Q. I'm looking for a financial planner who could help us with choices concerning our household and business finances. Any suggestions? - DAN
A. Finding a good financial planner isn't easy. For one thing, over the past two decades there has been an explosion in professionals hanging out their shingles and calling themselves financial planners. But they're not all particularly knowledgeable. Sometimes their expertise is narrow, such as in life insurance or investing.
For another, even after all the research and work it takes to find several good candidates you still need to pick one whom you're comfortable with. After all, this is a person who is going to be working with you on the intimate financial details of your life - the good and the bad.
My bias is for a fee-only adviser who has the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation. The CFP gives you confidence that they're professionals well-versed in the fundamentals of financial planning, from retirement portfolios to charitable giving to estate planning. CFPs also invest in continuing education, a must in the ever-evolving world of money management.
I like fee-only planners because I believe you get more objective advice than from a planner who makes commissions off the financial products he or she recommends. The big drawback to fee-only CFPs is that their charges are high and, while their advice is useful for most people, the cost of their services means that their expertise is largely confined to the well-heeled.
There are several ways to uncover a financial planner. One time-honored method is to network with neighbors and colleagues who use a financial planner and tap into their experiences and recommendations.
Two good Internet resources with search engines for financial advisers are the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors at www.napfa.org and the Financial Planning Association at www.fpanet.org.
Once you have found several potential fee-only CFP candidates, carefully check out their references. You'll also want to make sure that they deal on a regular basis with clients in your income bracket.
Chris Farrell of St. Paul is economics editor for American Public Media's "Marketplace Money," heard each week on public radio. Send personal finance questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and put "Your Money" in the subject line.