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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

Is Your Financial Adviser One of America's Top Financial Planners? I am!

Posted by Karen Chan - Karen Chan

I'm one of America's Top Financial Planners! The Consumers' Research Council of America of Washington, D.C. says so! I got a notice in the mail, with the return address listed as State License Documentation in Simi Valley, California. SLD Industries is offering me a number of lovely plaques and table top awards priced from $169 to $229 that I may purchase to proclaim my inclusion in this select group. Tucked into the information about these purchases was a blue slip of paper informing me, "Consumers' Research Council of America is pleased to announce your inclusion in 'Guide to America's Top Financial Planners' 2008 Edition."

There's just one problem with all this: I'm not a practicing financial planner. I'm an educator. I also hold the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) designation, but I don't work as a financial planner. So how could I be one of America's Top Financial Planners?

I visited the Consumers' Research Council of America's web site, where I learned that they use a point system to select these planners. Apparently, I earned points based on my experience, training, professional associations, and financial certifications. I began to wonder, who else has received this designation?

I searched for two other educators I know who also have the CFP designation, but do not practice. They both appear in the list. Now my curiosity was really piqued.

Then I went to the website of the Financial Planning Association(FPA) where I knew I would find the names of individuals who work as brokers, insurance agents, accountants, investment managers, and other financial professionals. Members must have the CFP designation to be listed in the FPAs searchable list. I searched for planners within 50 miles of Chicago and received a list of 253 planners. I chose all the planners whose names started with either M or S (53 planners in all), and searched for them in the Consumers' Research Council of America's database of America's Top Financial Planners. Each of those 53 planners is listed as one of America's Top Financial Planners, except one.

Now, that's not to say that these 52 individuals aren't fine, upstanding financial planners. But my notice said I was "among a select few." OK. So just who did you leave out? Oh--my previous property/casualty insurance agent wasn't listed, but then she doesn't hold herself out as a financial planner or hold the CFP designation.

So how can you find a financial planner? You can find a CFP by going to the CFP Board of Standards web site. You can look for a planner on the FPA web site. Or you can narrow your search to just those planners who are fee-only, meaning that they do not sell any product. You pay for their time and expertise, the way you would with an attorney. You can find a fee-only planner through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers (NAPFA)or the Garrett Planning Network.

If you want to know more about how financial planners are paid, the difference between a broker and a registered investment adviser, and what the various credentials mean, visit our website, Choosing a Financial Professional.

Just please don't patronize the website of a business who is simply regurgitating the name of every planner they could find and trying to sell us "museum quality awards."

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