adequate? Do you want a portfolio analysis to see what you can do to retire earlier? Seeking for investment ideas? Need an assessment of how well your assets are diversified?

According to a study done by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, three life-changing events drive the majority of people to seek professional financial advice: 1) handling an inheritance (72%), 2) facing a complex investment product (61%), and 3) making portfolio/401(k) investment choices (52%).

If any of these issues are on your mind, then join the club! But you are unique, and have a financial life that reflects that oh-so-special way about you. So before you pick a pro, make sure you can articulate exactly what guidance you seek.

In order to assist you, we'll play Fool Shrink for a moment.

Your needs
Ponder the following:

  • How much money do you have?
  • How complex are your finances?
  • Are you interested in learning about financial products?
  • How much do you value your time (perhaps time spent not studying money matters)?
  • What level of expertise do you have in money matters?
  • Are you confident in your level of understanding?
  • What would your mother say?

Let's take a look at the two extremes. Hopefully you'll recognize yourself somewhere in the middle.

Low money, low complexity, low interest, low confidence
Let's say that you don't have a lot of money and your financial life isn't all that complicated. Nonetheless, you're a little uneasy about some debt you've picked up along the way, or a decision you just made about your company retirement plan. And, frankly, you'd sooner read the instructions for replacing flashlight batteries than slog through a stack of financial how-to pamphlets.

In this scenario, you might seek an hour or two of a professional's time just to sketch out a basic financial-planning framework.

High money, high complexity, high interest, high confidence
You may be the type that actually enjoys researching all the angles of every financial decision. Your friends and family all look to you for advice. In short, you don't need no stinkin' financial planner.

Or maybe you do -- at least on a few occasions.

There are many reasons to seek the services of a paid financial advisor, ranging all the way from a helping hand in getting off to a solid start early in your life, to, later in life, calling in a hired gun for to help with a complex mess at a critical moment. Life has this way of squeezing important, high-dollar decisions into small time windows, just when you happen to be overwhelmed by other responsibilities. Would you be able to make a clear-headed decision if your company asked you to take an early retirement? How do stock options fit into your financial plan, and what do you need to do around tax time to account for them?

In moments like these, a financial planner may earn his fee many times over by helping you through sticky situations. (To the right you'll see a rundown of life events where a second opinion might be welcome.)

Consider where you sit on this continuum and give it some thought.

Dollars and common sense
At some point, your use of a financial pro comes down to dollars and cents. If you don't have a lot of money, and your finances are not very complex, you probably do not need a full-blown, detailed financial plan or historical tax audit in exchange for $2,000 of your meager savings. And if you are looking to buy simple financial products, such as term life or automobile insurance, you can more easily and effectively research and purchase them online. The fees you would pay to a financial planner for these services are a waste of money.

Once you know what you want from your pro, find out what your pro wants from you. Those familiar with our schtick in Fooldom know that we're sticklers about understanding how financial professionals get paid. Does she charge a flat fee based on the amount of time she spends with you? Is there additional compensation based on the financial products you buy? (Here's a guide to the mix-and-match ways of compensation.)

If you decide that you could use a helping hand - on occasion or at regular intervals - it's time to find the best assistance for your needs.

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