Unfortunately, that can be a tough slog. More than 400,000 people in the U.S. call themselves financial advisers today, using any number of so-called professional designations to sell financial products and give advice. Some of these credentials — there are 157 out there — don't require much training or expertise, or a code of ethics.
So when looking for help, start with an adviser who identifies himself or herself as a fiduciary: someone who puts your interests ahead of his or her own. While it's not an ironclad guarantee about their abilities, they are typically considered the safest bet for unbiased advice that's free of conflicts.
"Fiduciaries have to put themselves in your shoes when giving investment advice and say, 'This is the best you can do.' And they're held to that level of liability," says Peter Mallouk, author of The 5 Mistakes Every Investor Makes and How to Avoid Them: Getting Investing Right. "Believe it or not, the great majority of financial advisers are not fiduciaries."
Many brokers and others who call themselves advisers follow the "suitability" standard, meaning they can sell you products that are suitable based on your age, risk tolerance and other factors but may not meet your needs. Those products can come with high fees or commissions, or hidden payments from mutual fund companies they don't have to disclose. So be sure to ask your prospective adviser which standard — fiduciary or suitability — he or she observes, and if there is any hesitation to give a clear answer, walk away.
Something else to watch out for: dually registered advisers, Mallouk says. They're like the Jekyll and Hyde of the advice industry: Sometimes they're fiduciaries, sometimes they're not, and most people can't tell which hat they're wearing when. In fact, a study done by AARP in 2013 found that an overwhelming majority of 401(k) participants wanted their financial planners to follow the fiduciary standard.