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Whatever our goal – a car, a home, college, retirement – we could all use a little help planning and carrying out those plans. Anyone can call themselves a “financial planner” or “financial advisor.”

Evaluating your options

Robot advisors with computerized money management are available through Schwab for investable amounts of as little as $25,000 and at Vanguard for investible amounts of as little as $50,000. These may work generally but do not have the nuance for individual situations. Individualized services at Schwab, Vanguard, Fidelity, Merrill Lynch and other “wire houses” are available for larger investible amounts but include the inevitable moral hazard of not knowing whether you are paying more for trades conducted by the home institution than you would otherwise or being advised to buy something which will win your adviser a cruise. Ameriprise and similar companies have little, if anything, beyond cookie cutter investment plans.

Credentials and Qualifications: What to Look For

Whether you choose one of these or an independent financial planner, start with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), someone who has at least taken courses and passed a test and who, at least in theory, abides by certain ethical standards. You can check someone’s credentials as a Certified Financial Planner at www.letsmakeaplan.org. You may be more comfortable with someone who is also a Registered Investment Advisor and look them up on FINRA’s Broker Check www.brokercheck.finra.org You may also want to work with a company which has a Chartered Financial Analyst (ChFC) on board. A CFP works on your own financial plan; a ChFC focuses on the markets.

Choosing the right Financial Planner for you

A lot of financial planners and advisors charge by a percentage of assets under management (AUM). They get their percentage regardless of how your investments perform. That may not be the right approach for you. You may feel more comfortable with a blended or a fee-only advisor. How much will this cost? Advisors who are members of the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners charge an annual retainer, typically $1,500-$5,000. www.acplanners.org. You might also consider a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors www.napfa.org. If you feel more comfortable with an hourly rate, members of the Garrett Planning Network (no known relation) have hourly rates starting at $150 www.garrettplanningnetwork.com.

Just as you would in hiring people to repair or renovate your home, interview three – or five and take your time. It’s your money.


Elder law attorney, Terry Garrett, CELA, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is an Approved Guardianship Attorney. She assists people in elder law, estate and special needs planning, guardianship and settling estates. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.

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