Trust a Financial Planner?

If you won $1 million tomorrow would you trust a financial planner to help you with your money management? Financial planning and some people who claim to do it can be hard to get a handle on. Here are some thoughts and tips from an old head in the financial services business.

After several years of working as a financial planner my father finally trusted that I knew what I was doing and became a client. As a planner I knew and worked around a good number of people who claimed to do financial planning. A handful of them I might have recommended to friends and family had I not been in the business myself. It isn’t easy to find someone in the financial planning business that you can both afford and trust.

Financial planning is about money management, not just about investing money. The problem with the financial services business is that many people who call themselves financial planners only get paid if clients invest money with them. Hence, their primary concern when dealing with average people is how much money they have, where it is, and how much the “planner” can get his hands on.

Now let’s go back to you winning $1 million and make some assumptions. You owe $30,000 in credit card debt at 18%, and $200,000 on a house worth $175,000; plus you are about to lose your job with no good prospects. It’s a good thing you won $1 million, but you still have some money management issues to deal with: debt, future taxes, lack of a future income, and investing money for the future. A real financial planner might charge you a fee to address these issues and make a financial plan designed to reach all of your financial goals.

Someone working on straight commission might address your situation differently. The focus of this so-called financial planner will likely be on investing money… your money. After all, if you pay off debts and set money aside for taxes and as a cash reserve for living expenses, then there’s less money left that he can get his hands on. Be especially aware of the fact that some financial products offered by those in the financial services business pay much higher commissions to the salesperson than others.

For example, money invested in a money market fund pays the representative nothing. Other mutual funds pay a decent commission and annuities often pay considerably more. A large permanent life insurance policy with big premiums pays top dollar to the person selling it. Beware of the planner who focuses on life insurance products regardless of your goals or needs. He knows where to place your money for him to make money, and talks of life insurance as the best investment in the world.

Trust a financial planner only after talking with several, asking questions, and paying close attention to where this person focuses in the interview. Is he or she focused on your money management issues, or is the focus simply on investing money… your money?

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