Meeting with a financial planner

If you're like many people, you'd sooner go to your dentist for a root canal than meet with a financial planner and face up to your money management inadequacies.

But professional help can pay off, whether you've never before met with a planner, or you're just overdue for a review with a longtime adviser on how to survive the current volatile markets.

Here are some tips to try to ensure a productive relationship, based on advice from planners attending the recent annual conference of the Financial Planners Association.

Know your planner. Screen multiple planners from different firms and settle on one who seems a good fit. Beware of people who call themselves planners but lack credentials such as Certified Financial Planner or Personal Financial Specialist designations. Find out how a planner is paid – typical arrangements include fee-only, fee-based and commission-based.

Consider a specialist. If you want nuts-and-bolts advice on investments, choose a planner with that focus. Others have expertise in insurance or tax issues. But if you're unsure of your most basic goals before and during retirement, consider a registered life planner.

Come prepared. You may not go over them in your first meeting, but bring documents: your budget and estimates of where your money goes, pay stubs, bank statements, tax records, information on investments. And don't hide debts. Write a list of questions you want to ask, and take notes while you meet.

Go at a realistic pace. Don't expect to map out a specific financial plan in an initial meeting. Once you've screened a planner who looks like a good fit, give them a sense of your finances. But focus on where you are in life, and where you're headed. If it looks like there's a mismatch, find another planner or firm. Determine how frequently to meet and agree on a plan. If you don't want to meet four times a year in person, consider holding some sessions over the phone.

Don't hide disagreements. Meet with family to establish financial goals. If there's a disagreement, explain that to the planner.

Keep up to date. Tell your planner if there's a significant change in your income or personal life, or if you've revised your life goals. A new job, the birth of a child or a decision to delay retirement could merit a meeting with your planner right away, rather than waiting for the next scheduled session.

Consider risk. Especially in times like now, when markets are volatile, investing decisions often come down to self-analysis of how much risk you're willing to take to realize your goals. Consider not only your risk limits, but what you may lose if you play it too safe.