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How to Know Who to Trust



Most people think all financial planners are “certified,” but this isn't true. Anyone can use the title “financial planner.” Only those who have fulfilled the certification and renewal requirements of CFP Board can display the CFP® certification trademarks which represent a high level of competency, ethics and professionalism. And because they are held to a fiduciary standard of care, a CFP® professional is required to act in your best interest. So, even when a financial planner comes highly recommended, it's wise to take the time to interview several candidates to make sure you'll be working with someone who is right for you. These twelve questions will help you find a competent, qualified professional whose business style suits your particular needs.

  1. What experience do you have?
    Find out how long the planner has been in practice and with what types of companies he has been associated. Ask for a brief description of work experience and how it relates to the planner's current practice. CFP® professionals complete several years of experience related to delivering financial planning services to clients prior to earning the right to use the CFP® certification trademarks. This hands-on experience guarantees that CFP® professionals have practical financial planning knowledge, so you can count on them to help you create a realistic financial plan that fits your individual needs.

  2. What are your qualifications?
    Ask what licenses and other financial services credentials your planner holds, and find out how the planner stays current with changes and developments in the financial planning field. Unlike many financial advisors, CFP® professionals must develop their theoretical and practical knowledge by completing a comprehensive course of study at a college or university offering a financial planning curriculum, or its equivalent, approved by the CFP Board. They must also pass the comprehensive CFP® Certification Exam, which tests their abilities to apply financial planning knowledge to real-life situations. CFP® professionals expand their knowledge and stay up-to-date through mandatory continuing education courses.

  3. What services do you offer?
    Financial planners offer different services depending on a number of factors, including credentials, licenses and areas of expertise. Generally, financial planners cannot sell insurance or securities products such as mutual funds or stocks without proper licenses, or give investment advice unless registered with state or Federal authorities.

  4. What is your approach to financial planning?
    Make sure the planner's investing philosophy isn't too cautious or overly aggressive for you. Find out whether the planner will carry out the financial recommendations or refer you to others to implement his recommendations.

  5. What types of clients do you typically work with?
    Some financial planners prefer to work with clients whose assets fall within a particular range, so it's important to make sure the planner is a good fit for your individual financial situation. Keep in mind that some planners require you to have a certain net worth or level of investable assets before they will offer services to you. When searching on, you can specify your investable asset range to find a financial planner whose services best match your needs.

  6. Will you be the only person working with me?
    Some financial planners work with their clients directly, and others have a team of people who help out. You may want to meet everyone you'll be working with. If the planner works with professionals outside her own practice (such as attorneys, insurance agents or tax specialists) to carry out financial planning recommendations, get a list of their names to check on their backgrounds.

  7. How will I pay for your services?
    Planners can be paid in several ways: through fees or commissions or a combination of both. As part of your written agreement, your financial planner should make it clear how they will be paid for the services to be provided. While there is no one method of paying for financial services that is inherently better than another, you will nevertheless want to consider, and discuss with your planner, how the method of compensation could affect the advice you receive or the way you work with the advisor. You and your financial planner should discuss these issues, including any conflicts of interest that may be created by the method of compensation.

  8. How much do you typically charge?
    Although what you pay the financial planner will depend on your particular needs, the planner should be able to provide you with an estimate of possible costs based on the work to be performed. Costs should include the planner's hourly rates, flat fees, or the percentage of commission received on products you may purchase as part of the financial planning recommendations.

  9. Could anyone besides me benefit from your recommendations?
    Some planners have business relationships or partnerships that can affect their professional judgment, preventing them from acting in your best interest. Ask the planner to provide you with a description of conflicts of interest in writing. For example, financial planners who sell insurance policies, securities or mutual funds have a business relationship with the companies that provide these financial products. CFP® professionals agree to abide by a strict code of professional conduct and are required to disclose any such relationships. The Rules of Conduct require CFP® professionals to put your interests ahead of their own at all times and to provide their financial planning services as a “fiduciary”—acting in the best interest of their financial planning clients.

  10. Have you ever been publicly disciplined for any unlawful or unethical actions in your professional career?
    Several government and professional regulatory organizations, such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), your state insurance and securities departments and CFP Board, keep records on the disciplinary history of financial planners and advisors. Ask which organizations the planner is regulated by and contact these groups to conduct a background check. CFP® professionals are obliged to uphold the principles of integrity, objectivity, competence, fairness, confidentiality, professionalism and diligence as outlined in CFP Board's Code of Ethics.

  11. Can I have it in writing?
    Ask your planner to provide you with a written agreement that details the services that will be provided. Keep this document in your files for future reference.

  12. How do I know that everything you've told me is being monitored?
    CFP Board's rigorous enforcement of its Standards of Professional Conductincluding releasing disciplinary information to the public—distinguishes the CFP® certification from the many other designations in the financial services industry. Everyone who seeks CFP® certification is subject to a background check, and those whose past conduct falls short of CFP Board's ethical and practice standards can be barred from becoming certified. After attaining certification, a CFP® professional who violates CFP Board's ethical and practice standards becomes subject to disciplinary action up to the permanent revocation of certification. Through diligent enforcement of its ethical and practice standards, CFP Board provides you with the confidence that your CFP® professional is both competent and ethical.

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Downers Grove, IL 60515

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