Financial Literacy - Financial tuneup
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Finding a financial planner

True or false: Financial planner, financial consultant, investment adviser, stock broker -- these are all titles for people who provide essentially the same types of services, right? Well, true. So there's no need to concern yourself about how they differ from one another, right? False.

Actually, there's a wide chasm between brokers and investment advisers, though you can hardly tell if you just go by their titles. Brokers who recast themselves as financial consultants are under pressure to sell securities (the top producers are in big demand), while advisers are obligated by law to serve your best interests. Of course, not all brokers are ruthless, nor are all investment advisers ethical. Any financial professional can break the rules and do a disservice to the consumer.

Finding the right financial planner takes a little detective work and interviews with several advisers.

They're not all the same
Learn how to distinguish the pros from the cons, and the experienced from the inexperienced.
Tips for selecting a planner:
  1. Go online
  2. Compare credentials
  3. Do a background check
  4. Interview more than one planner
  5. Find out how the adviser gets paid

1. Start your hunt on the Web

Members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, or NAPFA, are fee-only financial planners and are compensated solely by their clients. An investment adviser who is registered with NAPFA guarantees the complete disclosure of all fees before he is engaged as your financial planner. You can learn more about the association and find a NAPFA-registered adviser in your area by visiting the NAPFA Web site.

The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards allows you to search for CFP certificants on its Web site while The American College's Web site lets you search its alumni list for financial or insurance advisers.

Planning professionals with other professional designations may also be able to meet your need for independent advice.

2. Compare credentials

There's an alphabet soup of financial adviser designations, and trying to decide what designation your adviser should have is easier when you know the differences. The following list, while not exhaustive, gives you an idea of what's out there:

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA): A designation awarded by the CFA Institute to experienced financial analysts who successfully pass three examinations covering economics, financial accounting, portfolio management, securities analysis and ethics; that have approved work experience; and meet other requirements. CFAs are more likely to work for mutual fund companies, institutional asset management organizations or pension funds. CFA charter holders are annually required to affirm their commitment to high ethical standards.

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