Financial Planning: Helping You See the Big Picture
Do you picture yourself owning a new home, starting a business, or retiring comfortably? These are a few of the financial goals that may be important to you, and each comes with a price tag attached. That's where financial planning comes in. Financial planning is a process that can help you target your goals by evaluating your whole financial picture, then outlining strategies that are tailored to your individual needs and available resources.
Why is financial planning important?
A comprehensive financial plan serves as a framework for organizing the pieces of your financial picture. With a financial plan in place, you'll be better able to focus on your goals and understand what it will take to reach them.
One of the main benefits of having a financial plan is that it can help you balance competing financial priorities. A financial plan will clearly show you how your financial goals are related--for example, how saving for your children's college education might impact your ability to save for retirement. Then you can use the information you've gleaned to decide how to prioritize your goals, implement specific strategies, and choose suitable products or services. Best of all, you'll know that your financial life is headed in the right direction.
The financial planning process
Creating and implementing a comprehensive financial plan generally involves working with financial professionals to:
- Develop a clear picture of your current financial situation by reviewing your income, assets, and liabilities, and evaluating your insurance coverage, your investment portfolio, your tax exposure, and your estate plan
- Establish and prioritize financial goals and time frames for achieving these goals
- Implement strategies that address your current financial weaknesses and build on your financial strengths
- Choose specific products and services that are tailored to help meet your financial objectives*
- Monitor your plan, making adjustments as your goals, time frames, or circumstances change
Some members of the team
The financial planning process can involve a number of professionals. Financial planners typically play a central role in the process, focusing on your overall financial plan, and often coordinating the activities of other professionals who have expertise in specific areas.
- Accountants or tax attorneys provide advice on federal and state tax issues.
- Estate planning attorneys help you plan your estate and give advice on transferring and managing your assets before and after your death.
- Insurance professionals evaluate insurance needs and recommend appropriate products and strategies.
- Investment advisors provide advice about investment options and asset allocation, and can help you plan a strategy to manage your investment portfolio.
The most important member of the team, however, is YOU. Your needs and objectives drive the team, and once you've carefully considered any recommendations, all decisions lie in your hands.
Why can't I do it myself?
You can, if you have enough time and knowledge, but developing a comprehensive financial plan may require expertise in several areas. A financial professional can give you objective information and help you weigh your alternatives, saving you time and ensuring that all angles of your financial picture are covered.
Staying on track
The financial planning process doesn't end once your initial plan has been created. Your plan should generally be reviewed at least once a year to make sure that it's up-to-date. It's also possible that you'll need to modify your plan due to changes in your personal circumstances or the economy. Here are some of the events that might trigger a review of your financial plan:
- Your goals or time horizons change
- You experience a life-changing event such as marriage, the birth of a child, health problems, or a job loss
- You have a specific or immediate financial planning need (e.g., drafting a will, managing a distribution from a retirement account, paying long-term care expenses)
- Your income or expenses substantially increase or decrease
- Your portfolio hasn't performed as expected
- You're affected by changes to the economy or tax laws
Common questions about financial planning
What if I'm too busy?
Don't wait until you're in the midst of a financial crisis before beginning the planning process. The sooner you start, the more options you may have.
Is the financial planning process complicated?
Each financial plan is tailored to the needs of the individual, so how complicated the process will be depends on your individual circumstances. But no matter what type of help you need, a financial professional will work hard to make the process as easy as possible, and will gladly answer all of your questions.
What if my spouse and I disagree?
A financial professional is trained to listen to your concerns, identify any underlying issues, and help you find common ground.
Can I still control my own finances?
Financial professionals make recommendations, not decisions. You retain control over your finances. Recommendations will be based on your needs, values, goals, and time frames. You decide which recommendations to follow, then work with a financial professional to implement them.
What Is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional?
A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional or a CFP® practitioner is a financial professional who meets the requirements established by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. While others may call themselves financial planners, only those who demonstrate the requisite experience, education, and ethical standards are awarded the CFP® mark.
What are the requirements?
In order to obtain the CFP® mark, an applicant must:
- Hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university
- Complete a CFP® Board-registered education program
- Pass the 10-hour CFP® certification exam
- Have at least three years of qualifying full-time work experience in financial planning
- Pass a professional fitness standards and background check
Once appointed, a CFP® professional must meet continuing education requirements every other year in order to maintain the certification.
