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How to Choose a Financial Planner

Beware the good adviser who does bad things with your money

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In one hour we’ll try to get you wound up enough to sign your entire nest egg over to us. We know that if you walk out of our office without signing, you may realize how manipulative the session was and never return.

But once you sign and buy some product, you may find it will take years to get your money back without penalties. So don’t even think about signing any document during your first meeting with a planner, even if he or she tells you that you can still back out.

Outright deception

And that is among the more ethical methods planners use to sign up clients. Others use outright deception: Any ad that promises wealth without risk or a high “guaranteed” return is almost certainly a scam.

Have you ever seen advertisements for a CD boasting interest rates far above what banks are offering? They are merely bait-and-switch tactics to get you into our office, where we can sell you other products.

When I complained to the Colorado Division of Insurance about such advertisements in my state, I was told that the ads didn’t violate the state’s insurance law. Be particularly cautious about promises made at a free “educational” dinner. Better yet, skip the free meal altogether; you’ll save a lot more money in the long run.

My advice

It may seem as if I’m trying to drive you away from financial planners. I’m not. Focusing on your financial goals and finding a path to realize them is a valuable, even indispensable service. Most of us do that as well as possible. But understand our limitations.

You should also remember that virtually anyone can fill an office with prestigious-looking credentials and call himself or herself a financial planner. “For seniors, it is the financial equivalent of the Wild West,” says Harvard economics professor David Laibson. “Many so-called planners are free of almost all regulatory oversight or constraints.”

Don’t get ambushed: Follow the tips in a sidebar to this article, “10 Ways to Get the Best Money Advice,” and you should be able to find a financial planner you can trust. But never trust an adviser so much that you follow that person blindly.

Allan Roth is a certified financial planner and CPA in Colorado Springs. He writes for CBS MoneyWatch.com.

You may also lilke: Investment scams to avoid. »

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