What is a financial planner and do you need one?

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You have financial questions. The Internet has answers. Friends, family, and Instagram influencers too.

Financial planners can cut the noise and provide expert financial advice tailored specifically to your needs.

A financial planner guides you to meet your current financial needs and long-term goals. This usually means assessing your financial situation, understanding what you want your money to do for you (both now and in the future), and helping create a plan to help you do it. Financial planners can help you cut spending, pay off debt, save, and invest for the future.

But finance professionals are like doctors: some are specialists in defined areas, such as taxation or investment management. Others, like , are general practitioners, offering advice on everything from budgeting and investing to insurance and retirement planning.

In general, the more complex your financial situation, the more likely you are to benefit from a financial planner.

If your finances are straightforward, you may be able to take a DIY approach. But financial planners can provide an objective perspective and bring their expertise to decisions about how you should invest your money, what your financial priorities should be, and what kind of insurance coverage and other protections you need. A financial planner can be especially helpful when you’re facing a life change – think about marriage, divorce, or an inheritance.

The type of financial planner that is best for you will depend on your needs, stage of your life and your budget. We will describe a few options below.

If you are just starting out, a robot advisor may be enough to meet your needs. Automation has allowed traditional businesses like Vanguard and Fidelity, as well as online-only businesses like Betterment and Wealthfront, to dramatically lower the price of . These companies are ideal if you need investment management, but not holistic. .

Robo-advisers create and manage a portfolio of low-cost investments tailored to your financial goal for a small fee – many top picks charge 0.25% or less of your account balance. The composition of the investment is determined by a computer algorithm and is automatically adjusted when needed. At the basic account level, you can start investing with $ 500 or even less.

The inexpensive and easy-to-access nature of robo-advisers reduces barriers to reaching your financial goals. This is important because avoiding the market can starve your retirement. You can start with a robot advisor and add a human advisor later if needed. (Sounds like a good plan? Check out our list of .)

For those with complex or ongoing planning needs, a traditional in-person financial planner may be a better choice. A CFP can provide holistic and individual advice for the most complex financial situations. The official designation of CFP indicates that a supplier has gone through a rigorous formal training and testing process.

A paid CFP typically bills by the hour (typically $ 200 to $ 400) or by the task (a flat fee of $ 1,000 to $ 3,000, for example). Some may charge based on the size of the investment portfolio they are managing for you; this is called an asset under management fee and is typically 1% of your portfolio balance per year. The initial consultation to discuss your needs and their services is usually free.

Before entering into a relationship, ask if the person you are considering is a trustee, a term that means they are obligated to put the client’s best interests first. (Members of and fulfill both fiduciary requirements and fees only.)

There are several online planning services that combine computerized portfolio management with access to lively and dynamic financial planners. In many cases, you will get a dedicated financial planner and a comprehensive financial plan, but you will meet with this advisor by phone or video conference rather than in person.

Online planning services like this typically charge more than a robo-advisor, but less than a traditional financial planner. Examples of businesses in this space include and .

»Compare online advisors: Our choices for

(Where ) is a broad term that encompasses many different professionals who help people with their money.

A financial planner is a type of financial advisor who typically focuses on providing holistic financial advice in addition to services such as . For example, financial planners can help you answer questions such as “How can I save for my child’s retirement and college fund at the same time?” “

Online financial planners such as robo-advisers or online planning services often offer virtual tours, demonstrations and even the opportunity to test the investment platform before signing up. With an online planning service, you may be able to meet with your dedicated financial planner before deciding to enroll.

A first meeting with a financial planner is like a first date: it’s an opportunity to get to know each other and see if you get along on a personal and philosophical level. Take this opportunity to find out everything you can, including how much you can expect to pay, how will be presented and how often to expect ongoing communication. (Here is to collect information and see if you click.)

When working with a CFP or online planning service, you’ll start with a review of your position. You will be asked about:

You can expect any financial planner to be in fairly regular contact with you, although the form that contact takes will vary. Robo-advisers typically send emails and account prompts on a regular basis, while online planning services and traditional planners will meet with you throughout the year. You should update your planner for any changes in your financial situation.


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