Get professional financial help
5 Tips: How to find the best person for your financial needs.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Tax season is here, your holiday bills have left your wallet deflated, retirement seems like a distant pipedream and on top of it all college costs are going to eat away more of your savings.
Maybe you're thinking it's time to get professional help for your finances. In today's top 5 Tips we're going to tell you how you can find the best professional help out there.
1. When to get help
Let's be real. A lot of folks find themselves struggling with their finances. But the truth is financial planners really make their bread and butter off wealthier people. Most financial planners won't touch you if you don't have at least $100,000 in assets, according to Certified Financial Planner Bill Driscoll.
Annually, financial planners may charge from $5,000 to over $100,000 depending on the type of work. Hourly fees are usually between $150 to $350. You will typically be charged 1 percent on the first million under management, says Ray Ferrara, a Certified Financial Planner in Clearwater, Florida.
But even if you are a working class Joe Schmoe, there are some circumstances where you can really benefit from having a financial planner. If your portfolio has lost more than 20 percent in a few years, you'll want to think about getting a financial planner, says Ferrara. If you're expecting a new baby, near retirement or considering a buyout package from your job it's a good idea to seek professional help. Even if you are suddenly given a large sum of money, a windfall that is greater than 25 percent of your investment assets, you should consider a financial planner, says Ferrara.
2. Decipher the codes
Keep in mind that there is no minimum experience or education needed to be a financial planner, but there are a plethora of professional designations. In fact, it can be so confusing that tomorrow the SEC is going to require that the different roles of a financial planner be more clear-cut. You may come across everything from CFP to CLU and ChFc.
Tune out most of the alphabet soup. The most important thing you want to see is a planner who has "CFP" after their name. It's the gold standard. This signals the person is a Certified Financial Planner and has undertaken a rigorous 18 to 24 month program in six financial areas including insurance, retirement planning, estate planning, taxes and investments. A planner must also have at least three years of experience before they are certified. A certified financial planner must put in 30 hours of continuing education every two years, according to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.
3. Get fee-only
Financial planners can get paid by commission where they're compensated for what products they sell to you, or they can make their money by setting a set fee -- or perhaps a combination of both. It's worth your while to check out fee-only advisors so you don't have to worry about anyone selling you a product for their personal gain.
The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors is an organization made up of fee-only advisors. To find a fee-only financial planner go to www.napfa.org. NAPFA members set an hourly rate, or they'll charge a percentage (usually about 1 percent) of the assets you have under management.
4. Heed the warning signs
If your financial planner seems more interested in selling products or talking about their achievements rather than finding out about you and your financial goals, you should be wary. If your financial planner has more than 150 clients, it's a sign they may not devote enough quality time to you, says Ferrara.
Your financial planner should be providing the full picture. If you're just being told the good stuff, and not enough about your possible risk, you're not getting the whole picture, says Roger Streit, a fee-only financial planner in New Jersey. You can check up on your advisor's track record and view any complaints that have been lodged at www.nasd.com.
5. The taxman cometh
If it's the dreaded AMT tax has you tied up in knots this year, you may be looking for an accountant to offer some support. The trouble is, finding a good certified public accountant takes quite an effort.
Call your state board of accountancy (you can get the phone number at www.nasba.org) to ask whether your CPA is licensed and has any disciplinary actions against him or her. The information isn't perfect -- but it's better than nothing.
When you do sit down with your accountant, there are some questions you should have in mind. Ask if they you ever been disciplined by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Make sure their license is current and whether they've been audited. An extra security measure is to look for tax preparers that can file taxes over the Internet, since on some level they've already been vetted by the IRS. One way to identify these accountants is to look for a yellow lightning bolt logo in ads and on stationary.
For more on the basics read Money 101: Hiring financial help
Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.