There is no free lunch at Saturday's financial planning day seminar.
It will be a no-fee, no-follow-up call, no-shame kind of event, said certified financial planner Kevin O'Laughlin of Affiance Financial in St. Louis Park. "But only light refreshments are being served," he said.
Still, it is an opportunity for anyone to get a free, no-strings-attached 15- to 30-minute consultation about any financial question from "Should I refinance my car loan?" to "Should I be investing in a 401(k) or a Roth IRA?" he said.
Financial planners have often been criticized for only accepting clients who are already financially well-off, but this event is different, said Steve Gilbertson of Accredited Investors in Edina.
"It lets people know that financial planning isn't limited to people with a high net worth," Gilbertson said.
The financial planning day, which is being offered in 20 cities in 16 states around the country, is in its fourth year in the Twin Cities. Last year about 100 people attended, said O'Laughlin, although this year's event will be staffed for a much larger turnout.
Diane Wanner of St. Paul attended the seminar last year with her husband and found it helpful. She asked about retirement and the spending and saving differences between her and her husband.
"It's good for people who haven't ever considered talking to a financial planner," she said. "Maybe they're in a transition in their lives or struggling to make ends meet."
Organizers say that anyone can show up, but they recommend that attendees come with their most pressing financial questions. If they bring along some documents to help the process, that's even better.
For example, if a person is considering refinancing a car loan, a copy of the statement with the amount owed, the interest rate and payoff date is helpful.
Sophia Bera, a certified financial planner in Minneapolis who volunteered at the event last year, said that many people avoid consulting a financial planner because they don't think they make enough money or because they manage a good income poorly. But it's also because many people think they can't afford it. Fee-only advisers, which are recommended over commission-based planners by experts such as Jane Bryant Quinn and Suze Orman, often charge $200 or more per hour.
Recognizing that financial planning has struggled with its image in the past, the organizers are careful to show that the free seminar is not a networking event to gain clients. Volunteer planners at the St. Paul event, nearly all of which are certified financial planners, are not allowed to hand out business cards.
If a consumer requests a phone number for a follow-up question, they can provide one. But if the attendee wants to establish a relationship, the planner will direct the potential client to someone else.
Consumers who are unable to make the free event may also want to consider pro bono planners who offer assistance to families with an adjusted gross income under $40,000 or singles under $20,000. For more information on that, go to the website for the Financial Planning Association of Minnesota, www.fpamn.org, and click on "pro bono assistance" under the "visitors" tab.