We take our cars to a mechanic for a tune-up, and we see the doctor for regular checkups to make sure we stay in good health.
Yet when it comes to our finances, we don’t appear to seek the same kind of professional help. Even though money is a top stressor for Americans, only 35 percent currently say they work with a financial professional, according to a 2016 study by the CFP Board. Working with a financial advisor can help reduce some of that money stress from your life.
So what is a financial advisor? Well, financial advisors can go by a variety of titles, but basically, they are qualified professionals who can help you meet the goals you have for you and your family, whether that’s the vacation you want to take next year, the student loans you want to pay off in 10 years, or the dream retirement you want in 30 years.
There isn’t a single professional designation that indicates that you’re working with a qualified financial advisor, but if an advisor does have letters after a name, it shows that he or she has had to obtain a minimum amount of training and education or passed a certification (or both) to obtain them.
For example, if you see the letters CFP® at the end of an advisor’s name, it means he or she has passed the standards set by the CFP Board, which includes education and coursework requirements in key financial planning topics, as well as passing a certification exam.
Other designations you may come across include ChFC® (Chartered Financial Consultant), CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and CLU® (Chartered Life Underwriter), although by no means are these the only ones. In order to continue using a professional designation, financial advisors must also typically keep up with a minimum amount of continuing education.
HOW TO WORK WITH A FINANCIAL ADVISOR
To get a sense of where you are today and where you want to be, a financial advisor will meet with you to understand where your income and assets stand; what sorts of debts you have outstanding; and what you’d like to accomplish with your money, along with the timeline by which you’d like to reach your goals. He or she can then put together a financial plan that details how to get there, as well as show you how to readjust your plan. The end game is to balance your dreams with your financial obligations and everyday expenses — while making sure you’re enjoying life at the same time.
To help ensure you’re making progress and staying on track, your financial advisor will also likely want to meet with you on a regular or semi-regular basis, depending on what your financial needs will be at any given point in your life. If you’re going through a big life change — like getting married, growing your family, or preparing to retire in the next few years, for instance — then you may have to make adjustments to your budget, your investments and your estate plan, among other parts of your finances. A financial advisor can help with that.
A financial advisor can also take a look at the big picture and see where you may need to put measures in place to help protect your family, your assets or your income. For instance, he or she can help determine if you’ve got enough life insurance to cover your family’s expenses in the event you pass away, or if you’ve got enough disability insurance to replace your income in case you become too ill or injured to work.
Think of a financial advisor as the person in your life who can help keep you accountable on money matters big and small, while giving you the bird’s-eye view of where your finances stand now — and where they can help you go in the future.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.