You usually know when you need a lawn care professional or a mechanic or a tailor. But many people are in need of a financial planner and don't know it. Lest you be one of them, let's review why you might need a financial planner. Your answers to the questions below will shed a lot of light on the issue.
Are you saving enough money to meet your goals? Do you even know what your financial goals are?
Many people are not saving enough money to reach their financial goals. In fact, many people don't even know what their financial goals are. You might know that you want to retire comfortably, but you need to be more specific than that. Do you need to accumulate a nest egg of $1 million before you retire? If you'd love to retire early, you'll need to know what it will take to reach that goal. You need specific goals, and a financial planner can help you figure them out if you can't do so on your own.
You then need to ensure that you're on the right track to meet those goals, given your saving and investing habits. A financial planner can help there, too, assessing your financial condition and trajectory.
Do you have kids, and are you wondering how best to save and pay for college expenses?
You might have kid-specific goals, too, such as being able to afford to send them to college -- while not compromising your retirement funds. Financial planners will have lots of ideas and suggestions and can save you a lot of time researching the issue.
Are you investing effectively?
Another key concern is how effectively you're investing. Saving a boatload of money each year is good, but if you're socking away long-term dollars in savings bonds or CDs, you're doing your portfolio and your future a disservice. You might think you've diversified by investing in several managed stock mutual funds, only to discover that all of them are rather similar to each other, though their fees vary widely. You might also have some investments that are inefficient in terms of taxes. A financial planner can review your investments and advise you on how to improve your allocation.
Do you have a plan for how you'll invest as you approach and live in retirement?
Speaking of asset allocation, you need to have a plan for how you'll adjust your allocation as you approach and enter retirement. Being mostly or completely in stocks is fine when you're in your 30s and even 40s, but you'll want to shift some assets to more stable securities as you get older. You don't want funds you expect to need within the coming five years (or even 10, to be more conservative) to be vulnerable to big drops in value, as can happen in the stock market. A financial planner can help you draft a plan to shift your assets over time, and to protect them, too.
Are your financial accounts a bit of a mess?
Do you have several taxable brokerage accounts, and several IRAs, and perhaps an old 401(k) or two from past jobs? Many people do, and that's suboptimal, because you can have a lot of overlap and redundancies. Plus, it's just more work keeping track of lots of accounts, as there are more statements to review, tax forms to collect and report on your annual return, and so on. As Henry David Thoreau famously said, "Simplify, simplify."
Are you wondering whether you should buy an annuity?
Financial planners can also advise you regarding strategies you're considering. For example, if you've heard about annuities and are wondering if they would make sense for you, a financial planner will have a good grasp of your whole financial picture and can give you an informed opinion. You might or might not know that there are a wide variety of annuities, and some will be far better for you than others.
Do you have an estate plan?
You need to have a plan not only for your entire financial life, but also for your financial after-life. Having a will is not always enough. Trusts can make sense if you want to pass some assets on to others with more control over them, and you'll want to have powers of attorney designated, as well as advance medical directives (a health care proxy, living will, etc.) in place. Think, too, of your beneficiaries and how you'll divide your assets among them. A financial planner can be of great help, here.
Can you do all or some of this yourself?
Financial planning, or at least many aspects of it, is something you can largely do on your own -- if you're willing to read and learn a lot. But for many, if not most, of us, tapping the services of a financial planner is the better route.
After all, we're talking about something very important, here: your financial security for the rest of your life. Even if you end up paying $1,000 or several thousand (and it needn't be that much) to a financial planner, he or she can very likely save you much more than that. You might find a good one via the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).