Start by learning what the different designations mean. You may have noticed that there are three popular financial designations that most financial planners hold. Youll want to choose one with one of the following designations.
Like many CPAs, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) must attend about two years of training and pass a rigorous test. This designation is given by the Certified Financial Planning Board of Standards, a national organization. After two years of preparatory courses, a Certified Financial Planner must earn a passing grade on a ten-hour test given over the course of two days. The Financial Planning Association can provide you with a listing of Certified Financial Planners.
You may have also encountered some Chartered Financial Consultants. These graduates of American College in Pennsylvania have completed a series of exams and obtained real life experience before earning their designation. However, the program is geared more toward the insurance profession than broad based financial planning. The Society of Financial Professionals can provide you with a listing of these consultants.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants offers its own designation, a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS). Certified Public Accountants can earn this additional designation by completing a series of comprehensive tests and demonstrate experience in financial planning. Most of these designates are members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and they can refer you to a PFS in your area.
All of the above certifying agencies require at least three years of experience prior to certification. Other designations do exist, but these three are the most reliable. Since many unscrupulous individuals decide to call themselves financial planners, youd be wise to look for one with a certification from a nationally recognized organization.
Since the Securities and Exchange Commission doesnt regulate smaller financial advisors (those with under $25 Million under advisement), it is up to you to screen your financial planner carefully.
You can begin by checking on the website of the National Association of Securities Dealers website. They list financial planners who have been disciplined on their website. Information is also available by telephone from this associations toll free number (800-289-9999). Also check with your states securities division for disciplinary actions and complaints.
Ask your planner for a copy of Form ADV, Part II. If you arent familiar with the form, they will be. This form is required by the Securities and Exchange Commission from every financial planner and should spell out how and what the planner will be paid and any incentives they may earn. Sometimes they will provide this information in brochure or pamphlet form, but youll know up front what your fees will be.
Finally, check references. A reputable planner wont mind giving you a few references to call. Find out if they handle portfolios similar to yours and if the client is satisfied with their services. Ask about fees.
Its your future, so doing a little homework up front and making sure that youre getting what you pay for is well worth it in the long run. Make sure that your financial planner holds a nationally recognized designation and check him out before you hand over your hard earned money. Your time and effort is a wise investment when shopping for a financial planner.