How can I find an adviser I trust?

It can be daunting to entrust your financial future to a stranger. And it's tough knowing where to turn for help because a changing marketplace has blurred the line between insurance salesmen and your stockbroker. So what should you look for?

Well, for starters you'll probably want to hire a planner who's earned credentials. But brace yourself; there are a lot of them, and figuring out what they mean can be daunting. You might want to look at those that actually require a substantial level of knowledge before the designations are awarded. These include the CFP (certified financial planner), the PFS (personal financial specialist) and the CFA (chartered financial analyst). Planners with these designations at least have a proven level of competency within financial planning and investing. For more see What kind of credentials should a planner have?

To come up with specific planners, first ask for references from friends and colleagues. But you also have to be careful that you have similar financial needs as the person who gives you a recommendation. Failing that, you can head to the Financial Planning Association, which lets you search for planners by location or specialty. Seek out financial planners who have a CFP.

At that point, your job is half done. The Financial Planning Association does not verify credentials; it just lists planners. You'll next have to verify a planner's CFP status and background with the CFP Board of Standards.

Then set up interviews with three or four planners. Ask them an array of questions designed to help you understand their process and fees (there's a good list here). Ultimately, be sure that the planner you choose is someone with whom you can talk frankly - after all, you're going to trust this person with your valuable financial information, as well as your goals and desires for retirement.