It's fine to "do it yourself" when it comes to changing the oil in your car, replacing a faucet, and even reupholstering your furniture. But some things are best left to professionals, like surgery, legal wranglings, and financial planning. If you want to find a good retirement planner to assist you in preparing for your future, let me give you some tips on how to go about that.
Many people think they can handle their own finances from cradle to grave, and there are plenty of folks who do succeed at that, but there are times when a good retirement planner or other financial advisor can be well worth the cost. When you experience a big life change -- e.g., a marriage, a divorce, the birth of a child, a big pay raise, or a home purchase or sale -- it can be good to check in with a pro to see if there are any particularly smart moves you should make. Retirement is a huge life change that takes years of planning and saving, so we should all consider tapping the expertise of a good retirement planner.
Too many people don't, though. According to a 2012 survey by the folks at Deloitte, close to two-thirds of respondents did not use the services of a retirement planner or other professional financial advisor. Why? Many of the reasons were a bit weak: 57% said they were more comfortable handling their retirement plan on their own, while 38% said they didn't need professional advice to plan their retirement. That would be fine, except that the average American is woefully behind in retirement savings. Some 12% said they couldn't afford a financial advisor, while 4% said they didn't know how to find one. It's true that a retirement planner isn't free, but even if you end up paying $1,000 or more, if the planner helps you enter retirement with $100,000 or $500,000 more than you otherwise would have, perhaps you'll see that the costs are well worth it.
With that in mind, here are five tips on where to find a retirement planner and how to choose a good one.
1. Think about compensation
Know that while some financial advisors may seem cheap, they get much of their compensation as commissions on products they tell you to buy. Thus they have a conflict of interest: The product that's best for you may not be the one that gives the advisor the biggest commission check. Instead, consider seeking out a fee-only retirement planner, who will charge you a fixed sum either per hour or for a certain amount of work, without collecting commissions.
2. Look for the fiduciary standard
Know that some professionals who advise you are only required to recommend suitable investments. That may seem good, but remember that there's a wide range of investments and strategies that might be suitable, and some are better than others. A retirement planner operating under the "fiduciary standard" is expected to go beyond suitability and make recommendations that are in your best interest.
3. Focus on qualifications
A stock broker, for example, can guide you toward some investments, telling you that they will better position you for retirement, but he or she may not really have much training or expertise as a retirement planner. Instead, consider seeking out a certified financial planner who earned that credential through much study and who abides by the fiduciary standard. A CFP is licensed and regulated, too.
Another option is a certified public accountant, who has earned the additional "personal financial specialist" designation. You'll run across other kinds of advisors, too, and if you do, look into how much training and education they've had and what ethical rules they must abide by. (You can also do a little background check online. The CFP Board's website, for example, allows you to look up disciplined individuals.)
4. Look in the right places
You can look for a good local retirement planner through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and the American Institute of CPAs. You might also ask friends and relatives to recommend someone they trust.
5. Trust your gut
As you find some candidates to be your retirement planner and meet with them, ask questions and trust your gut. Find out how long they've been in business and perhaps ask for references. Ask about their areas of specialization. If a CFP specializes in saving for college, she might not be the best you can find to tackle retirement issues. Also see how well you click and how comfortable you are with each other. Consider asking the candidate to explain some financial term to you (such as a trust or asset allocation) and see how well you understand him. See whether anything he says makes you uneasy, such as guarantees that seem unlikely to be true (e.g., "we can double your money in three years").
Don't shy away from seeking professional advice on your financial future. Few things are as important, and you may not know everything there is to know about the topic.
Selena Maranjian has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.