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Finding a financial planner

Jeremy Hobson May 16, 2008

Finding a financial planner

Jeremy Hobson May 16, 2008


Scott Jagow: I owe my philosophy on money management to Cicero. He said “Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” Of course, the first time you lose a paycheck to the stock market, you might reconsider being your own financial adviser.

There are experts out there who can help manage your investments, but be careful: some don’t know what they’re doing and others could be more concerned about their own piggy bank than yours.

So how do you find the right financial adviser? Jeremy Hobson looked into it for us.

Jeremy Hobson: To figure out just who among us has a financial planner, I went straight to the source:

Hobson: You’ve been doing this since 1999. How many clients do you have at this point?

Rita Cheng: About 150.

Hobson: Wow.

Cheng: 150 families.

Rita Cheng is a financial planner based in suburban Washington, DC. She’s got clients of all ages and incomes, but the majority came to her once they realized just how close to retirement they are. They want to make sure they’re planning appropriately.

Cheng: They have the knowledge, but they don’t have the time. They need an independent, unbiased third party to be their financial motivator, to hold them accountable.

To make sure they’re making the right-sized contributions to their 401(k), for example, or that they’re not over- or underinsured. Things Cheng, who’s a certified financial planner, is trained to help with.

Robert Weagley: We don’t always learn the right lessons from our parents, so sometimes going to a professional might actually help us see things in a little bit different light and help us prepare ourselves for the future a little bit better.

That’s Robert Weagley, who chairs the Department of Personal Financial Planning at the University of Missouri. He says about a quarter of Americans have a financial planner of some kind and the rest should seriously consider getting one, even those starting their first job or making minimum wage.

Weagley: Nobody plans to fail; they just fail to plan.

That’s a line planners love to use, but Weagley says you shouldn’t settle on a planner until you’ve talked to a number of them. You can ask around for a recommendation or go to plannersearch.org for a list of planners in your area.

Most importantly, Weagley says, you should make sure the planner has your best interests in mind.

Weagley: Does the planner listen to you and what your goals are and does he help devise a plan to help you reach your goals? Not his goals, but your goals.

Goals that can range from saving for your kid’s college education to buying a vacation home. Most, however, just want to be sure their financial house is in order.

Here’s Kathleen Smith of Cary, North Carolina:

Kathleen Smith: I am a single woman — divorced — and I am one year away from 62.

Hobson: And you have a financial planner?

Smith: I do. He’s fabulous!

Smith got a financial planner after moving to North Carolina and after the value of her 401(k) retirement fund dropped by half. She decided to take matters into her own hands… or put them into a planner’s hands. She only wishes she had gotten one sooner.

Smith: Everybody has a future and everybody needs to plan for future. Had I known this when I was younger, I wouldn’t have made the mistakes I made and I would have a lot more going for me now than I do.

With the help of her financial planner, Smith moved her retirement savings into different funds and opened a Roth IRA. She’s also gotten help refinancing her mortgage and drafting a will.

She did have to pay a 5 percent commission at first. Now, she pays her planner just 40 bucks a year and talks to him about once a month.

In Washington, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace Money.

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