By Rev. Dr. Patricia L. Hunter, CFP®
Making the decision to meet with a financial planner or advisor can help you focus on putting your own financial house in order and is an important step towards achieving financial wellness. A financial planner can work with you to help determine your long and short term goals and map out a realistic strategy so you can reach those goals.
A study conducted in January 2015 by Northwestern Mutual found that 58 percent of Americans recognize the need for help with their finances, but 34 percent have not taken any steps to seek out support with handling their monthly expenses and preparing for the future. Yet, research shows that people with financial plans feel they are saving more, living well, and experiencing greater levels of satisfaction in their lives.
So, what can you expect when you work with a financial planner?
One of the first things to keep in mind is that all financial planners are not the same. You will want to choose a financial planner who is certified by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., which will be indicated by the registered trademark after their designation, CFP®.
The CFP® designation is the highest classification that a financial planner can attain. It is an indication that the financial planner has undergone rigorous study and met stringent examination and ethics requirements. As a result, they are certified to advise clients on everything from taxes to insurance to estate planning, and are required to complete ongoing continuing education requirements. These professionals have a fiduciary responsibility, which means that they must act in their clients’ best interest. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. keeps track of everyone certified through its program, so it is easy to go online and research a particular professional before you decide to work with one.
At your first meeting, a competent financial planner will gather personal and financial data about you. They will use this information to create a financial plan that shows you how and when you can expect to accomplish your goals. The plan will be based upon a set of realistic assumptions about inflation, investment returns, how much you can save, and how much you will earn and spend. A competent financial planner can provide advice on many aspects of your financial life.1
They might make suggestions on what you need to do differently to reach your goals, including how much you need to save. A financial planner might also recommend what types of retirement accounts to use such as an IRA, Roth IRA, 403(b), or 401(k) plans.
If you have a mortgage, your financial planner might suggest what type of mortgage you should have, and if you should pay it off or refinance. They might also ask
you to consider whether it makes sense as a homeowner to downsize later in life.
When it comes to insurance, they can advise you on what type — including life, long-term care and disability — and how much insurance you need.
A financial planner might also address creating an emergency fund and recommend an amount to keep in it. They might also address changes that could improve
your tax situation, as well as what rate of return you will need to earn to achieve your savings goals over a given time frame. A financial planner will also help to determine what level of investment risk is appropriate for different types of accounts you have.
Certified Financial Planners® can be depended upon for complete confidentiality and will listen carefully to the issues and concerns that are foremost on your mind and help you understand why a financial plan is vital for you now. Depending upon what the client has as a priority, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals can focus on one aspect of financial planning such as debt management, college funding or budgeting, or they can prepare a comprehensive financial plan. He or she might make a recommendation after listening to your goals, but the decision will be entirely yours. Typically, a full comprehensive plan can be completed and presented to a client within three weeks, depending upon the complexity of the client’s situation.
How financial planners determine their fees
Although fee structures vary, you can expect to pay in one of several ways. Some financial planners charge an hourly fee, while others charge a flat fee to a complete a specified project such as a financial plan, or a quarterly or annual retainer fee for their services.
With some financial planners, you might pay a fee charged as a percentage of assets that they manage on your behalf. Others receive commissions paid to them from financial or insurance products that you buy through them. And sometimes, it might be a combination of fees and commissions.
It is important to understand the fee structure before you begin working with a financial planner, so you know exactly how much you’ll pay for services and what those services entail.
When the financial plan is completed …
you can expect the CFP® to recommend ways to improve your financial outlook and provide definite steps to reach your goals. This is also a good time to ask questions, gain clarity about concrete next steps, and determine whether a follow-up appointment might be needed.
I cannot say enough about the value of financial planning as a key component of financial wellness. Working with a financial planner will help you gain financial knowledge; save you time, money and frustration; and enhance the likelihood of lasting financial wellness.
Take the time now to invest in yourself, invest in your family, and invest in your future.
Rev. Dr. Patricia L Hunter, CFP® brings 30 years of experience to her ministry, as Director of Financial Wellness Programs. Before joining MMBB in 1987, she served as assistant pastor of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle. She also has a master of divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School and a doctor of ministry degree from the Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo.
1The Balance, “What Will a Good Financial Planner Do for Me?”, (August 9, 2017).