What does a CFP® professional do?
A CFP® professional is trained to develop and implement comprehensive financial plans for individuals, businesses, and organizations. He or she has the knowledge and skills to objectively assess your current financial status, identify potential problem areas, and recommend appropriate options. You're also working with someone who's demonstrated expertise in multiple areas of financial planning, including income and estate tax, investment planning, risk management, and retirement planning.
How is a CFP® professional compensated?
Typically, financial planners earn their living either from commissions or by charging hourly or flat rates for their services. A CFP® professional may use a combination fee-and-commission structure: you pay a fee for development of a financial plan or for other services provided by the CFP® professional, who also receives a commission from selling you products. A commission is a fee paid whenever someone buys or sells a stock or other investment, or when someone buys insurance (such as health, life, or long-term care insurance) or annuities.
When calculating the cost to employ the services of a financial planner, consider fees, commissions, and related expenses, such as transaction fees and management fees related to the products he or she recommends.
How can a CFP® professional help you?
A CFP® professional can help you create a personal budget, control expenses, and develop and implement plans for retirement, education, and/or wealth protection. A CFP® professional can offer expertise in risk management, including strategies involving life and long-term care insurance, health insurance, and liability coverage. He or she often can help with your tax planning or manage your asset portfolio based on your goals. Specifically, a CFP® professional can help you:
- Establish financial and personal goals and create a plan to achieve them
- Evaluate your financial well-being with a thorough analysis of your assets, liabilities, income, taxes, investments, and insurance
- Identify areas of concern and help you address them by developing and implementing a financial plan that emphasizes your financial strengths while reducing your financial weaknesses
- Review your plan periodically to accommodate your changing personal circumstances and financial goals
How to choose a CFP® professional
Selecting a CFP® professional is like choosing a doctor for your financial health. Working with a CFP® professional involves sharing very personal information and you will want to feel comfortable with the professional you've chosen. He or she should be knowledgeable, have integrity, and demonstrate a commitment to the highest ethical standards in the industry. Also, a CFP® professional may offer services to a particular clientele, such as small business owners, corporate executives, or retirees, so be sure the planner you select works with people whose interests and goals are similar to yours.
Before you choose someone to work with, ask around. You may know a family member, friend, or colleague who has worked with someone they'd recommend. Also, be prepared to interview the prospective CFP® professional. At your meeting, request a copy of form ADV or the comparable state form. A CFP® professional who offers investment advice for a fee is required to file form ADV with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or with the state of residence of the CFP® professional (although some exceptions apply). Form ADV contains information about the professional's education, business, disciplinary history, services offered, fees charged, and investment strategies. In addition to form ADV, ask for the disclosure document that contains other important information regarding the CFP® professional. Even if you don't ask for the disclosure document, it must be provided to you at the time you enter into an agreement for services, or soon thereafter. Be sure to read the disclosure document carefully as well as any written agreements you enter into.
Questions to ask
Here are some questions you may want to ask a CFP® professional to help you find the right planner for you:
- What is your education? What schools did you attend and what degrees have you earned?
- What licenses do you hold? Are you registered with the SEC, FINRA, or the state?
- Are you affiliated with any professional groups or organizations? Do you execute securities trades through a broker-dealer? Who is it?
- Does your practice concentrate in a particular area? What types of clients do you work with?
- What type of products and services do you offer? Are you limited as to the products and services you can offer me?
- How are you compensated for your services? Do you receive a commission for products you may sell to me?
- Have you ever been disciplined by any government board or regulatory agency?
Is a CFP® professional right for you?
The financial world has become a very complex place. Even if you're used to handling your own financial affairs, the time may be right to consult a CFP® professional who can review your financial health and offer suggestions that may help you reach your financial goals.
For example, are you familiar with all the different investment opportunities that might be available to you? Are you on track to meet your financial goals such as saving for your child's college education, securing enough income for a comfortable retirement, or protecting your assets against risks and lawsuits? A CFP® professional can offer the analysis you need to help answer these and other important financial questions.
Note: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.