Tips for picking a financial advisor

PHILADELPHIA - September 30, 2008 - Vernita Parris just retired from being a school teacher this year.

"It's good timing for me mentally and physically. I needed a change, but it's not good timing financially," Parris said.

But Vernita isn't in a panic because her financial advisor, Chuck Minnich, has helped design a solid plan to weather even these tough, turbulent economic times.

However, finding a reputable professional like Minnich requires some work.

"The unfortunate situation is anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a financial planner," Minnich said.

So, before handing over your financial future to anyone, follow these tips:

Tip one: Look for a comprehensive financial planner who can coordinate an overall plan to deal with your investments as well as your education, retirement, estate, insurance, and tax plans.

At a minimum, your advisor should have at least one of these credentials: CHFC - Cchartered financial consultant or CFP - Certfied financial planner.

Tip two: Look for an independent advisor, someone who is not a captive agent. Captive agents can sell only their own company's insurance or investment products.

Tip three: If it's a registered investment advisor, ask for a copy of what's called their ADV. It's a form they have to file with the regulators as an investment advisor, and it provides a wealth of information including their educational and business background, potential conflict of interest, their investment methodology and how they're compensated.

Tip four: Check an advisor's complaint and disciplinary history by doing a name search on the website for FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Association.

Tip five: If you're coming in for an initial visit with an advisor and they want to charge you for that initial visit, look elsewhere.

Tip six: Joe Murray of First Financial Group says make sure you're not unfairly locked into an agreement you can't get out of.

"You always have to be in control of this relationship and the client always has the right to say 'I don't like this, I want to leave. They always have that right,'" Murray said.

Tip seven: Murray suggests that the advisor you work with is one that works in a team environment, and is not a loner, because it's impossible to be an expert in every piece of what goes in a person's financial life.

Tip eight: Find out in advance what a financial advisor will cost you. Some charge an hourly fee. The industry average is about 250-dollars an hour. Others charge a flat fee ranging from 500-dollars all the way up to 15-thousand-dollars depending on your plan's complexity. Still other advisors charge a commission on the products they sell you or a percentage of the value of the assets they manage for you. It's usually about 1%.

Many advisors charge a combination of fees and commissions.

Click here for more information or to check out an advisor's history or learn what the different credentials after his or her name really mean.

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