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Money SOS

When should you pull the trigger on your financial flare gun? According to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, most people seek professional money advice when one of three money issues arises: a sudden windfall, picking a complex financial product, or seeking to allocate our retirement funds.

Whether you are searching for professional financial input right now (New baby? Rising college costs? Retirement jitters?) or just thinking that you might need an expert's opinion in the future, it's easy to get prepared. Here's a five-step plan that'll turn you into a prepared consumer when seeking financial advice.

Step 1. Get an overview of your finances
Be prepared is a good motto for Scouts and income-earning adults alike. At the very least, you want a snapshot of your overall financial landscape -- how much you own, what you owe, a sense of your general financial priorities (The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook can help you assemble your own balance sheet.) The more soul-searching you do now, the better you'll be able to articulate to a pro your life/money priorities.

Step 2. Earmark any issues
Think about your immediate money questions (Is it worthwhile to refinance? Should I sell this stock?) and your future ones (What if Biff doesn't get a football scholarship? What if Fluffy needs long-term pet care?). Which ones might require the expertise of a specialist? Having trouble identifying issues? Let us play Fool Shrink for a moment to help you get to your inner financial child.

Step 3. Decide what input you want
What kind of professional opinion do you need? You might need a lawyer to help you write a will, but perhaps you can find the right insurance on your own. Figure out how much hand-holding you want before you seek paid professional advice.

Step 4. Consider costs
Financial advice can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. (Use this handy comparison table for a side-by-side lineup of the most popular kind of financial advice, including our own TMF Money Advisor service, which offers a 30-day free trial.) Knowing the ins and outs of how professional advisors get paid is key. You don't want to be forced to shell out a lot of money at the last minute because you need professional help tout de suite. Consider how much money you have to be managed and what percentage of your assets you would be sacrificing, say, for a $2,000 overview of your money life.

Step 5. Act
When life hands you a complicated money decision, the last thing you want to be dealing with is a lengthy research project. There are all kinds of advice for sale. Our Advisor Center will help you wend your way through the issues and assist you in assembling a team that's right for you. And once you've paid for the good advice, make sure you put it into action.


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