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Manage My Retirement, Please!

Colleen Mulder-Seward, MBA
Retirement Calculator, Inc.
Manage My Retirement, Please!

The truth is anyone can be a financial planner or advisor.  Financial planners do not even need a high school degree.  So, before you hand over your hard earned money to just anyone, you need to learn about them. But, how do you choose a reputable financial planner?  Finding the perfect financial planner does not have to be an impossible task.  By following these steps, you can find the right person to manage your retirement. 

Get referrals

Ask family and friends who they use.  Other financial professionals can be a great resource for referrals.  CPAs, Bookkeepers, estate and tax lawyers are just some of the professionals that can offer great leads.  Professional associations offer a treasure trove of potential money managers.  The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) or the Financial Planning Association (FPA) can help track down the best person to manage your retirement portfolio. 

Ask questions

  1. What experience do you have as a financial planner?

Why you ask the question:

This gives you an idea of how experienced the planner is.

The ideal answer:

The more experience the better.

  1. What kind of training/education do you have?

Why you ask the question:

As stated earlier, anyone can be a financial advisor.  You want to make sure you choose a planner that is well educated in finance and investing.

The ideal answer:

A business degree - either a finance or accounting degree are preferred, but if the planner has an MBA or other graduate finance or accounting degree is all the better. People with these degrees have the obvious financial training, but less obvious is that they tend to be detailed-oriented and make the best advisors.  Also look for any of the CFP, CFA, or CPA designations.

  1. What licenses do you hold?

Why you ask the question:

If they are not licensed to sell securities and insurance, walk away.

    • Series 6 allows the agent to sell mutual funds and variable annuities.
    • Series 7 allows the agent to sell corporate securities.
    • To view the entire list of licenses visit Investopedia'swebsite.

The ideal answer:

You want to see at least series 6 and 7 licenses.

  1. Are you registered with the SEC, a state or NASD?

Why you ask the question:

Remember advisors must register with one of these agencies to be legitimate.

The ideal answer:

Yes (including the agency).

  1. Are you a member of SIPC?

Why you ask the question:

SIPC provides limited customer protection if a brokerage firm becomes bankrupt.

The ideal answer:


  1. What products and services do you offer?

Why you ask the question:

You want to make sure of two things. First, does what they say match their licenses.  If not, this is a big red flag.  Second, do they offer the products and services you need.

The ideal answer:

A match to licenses and your needs addressed.

  1. Have you ever been disciplined by any government regulator for unethical or improper conduct or been sued by a client?

Why you ask the question:

If they have a lot of complaints, you want to know about it. You can check the honesty of their response by viewing their CRD report and Form ADV (both explained below).

The ideal answer:

A blemish free report is not necessary, but it is ideal.  Even the best of planners can have a client lodge a complaint.  If one appears on their report ask them to explain the situation.  Only if you are convinced by their response should you proceed.  A problem with regulators is a more serious matter. It is probably best to look at a different advisor.

  1.  Can I have a copy of both parts of your Form ADV?

Why you ask the question:

Form ADV has two parts. Part 1 contains information about the planner's business and any documents any problems the advisor has had with regulators or clients.  Part 2 lists the planner's services, fees and strategies.  You can get copies of Form ADV from state securities regulators or the SEC (depending on the size of the practice).

The ideal answer:

The planner should be only too happy to oblige this request.  If they have something to hide, they will not be as forth coming.

  1. How are you paid?

Why you ask the question:

Planners can be paid in a variety of ways.  They can earn a commission from the sale of products, charge a flat hourly fee or a combination of these.  

The ideal answer:

Fee-only advisors are generally preferred because they do not have a conflict of interest (i.e. trying to sell you a certain product because of its higher commission verses what is truly right for you.)

  1. Can you give me some references from current clients?

Why you ask the question:

Good advisors will have happy clients who they are proud to have you contact.

The ideal answer:

The advisor should have a couple of references ready to give you.

  1. When did you last take a continuing education class?

Why you ask the question:

Professionals want to keep their skills up-to-date. 

The ideal answer:

Within the last year.

  1. With which associations are you affiliated?

Why you ask the question:

Associations usually have their members pass a test and background check before being able to join. It is one more way to find out if the advisor you are considering is reputable.

The ideal answer:

One is enough, but the more associations usually means the advisor is more experienced.

Check their background

Federal or state securities laws require brokers, advisors and their firms to be licensed or registered.  The SEC has this dire warning on its website "...if you do business with an unlicensed securities broker or a firm that later goes out of business, there may be no way for you to recover your money - even if an arbitrator or court rules in your favor."

Your state securities regulator or NASD can provide you with a Central Registration Depository (CRD) report on your advisor. The CRD is a computerized database that contains information about most advisors and the firms they work for. These reports can tell you if brokers are properly licensed in your state, had problems with regulators or received serious complaints from their clients. You will also find information about the advisor's educational background and previous employment. The North American Securities Administrations Association lists your state securities regulator, which can be accessed on their website.  A visit to the NASD website can check up on your advisor as well. Save a step and get their Form ADV at the same time you make the request for the CRD report.

Just because a person claims to be a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) does not mean they are.  To check if a planner has been certified by the Certified Financial Planner board of Standards, Inc., visit their website

What to bring to your first meeting

Bring proof of your net worth. These include: all current statements (i.e. brokerage, bank, 401(k), 403(b), 457, IRA, Keogh, SIMPLE, mortgage, appraisals, loans, debts, etc.)  Also make sure you bring any current pay stubs, W-2 forms or 1099 forms.  Perhaps most important, bring your financial objectives. This will help the planner give you the advice to manage your retirement properly.

Stay Informed

To keep informed about latest retirement news, try a FREE membership to the Retirement Intelligence Information Services newsletter.  The RIIS newsletter provides investment education in easy to understand terms, to help you, the individual investor (The service is absolutely 100% FREE).  The Retirement Calculator 2.0 is included at no additional cost for all Retirement Intelligence Information Services members.  This software normally costs $24.95.  The Retirement Calculator at can help you view your retirement savings balance and plan your withdrawals for each year until the end of your retirement.  The results are revealed instantly allowing you to evaluate your planner's advice on how to manage your retirement.

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