When it comes to your finances, there is a significant amount of planning involved if you want to meet long-term financial goals. It is for this and other reasons that many people choose to work with a financial planner to help them establish and achieve their goals.
Financial planning isn’t just for those who are already wealthy, either. In fact, you’d be missing out if you dismissed the idea of a financial planner simply because your net worth isn’t extremely high. Planning your finances is part of what can help you achieve that wealth, so getting started with a financial planner could be the best thing you ever did for your own personal finances.
If you’re meeting with a financial planner for the first time, there are a few things you should know, and a few things you should remember to bring with you. Here’s what you need to know:
Set Goals before You Go
Even before you decide to hire a financial planner, your first move should be to establish goals for yourself. You could create goals for different categories, including short and long-term goals. This can help you with deciding exactly how to divide up your finances. Long-term goals might include buying your first home or saving for retirement, while short-term goals could be as simple as paying off some excess credit card debt.
Another approach is to think about what you would like your finances to look like in one year, five years, and then ten years from now. Whichever method you choose, the important thing is to be clear with yourself about what you want to achieve, that way you can give your financial planner an idea of how to get started.
Bring These Financial Documents
Probably the most important document you can bring along to your first appointment with your financial planner is your tax return. Tax returns are a good source for your financial planner to see the full picture of your finances, including income, deductions, medical issues, mortgages, etc. Most planners will also want to talk with you about your future tax outlook, especially if you are close to, or in retirement, as there are several strategies and steps that can be taken to improve your future tax situation, and potentially insulate you from any future tax increases.
You will also want to bring any recent statements for your accounts. This includes any retirement accounts (401(k)s, IRAs, etc.), bank accounts, life insurance policies, mortgage accounts, and any debt statements. It’s important that your financial planner is able to get an accurate picture of your finances, both with your income and your expenses. Also, recent Social Security benefit statements and pension estimates, if applicable, are important items for any projected retirement income planning.
This full picture, including all debt and spending habits, will help your planner see where your money is going now, and help you to find other places you can put your money to help you achieve your goals. Knowing your debt and income will help them make appropriate recommendations for your situation.
Bring a Budget or Be Prepared to Create One
If you have a budget already, make sure you bring it. However, if you don’t yet have a budget in place, bring your credit card and debit card statements and your bank statements. That way, your financial planner can get a sense of how your money is being spent now.
By looking through these documents, they can help you create a budget that will work for you in your current financial position and that will help you reach your financial goals. A good budget will include your fixed and variable expenses and take into account savings goals for the future. But in order for it to work for you, it needs to be practical and realistic.
For example, deciding to cut back on your amount of takeout for the month is more realistic than cutting it from your budget completely. You will be more capable of sticking to your budget if it realistically reflects your current situation and values.
Interview the Planner
Choosing a financial planner is an important decision. You should interview two or three financial planners before choosing one. Your financial planner should make you feel comfortable enough to share information about your life and finances, and you should feel confident in their credentials and decision-making.
It is probably best if your financial planner has a similar investment strategy as you. It can also be helpful if they often work with clients in your position. A planner specializing in retirees might not be the best choice if you are in your early twenties and just starting to establish your finances and goals. Likewise, someone working mostly with young couples working to buy their first home might not be a good fit for a couple ready for retirement.
Meeting with a financial planner is your opportunity to ask questions. Find someone who is sympathetic to your financial situation and who has practical ideas for helping you achieve your future goals. This will become an important relationship for you, so you will want someone you trust and have confidence in to help you in your financial journey.