If you are not already working with a financial planner, you might find yourself working with one as you approach retirement. It is important to ensure that you work with a financial planner who not only has the necessary knowledge base, but who also has your best interests at heart.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a financial planner:
Try asking for recommendations from those you know who have worked with financial planners (especially other federal employees or retirees), or from other financial professionals with whom you work (e.g., accountant, attorney, etc.). Interview several of the recommendations.
When interviewing the planner, inquire as to any credentials that they might have. The following credentials require advanced courses, passing an examination, a certain level of experience and annual continuing professional education. CFP (Certified Financial Planner);
ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant); CPA PFS (Certified Public Accountant Personal Financial Specialist); RIA (Registered Investment Advisor).
In the interview, ask them questions, such as:
How much and how are you compensated? (They might answer one of the following: Commission; Fee only; Fee based; Salary. Ask yourself if you think the method of compensation might affect their advice.)
Will you act as a fiduciary? A fiduciary must act solely in the best interests of the client at all times and must disclose real, or potential, conflicts of interest. Members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) and Registered Investment Advisors (RIA) are required to act as fiduciaries. The CFP Board (which regulates Certified Financial Planners) requires that CFPs adhere to a fiduciary standard.
What is your educational background?
How long have you been in business?
Will you provide continuous advice as we age?
What credentials do you possess?
What do you know about federal retirement and benefits? Make sure that they understand that your FERS or CSRS annuity is an old fashioned defined benefit plan which will keep paying you for as long as you live, has no lump-sum distribution option, and has a cost of living adjustment. If you are married, it is vitally important that they be aware that you must elect a survivor benefit if you want your spouse to be able to continue enrollment in FEHB after your death (with few exceptions). If they sell health insurance, they should know that your FEHB enrollment continues after retirement and Medicare eligibility.
Check with regulatory agencies and boards (e.g., SEC, FINRA, State Securities Agency) to see if there are any complaints against the planner or his/her firm.
Finally, listen to the questions they ask you. Their questions should revolve around your goals, not how much money you have to invest.