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5 Red Flags When Choosing a Financial Planner

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You know what they say: You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your financial planner. Or something like that. One of the great things of being in charge of your money is choosing who (if anyone) will help you manage it. The choice isn’t always an easy one. How will you know that your planner is reputable and trustworthy?

These five red flags may be good indications of whether the financial planner sitting across from you is someone you should trust with your money. LearnVest Planning also provides an innovative 7-step program for your money where you work one-on-one with a financial planner. To see if this program is right for you, start with a free financial consultation.

1. She Isn’t Certified
“There are a lot of good planners out there who aren’t Certified Financial Panners™,” says Samantha Vient, CFP®, of LearnVest Planning Services. “However, CFPs® are required to adhere to the CFP® Board’s standards of professional conduct.

We believe it’s always a good idea to work with someone who has the CFP® designation, which is issued after completing a CFP® Board-approved personal financial planning curriculum, passing a rigorous exam issued by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, meeting experience requirements and passing an ethics and background check.

2. He Offers to Manage Your Money for “Free”
Financial planners are usually paid in one of two ways: Either through fee-only, which can be a set fee, hourly, retainer or a percentage of the assets they manage for you, or through commission, which means the planner is paid each time he buys or sells an investment.

Fee-only payment structures can be more desirable to some clients, as there’s no financial incentive based on assets under management for a planner to buy or sell, whereas working on commission encourages planners to make trades, rather than solely look out for your best interest—called a “fiduciary” duty. (You want to be sure that the planner you choose is a fiduciary.)

LearnVest Planning Services provides the services of fee-only Certified Financial Planners™. Get started for free with a 15-minute financial consultation.

3. She Says She Outperforms the Market
“If a financial planner tells you that she can outperform the market, that’s a major red flag,” Vient explains. “In fact, due to government regulations, it’s illegal to advertise statements that promise a specific return.”

Outperforming the market—that is, getting better investment returns than the market average—is extremely difficult to do consistently, and requires taking a lot of risks with your investments. It’s rare to find a financial planner who can consistently outperform the market—and results are never guaranteed. Either way, in the pursuit of these high returns, she’ll be exposing your investments to much higher risk than you may be comfortable with.

Instead, look for a CFP® who, when looking at your portfolio, can advise on proper asset allocation based on your risk tolerance and time horizon, as well as through economic ups and downs.

4. She Doesn’t Ask About Your Financial Goals
“Your planner isn’t just there to crunch the numbers,” Vient advises. “She’s helping you make a plan for your money and your life. You should be looking for someone who has similar values to you.”

Ideally, you’ll likely want to work with someone who is in a similar life stage. Are you a parent? A planner with children may be better able to understand your need to save for college. Does your CFP® have a specialty? Some planners have an area of expertise, like insurance, estate planning, divorce or retirement—a fact you might want to consider if that’s a particular need of yours.

When meeting a potential planner, remember that you’re allowed to ask questions about their experience and priorities: “Do you think it’s more important to save for retirement or pay off debt? How do you feel about supporting kids through college? How do you mitigate investment risk as your clients get older?”

The choices you make with your money are intensely personal. The person who helps you make these choices should be able to understand and accept your financial priorities, and help you use your money to meet them.

5. His Management Style Makes You Uncomfortable
Financial planners can manage your money for you or manage your money with you. As different people have different needs when it comes to money management, there is no right way to work with a planner—it’s up to you to decide how hands-on you want him to be.
When you sign on with a financial planner, there will be a written agreement of how the two of you will manage your money. Read this carefully, and ask questions if you’re unsure about anything. Are you signing your accounts over to this planner? Will he check in with you before making a trade, or when rebalancing your accounts? If you’re uncomfortable with anything in the agreement, bring it up immediately.

Learn more about LearnVest Planning and our financial planners by visiting To book your free consultation today, email or complete your request online.

LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser. The opinions expressed in this article are that of LearnVest Planning Services, a registered investment adviser. The advice provided may not be suitable for your individual situation and you should discuss your situation with a financial professional.