What Is Financial Planning?

These days, most businesses with a website have made an effort to ensure that potential clients can find their site once it’s up and running. This typically involves hiring a specialist in “search engine optimization”, or SEO, as it’s known. When I recently asked my SEO guru what topics people searched for on the web related to finances, I was surprised when he told me that one of the most popular searches was for “What is financial planning?” I mean, everyone knows what “financial planning” is, right?

But maybe this shouldn’t have surprised me. The fact is, many so-called “financial advisors” are merely salespeople who push investment products under the guise of doing financial planning. Knowing there must be something better, consumers have gotten wise to this and are starting to ask: “What is real financial planning?”

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How To Find A Financial Advisor

This is the fourth in a series of articles about financial advisors.

The previous articles were “What Does A Financial Advisor Do?”, “What Is A Financial Advisor?”, and “How To Choose A Financial Advisor”.

This month we’ll look at how to go about actually locating a financial advisor.

1. Decide what you want from the advisor.

First, get clear about what it is you want the financial advisor to help you with. Are you just looking to make a small investment, perhaps as a first time investor? Or do you have concerns about retirement or questions about a larger investment portfolio, real estate, estate planning, etc.?

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How To Choose A Financial Advisor

This is the third in a series of articles about financial advisors.

The previous articles covered financial advisor licensing and how various types of advisors work.

Now we’ll look at how to choose a financial advisor.

1. Make sure the advisor is licensed.

If the advisor works for a major company or Registered Investment Advisor, they will undoubtedly have the appropriate securities license. However, be aware that life insurance agents are typically limited in what securities they can sell: most can only sell mutual funds and variable annuities. Also, if the advisor is a CPA or is not affiliated with a securities firm, check to see if he/she has a license. When in doubt, just ask.

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What Is A Financial Advisor?

Last month I examined the question, “What does a financial advisor do?”

I described how four main types of advisors work: stock brokers, insurance agents, hybrid advisors and fee-only advisors.

This month I’ll go into more detail on financial advisor licensing in an attempt to shed more light on the question, “Just what is a financial advisor?”

Surprisingly enough, anyone can call themselves a “financial advisor”. That’s right—you could make up a business card today with that title on it and go into business without any training or licensing. However, if you give investment advice to more than fifteen clients, you must be licensed.

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What Does A Financial Advisor Do?

What does a financial advisor do?

Seems like an easy question, doesn’t it?

But as we’ll see, there are many types of “financial advisors” and the advice they give has many different forms, as well as limitations. This is because, believe it or not, anyone can call themselves a financial advisor.

Stockbrokers

Traditionally, people who worked at the major national firms (Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Wells Fargo, Edward Jones, etc.) were called “stockbrokers”. This is because they did just that, broker trades in stocks. They got paid a commission each time a customer bought or sold a stock. Sometimes they would give advice on other aspects of financial planning, but it was incidental to their main business, and they didn’t get paid for it. And obviously, any advice they did give would be biased towards trying to earn more commissions.

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An Estate Planning Checklist

As a “family financial doctor”, one of the “vital signs” I always check when a prospective client comes to see me for the first time is the level of estate planning they have done. In my experience, fewer than half of the people I see have done all they need to do in this area.

This article will cover the various tools for estate planning, ending with an estate planning checklist.

Please note that this is an informational article only: for advice on your specific situation, see an experienced estate attorney.

Wills

If you want to have control over where your assets go at your death, a will is a good idea. A will simply specifies who gets what. If you don’t have a will, your estate will pass by “intestate succession” to your nearest relatives according to the laws in your state of your residence. This means that someone you don’t want your money to go to may get a piece. Also, a will gives you the ability to say who gets grandma’s china, thereby preventing a family squabble.

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