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Dear Liz,

I am 61. When should I start looking for a retirement adviser to help me with my finances? And where do I find an honest person or company to do this?

— Andrew

Dear Andrew,

Even the most adamant do-it-yourselfers should seek 2nd opinions from a financial planner when retirement looms. There are so many ways to make mistakes when you’re about to retire, and those mistakes can cause irreparable damage to your retirement plans.

For example, the time you start taking Social Security benefits can have a huge impact on how much you receive and your chances of running short of money in retirement. Withdrawing too much from your retirement accounts in the first few years also can leave you with too little money later on. At the other end of the scale, being too conservative with withdrawals can cause you to forgo travel and other pleasures while you’re still young enough to enjoy them.

A financial planner can help you:

  • Set realistic financial goals.
  • Assess your current financial health.
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to meet your goals.
  • Put your plan into action and monitor its progress.
  • Stay on track to meet changing goals.
  • Stay abreast of markets and tax laws.

Source: Financial Planning Association

If you don’t already have a relationship with a trusted adviser, it’s a good idea to form one about 10 years from your expected retirement date. That gives you enough time to make many course corrections while there’s still time to do so. Even if you expect to retire sooner in the next few years, you should still run your plans past an objective, fee-only financial planner before handing in your notice.

Look for a financial planner who is a fiduciary. That means the adviser promises to put your interests ahead of his or her own. This fiduciary promise should be made in writing. Otherwise, advisers are held to a much lower “suitability” standard. That means they can let commissions and other considerations sway their recommendations.

The Financial Planning Association, which holds its members to a fiduciary standard, has a referral service on its site. Or you can look for a Certified Financial Planner right here at Bankrate. Other sources for such planners include Garrett Planning Network (whose members typically charge by the hour) and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

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