Meeting with a Fee-Only Certified Financial Planner, Part 1: Finding an Advisor and Gathering Info

Back in June when I did the Fox Business segment, I was asked what investments people could trust in these tough economic times. I wasn’t prepared to give a million different people (…okay, maybe just a few thousand) advice on retirement specifics, so I somewhat skirted the question and said that everyone should seek the advice of a fee-only financial planner, specifically a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), to help them sort out where they are and what they need to do to get prepared for retirement.

While I stand by my words, I felt guilty that I’d never taken my own advice. I’d never been to see a CFP. Most of my retirement investing advice had come from books, blogs, and employer retirement plan administrators. That was about to end. I decided I needed to go visit a local CFP.

How to Find a Certified Financial Planner

NAPFA LogoI went straight to www.napfa.org (The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors) and performed a search for a local advisor. The top result was Frisco Financial Planning, LLC.. Under their bio was the sentence, “If you have no outstanding credit card debt, are spending less than you make, and see the value in paying a reasonable fee for professional financial help, we may be the planning firm you are looking for.” This, along with the fact that they claimed a Christian worldview, struck a chord with. I decided to give them a shot.

Frisco Financial Planning’s principle advisor is John Gay. After a quick look at his credentials, I emailed John and told him I’d like to discuss meeting with him to review my current retirement savings status. I met with John for lunch and we discussed his business, blogging, and how my retirement planning session would work.

What Makes a Good CFP and CFP Client?

I asked John what readers of my blog should look for in a financial advisor. He said they should be:

  • A Certified Financial Planner Professional with several (at least 10) years of experience.
  • Not employed by a large financial institution (bank, brokerage fund, or life insurance company).
  • Fee-only (paid directly by the client and receives no commission).

I also asked John to describe his typical client. He said that his services were cost effective for people with no consumer debt, who were already saving at least 10% of their income, and who make over $150,000 a year and/or have $250,000 saved already for retirement. I explained to John that I wasn’t quite in this range yet. He was kind enough to work with me anyway since I was sharing my story on the blog.

Preparing for the Planning Session

I thanked John for his time and he let me know he would be sending Mrs. PT and I some materials to prepare for our full planning session. Here’s what John sends over to clients:

  • Client Agreement, Payment Request (half of the fee), and General Client Survey
  • Retirement Information – This is where I put all of our current retirement savings figures.
  • Tax Information
  • Request for Investment Account Statements – I emailed John the electronic copies of all of our retirement, investing, and other savings accounts.
  • Risk Profile – Mrs. PT and I each had to complete our own risk assessment. It was quite in-depth, probably taking the majority of the preparation time. At the end of the survey I was told my risk score, which I’ll reveal in part 2. The survey was run on software from Money Guide Pro.
  • General Considerations and Life Insurance Information – Finally, John sent over some general information about healthy personal finances (no consumer debt, emergency savings, etc.) and a great primer on life insurance. John really gets it when it comes to personal finance basics and you could tell by this material.

Once I completed these items, I scheduled my planning session with John. He said it would take a couple of hours and that he’d like both Mrs. PT and I to attend.

Takeaways from Part 1

Here are some of my thoughts about this first, planning phase of the CFP process:

1. It’s easy to find a good planner. If you are interested in this service, visit www.napfa.org and find a planner near you.

2. A certified financial planner only makes sense for certain people. There may be certain CFPs that take on a wider range of clients, but John seems content only working with those most prepared. I found myself in the gap between John’s key audience and more general advice like Dave Ramsey provides.

3. John’s approach and position on the basics was impressive. The icing on the cake throughout this process was how much John aligned with my own beliefs and thoughts on personal finance. I knew I was working with someone who thought like me but who could help me take it to the next level.

4. I was glad that Mrs. PT was encouraged to be involved. Finally, throughout the process John heavily encouraged me to get Mrs. PT involved. She’s pretty busy these days, so although it was tough connecting on everyone’s schedule, I was glad she was a part of the process. After all, we are saving for retirement together. It only makes sense that we plan together. In part 2 you’ll really see why this matters.

That does it for part 1. I will discuss the actual planning session and John’s recommendations for our retirement savings in part 2. Stay tuned for that.

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Last Edited: April 4, 2012 @ 1:06 am
About Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a husband and father of two. He created PT Money back in 2007 to share his thoughts on money and to meet others passionate about managing their finances. All the content on this blog is original, and created or edited by PT. Read more about Philip Taylor, and be sure to connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or view the Philip Taylor+ Google profile.