The Right Stuff

When it comes to selecting an advisor, options. Here's how to make the best choice.

sponsored a financial workshop, she attended. Grady and a colleague were the speakers. After the seminar, she contacted Grady and became a client. He immediately showed Stewart how to eliminate unnecessary expenditures and placed her on an aggressive savings plan. In less than a year, Stewart socked away enough money for a down payment on her very first home.

“I tell all my friends how pleased I am,” Stewart says, beaming. But Grady’s sage advice didn’t end there. He also admonished his client not to run out and buy expensive furniture, electronics and household goods on credit. “Now every time I go to purchase something, I hear Dwayne’s voice in my head warning me against getting something that may take a year to pay off,” says Stewart. “He really keeps me on track.”

After you’ve done your homework and have analyzed the backgrounds of potential planners, the next step is to actually meet at least three advisors face to face. This way your chances of finding the planner who’s right for you will be greatly increased. At a bare minimum, you should meet with two professionals to compare their different styles and approaches to financial planning.

During this meeting, review the information you have in hand. Go over any questions you have about the planner’s experience, services or costs. Additionally, ask the planner how he or she likes to communicate. Does the advisor prefer phone calls or letters? Can the planner be contacted via e-mail? Is the person willing to come to your home or office? The answers to these questions should help you gauge the accessibility of the advisor. Try to get a feel for the planner’s way of doing business. Is it compatible with yours? It’s also helpful to ask a planner if he or she has clients with financial situations similar to yours.

Although the planner may have experience working with individuals like you, he or she should structure a personalized plan for you.

If the cost of a full-blown financial plan is prohibitive, you may be able to shave expenses by asking whether the planner will sit down and talk with you for an hour or so about a special area of concern-such as taxes or estate planning. Besides cutting costs, there’s another advantage to this strategy: you get to test your working relationship with the planner before you allow them to manage your money.

You should also ask how many times the planner will meet with you during the course of a year. Expect to get together at least once annually or on a semiannual basis. This way, your advisor can make sure that your financial goals or family status haven’t changed dramatically. The planner should also use subsequent consulting periods to assess your progress.

After the meeting, check the planner’s references. If the advisor has supplied you with a list of clients, call them and ask whether they are satisfied customers. For an extra level of protection, investigate whether a planner has been subject to

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