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Financial Planning
By Bruce Mushial

How can you benefit or be hurt by a financial planner? First you have to qualify who the financial planner is and what are their qualifications. Many individuals calling themselves financial planners have self-serving interests and are nothing more than glorified insurance agents, mutual fund salesmen, or stockbrokers. These are not financial planners. What should you look for in a true financial planner? A financial planner should look at your entire financial picture and make recommendations to help get you to your goals. Financial planners using the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) title have completed substantial coursework and ongoing continuing education before they are allowed to use the CFP designation and represent a group that will generally give your finances a thorough review. Financial planners are compensated by one of three methods. They can charge a flat fee to review your finances and provide sources for the solutions they recommend, but they don't offer (nor earn a commission on) any products they recommend. The second method is a financial planner who charges a nominal fee to prepare a financial plan, but then earn most of their fees from the products they sell. The third method is a hybrid of the two. Many believe there is less conflict of interest if the planner receives a flat fee rather than a commission. The flat fee planner has the entire universe of products to direct you toward, the commission-based planner only has the products of the companies he is affiliated with, certainly a smaller pool of offerings that someone who can recommend any product from any company. You would expect a financial planner to look at your tax situation, retirement planning, and whether you have a current will, but there are many areas a financial planner can delve into. A planner will probably look at your life insurance coverage and can provide assistance with family trusts and family limited partnerships. Other topics a planner can address are disability insurance, funding a child's education or caring for an aged parent. Your financial goals should be the center of attention. Do you want to retire early, start your own business, buy a vacation home, or substantially support charities? All these are topics that can be reviewed by a financial planner. A good way to pick a financial planner is to check with business associates or friends. They can probably point you in toward a planner whom they felt gave them a good review of the financial situation at a fair price.

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