73-year-olds search for a good, fee-only financial adviser

Q: My husband and I are having a discussion (or more of a disagreement!) on planning for our future. We are both 73 years old. What we would like to do is to find a planner for a one-time meeting and pay the fee as you might pay a consultant. We are no longer buying life insurance policies or doing other transactions where a planner would make commissions for those services. How might we go about finding such a person and what type of fee might we expect to pay?

Harriet

A: There are times when consulting with a well-qualified professional can be a savvy move, usually around a major transitions like retirement. It can pay to get a financial blueprint or informed guidance to help in make decisions in the shift to another stage of life. Similarly, in your case at age 73 a checkup is a smart move to see where you are with your money. (And hopefully bring accord on planning for the future!)

I’m glad you want to consult with a fee-only planner to go over your finances. The fee-only relationship minimizes conflicts of interest. In addition, I would recommend a certified financial planner (CFP) or comparably well-educated designation, such as a personal financial specialist. A CFP designation signals that the financial adviser has experience, a broad-based financial education, passed a rigorous exam, and adheres to a code of ethics. Not all CFPs will work with clients looking for a one-time consultation, but many do.

The service for the consultation and blueprint won’t be cheap. The hourly fee typically is in the $150 to $300 an hour range. So, more than likely, you’re looking at a $1,500 to $3,000 price tag, depending on how simple or complicated your finances situation is. But considering the stakes it can be money well spent.

Where can you find a financial planner? The best way to find a planner is through friends, former colleagues — the network of people you trust. Talk to them. Tell them what you’re looking for. See if they have had a comparable need and good experience with a planner. If that approach isn’t an option or doesn’t produce a good lead, I would head to the computer.

The main website for finding highly qualified fee-only financial planners is the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors at www.napfa.org. A group of CFPs that targets middle-income households is the Garrett Planning Network at www.garrettplanningnetwork.com. The website for finding CFPs is www.fpanet.org, but not all CFPs are fee-only.

When you interview a potential planner, you’ll want a clear explanation from the adviser what they’ll do for you, and at what cost. Some planners will give you a big book filled with analysis, charts and options. Others prefer producing shorter guides, focusing more on the conversation, something of a more organic approach. You should know what to expect. I’d also find out what is the cost of a return visit. A year from now you may have accumulated additional questions.

Before you meet with a planner, ask yourself this key question that I learned from talking with Ross Levin, founding principal and president of the wealth management firm Accredited Investors: What is it you believe will have changed in your financial life a year from now after meeting with a financial planner? Thinking through that question will push you toward getting the most out of the session. Good luck.

Chris Farrell is economics editor for “Marketplace Money.” His e-mail is cfarrell@mpr.org.

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