Looking for a financial advisor? Do your homework

Finding the right financial advisor is the first step toward receiving good financial advice. To save both time and money, the most productive way you should go about this is to rely on those you trust to refer you to someone they either work with or know personally.

Friends and family are your best options, but it’s also a good idea to consult with your accountant or attorney to steer you in the right direction, especially since most financial advisors work closely with professionals from both those fields.

Sam Edwards | OJO Images | Getty Images

Sam Edwards | OJO Images | Getty Images

Interviewing at least four to five financial advisors from different firms will give you an unbiased opinion when deciding on whom to work with. Most advisors don’t charge fees for initial meetings, so don’t be shy when asking for a complimentary interview.

Go to each meeting prepared with a list of questions. Your questions should address things such as how long advisors have been in business, the demographics of their current clients and the average net worth of each client.

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The answers you receive will help you make your decision, so be selective with your questions. For example, if you find that the advisor’s clients’ average net worth is drastically different than yours, you should question his or her ability or willingness to service you. In addition, an advisor who works primarily with retirement plans for small businesses may not be a good fit if you’re looking for estate-planning advice.

During the interview process, a good advisor will gather basic information about you and, in many cases, will address immediate concerns relevant to your situation. For example, if the advisor learns that you recently received a large lump-sum payment from a settlement or inheritance, he or she should emphasize the impact that taxes may have on your investments. This should give you the impression the advisor cares and knows how to help you.

Once you’ve narrowed your selection down to two or three advisors, expect each one to want to get to know you a bit more (i.e., what you do for a living, what you do for fun, who your spouse is, how many kids you have, etc.)

Advisors should solicit as much information about you as they can, to develop a complete understanding of your financial situation. This includes your sources of income and savings, spending habits, life and medical insurance, inheritances and even things such as health issues and family history. All these factors play a significant role in a good financial advisor giving comprehensive recommendations.

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In most cases, financial advice is unique to each situation, so an advisor’s analysis is important when recommending one product over another. Expect advisors to diagnose your financial situation before prescribing you advice.

For example, a recommendation to establish a life insurance trust doesn’t mean everyone with life insurance should own a trust. Or a recommendation to purchase a tax-free municipal bond doesn’t mean you should be buying bonds. In both these cases, you’ll end up paying unnecessary commissions and/or fees.

“The advisor’s plan of action should address both your short- and long-term goals and how you are to go about accomplishing them.”

The advisor’s plan of action should address both your short- and long-term goals and how you are to go about accomplishing them. For example, if you’re looking to shelter current income from taxes while saving for retirement, yearly contributions to a 401(k) plan might make more sense than a Roth IRA.

Also, it might make more sense to direct permanent life insurance premiums toward other savings vehicles for retirement, because the cost of the policy may not justify your intentions. Your strategy should allow you to adequately adapt to life-altering events, and it should change as life changes.

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Your life may throw you unexpected curveballs, so it’s important you revisit your strategy on an ongoing basis. This should be done in regular, recurring meetings with your advisor on a quarterly, semi-annual or at least annual basis, depending on your needs.

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