Financial planners take a holistic approach, providing advice about every aspect of their clients’ financial lives. A financial planner aims to build a plan that encompasses budgeting, emergency savings, college funds for your kids, insurance needs, retirement planning and estate planning. Some financial planners sell investment or insurance products, and some may also be brokers. There is a very wide variety of different services and offerings among financial planners—and there are no federal or state authorities who directly regulate them. Basically anyone can call themselves a financial planner and begin taking on clients.
Three types of financial planner.
1. Investment advisors: While “investment adviser” is the legal term used by the SEC to denote a financial professional who must be registered, it is also used frequently as a job title — and is more commonly spelled “advisor.” An investment advisor is a person or company who is paid for providing investment advice to clients. Investment advisors can also manage client assets directly. You can — and should — verify an advisor’s registration through Broker Check by FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
2. Broker-dealers and brokers: A broker-dealer is an individual or company that buys and sells securities such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Broker-dealers can buy and sell on behalf of clients (in which case, they’re acting as a broker), for their own account (as a dealer), or both. In addition to registering with the SEC, broker-dealers are also usually members of FINRA.
The financial products a representative for a broker-dealer can sell depends on their licenses. For example, a broker-dealer who has passed the Series 6 exam is limited to selling mutual funds, variable annuities and related products. A Series 7 license allows the holder to sell additional securities. Broker Check can also be used to verify brokers.
3. Certified financial planner: Financial advisors who are CFPs have met the rigorous training and experience requirements of the CFP Board, have passed the certification exam and are held to high ethical standards. CFPs have a fiduciary duty to their clients. Financial planners can offer services that don’t require regulation, such as guidance on how to pay down debt, plan for retirement or create a budget, but some are also investment advisors. Note that financial advisors can use the title “financial planner” without holding the CFP designation. If you’re specifically looking for a CFP, be sure to check their credentials with the CFP Board.
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