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5 Steps to Finding Help

Whether you're searching for professional financial input right now (a baby? rising college costs? retirement jitters?), or just think that you might need an expert's opinion in the future, it's easy to get prepared.

According to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the majority of us seek professional financial advice when one of three money issues arises -- a sudden windfall, picking a complex financial product, or seeking to allocate our retirement funds.

If any of these issues are looming in your future -- or if others might pop up at any time -- here's a checklist to make you a prepared consumer when seeking financial advice:

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 more soul-searching you do now, the better you'll be able to articulate to a pro your life/money priorities.

Earmark any issues
Think about your immediate money questions (Is it worth it 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?). For which ones might you need 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.

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. Based on your money life, figure out how much hand-holding you want before you seek paid professional advice.

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.) Knowing the ins and outs of how professional advisors get paid is key. The one thing you don't want to be forced to do is shell out a lot of money at the last minute because you need professional help toute 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.

Line someone up ASAP
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 help you line up a team that's right for you.

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