Getting help from a financial expert
Financial experts can help maintain and streamline budgets and spending, build wealth, and plan for the future. Finding the right one can be difficult, but sticking with it and hiring the right person can help people navigate the uncertain financial future with comfort and dignity. This article presents information about how to know when to get help, how to find a qualified financial expert, and how to interview financial experts and choose the right fit.
When is it time for expert help?
Trouble keeping up with finances is one of the most common concerns for people who are aging. Living on a fixed income is a reality for many older adults, and unexpected expenses or a downturn in the economy can present a real challenge. A lifetime of financial independence may lead some to resist seeking help. Here are some signs it may be time to bring in extra assistance from a financial expert.
- Mail piling up. Bills and financial statements that remain unopened for weeks or longer might indicate a person is missing payments, or is apprehensive about being able to pay the bills or maintain sufficient income.
- Missing payments. If a person has begun to skip payments on a car, house, utilities, insurance, or other regular expenses, they may need some help getting back on track or remembering to pay regularly.
- Complaints about money. Often insecurity about finances can manifest in excessive complaints about how expensive things are, or wondering where all the money goes.
- Missing essentials. If the fridge and pantry look unusually bare, or regularly-stocked items are missing, this might be a symptom of financial anxiety. Especially for people raised in the years surrounding the Great Depression and World War Two, extreme frugality is a reaction to fears that there won’t be enough in years to come.
- Lack of organization. If a person has lost track of account records, or isn’t quite sure exactly how much cash they have, or where their investments are, now is a good time to get things in order and enlist someone who can help track these. Especially if you know that cognitive changes mean their ability to manage finances will be diminished in the future, it’s best to be proactive.
- Significant change in credit score. If a person’s credit score has shifted significantly in recent months, this might be a sign of a change in financial standing. A financial expert can help rebuild weakened credit or take advantage of a better credit score by renegotiating interest rates.
What can financial experts offer?
Financial experts come in many different forms, from one-time consultants to long-term strategists who can help people whip their finances into shape and reap the most from investments. Experts can help balance a monthly budget and make sure the money is on hand to pay all the bills. They can help people develop a sound long-term set of goals, or make the most of tax breaks and assistance for people over 65.
How can you find a financial expert?
No matter what kind of financial expert you’re looking for, finding the right one will take time and diligence. Trusting your finances to someone else requires building a relationship of mutual respect and understanding.
- Ask for referrals. Family, friends, and professional contacts are a gold mine of referrals. Especially if a trusted friend or family member has a long-term relationship with a financial expert, they can offer details about their experience. Professional contacts, too, can help out: a personal banker might know of a brokerage firm that has helped their customers, or an accountant might recommend a tax advisor or other professional.
- Check databases. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) offers an up-to-date listing on certified and chartered advisors, searchable by zip code.1 The Federal Industry Regulatory Authority also offers a BrokerCheck service which allows you to search by name and firm, and find information about individual brokers’ background, experience, certifications and more.2
- Find a fiduciary. A fiduciary has a legal obligation to act only in the client’s best interests, with objectivity and caution, as well as keep careful records. By hiring a fiduciary, you have some assurance that your advisor is acting to maintain and improve their clients’ wealth first and foremost above any other self-interest.3
- Beware of “free” services. Like any product or service, if it’s good, it’s worth paying for. Although some nonprofits and other organizations do offer free general financial advice or planning tips, steer clear of anyone who offers advice to buy specific stocks or make investments in one company. These may be salespeople rather than certified financial advisors.
- Meet in person. When at all possible, have a sit-down meeting to interview potential financial experts. This will help weed out potential scammers, and will also help determine if their advising style and practices are a good fit.
What should be prepared in advance?
In advance of the first meeting with a potential financial expert, gather some documentation and do some thinking. Consider how to make the most of each meeting with a financial expert. Since many of them charge hourly fees, being prepared with a game plan and documents will help capitalize on the experience.
- Goals. Come with a broad idea of goals: big, small, long, and short term. If a person is looking to make a large purchase like buying a vacation property, or if they are more concerned about cutting down on monthly expenses—or both—have a clear idea of why they are looking for help from a financial expert.
- Financial statements. Have a succinct record of how much a person has in assets, what debts are included, and any current investment portfolios or accounts. Tax returns are also a great document to bring, because they show concisely and accurately the ratio of income to debt.
- Opinions about financial planning. Investment and budgeting style is an important consideration when matching with a financial expert. Consider what a person has liked and disliked about their previous financial planning habits and advisors. Does the person, for example, prefer detailed documentation and frequent check-in meetings about finances, or do they want to hand over the reins to a capable ally and not have to worry about these matters? How a person views budgeting, finances, and financial planning will influence who they hire to help out with these matters.
What questions should you ask?
The first meeting with a potential financial expert is an interview for both parties. Finding out if they can help, if their expertise matches expectations, and if their advising style is a good fit should be the goals of the initial session.
- What are your qualifications and certifications? Although experience doesn’t alway equal expertise, you want to be assured that the financial expert has the training, legal certifications, and real-world knowledge to help navigate tricky financial situations.
- Do you have experience with older adults? Planning to make the most out of the retirement years requires a different set of skills and know-how than, say, planning for new parents. A qualified financial expert will have practice in steering their clients through the unique challenges that older adults face.
- What is your level of risk tolerance? It’s important to match more than just personalities. A successful client-advisor relationship means that each party has the same comfort level with investing and planning.
- How much do you charge—and how do you charge it? Each advisor and firm has its own standards for charging clients. No matter how they charge—by the hour, monthly or yearly, per transaction, or an interest on investment returns or assets—they should present potential clients with a detailed, clear report of potential charges and costs. Make sure that it is in writing and that everyone understands how fees will be charged, as well as when and how they are paid.
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