Karen Elise Kilbride is a CPA/CFP with Robinson Financial Associates in Portland, Maine. She offers financial planning services to individuals and families. Why do I bring this up? Simply because Ms. Kilbride wrote a rather interesting piece that appeared in the Portland Press Herald talking about how to select a good planner to meet financial goals.


Now, although this column seems to dictate it is read primarily by CPAs (after all, it is published on WebCPA), I've heard from enough non-accountants to know that it has a widespread readership, as does WebCPA. Apparently, the consumer out there discovered how good WebCPA is and turns to this site for its Newswire, Inside Views, Washington This Week, and other special features.


Clearly, plenty of financial planners have written articles about how one goes about selecting a planner but what sets this piece apart is its downright clarity. I mean, look at her opening paragraph: "Anytime is a good time to seek out financial advice, but major life events often trigger the need for these services." Right on point.


In my line of work, I know many financial planners and have broke bread with probably the preeminent ones in the field. The only time an individual who is not a CPA ever asks CFP or me about getting a financial planner is when there is a life event on the line. In other words, nobody bothers planning until there is either retirement, a divorce, death of a spouse, sudden inheritance, change of careers, buying a business, selling a home, or planning an estate (among others), staring them in the face. It's the time you get off the couch from watching reruns of "Leave it to Beaver."


Ms. Kilbride delves into how to find a qualified planner and she cautions that just saying they are a planner doesn't cut any ice. She recommends that someone look for a certification such as a CFP. I would add to that a PFS. Clearly, the certified people have met specific education, examination, and experience requirements.


Of course, once you've made the decision that you seek a personal financial planner, you have to dictate your specific needs. What is it you really want? Is it a direction toward reaching your goals? In other words, what's behind your reaching out?


It also means you have to understand what is available to you. Read up about financial planning. Go to Web sites such as, www.fpanet.org (Financial Planning Associates), www.napfa.org (National Association of Personal Financial Advisors), and www.aicpa.org/pfs/faq.asp (AICPA Personal Financial Specialist Credential) to find out what's really involved.


And, ask around. Talk to others you know and ask who they have retained. Perhaps your own attorney or accountant can help. Heck, you can even write to me. I'd be happy to share a laundry list of those I know in the field who are highly reputable…although with a caveat. I do not recommend any one person over another. I can just tell you my experiences and what I know about the individuals. My e-mail address is stuart.kahan@thomsonmedia.com.


In that respect, Miss Kilbride offers a very cogent remark on fees to be paid, something of which everyone is concerned. She says that compensation arrangements do vary, as there is no standard rate for certain services. Accordingly, you could be charged commissions for products sold in conjunction with a financial plan, a rate based on a percentage of investment assets managed, or even a fixed retainer fee. Therefore, you have to settle on the fee arrangement up-front to avoid any surprises. Ms. Kilbride sums it all up this way: "Ultimately, you need to choose a financial planner with a compensation arrangement that you feel will place your interests first."


Look at that last part carefully: Placing your interests first. Amen!

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