Do I need professional help

How do I know if I need professional help and what kind of help I need?

Once you have a grasp on your basic financial picture, you may decide to look for some outside help in managing your finances or making decisions involving your finances. To find the right financial professional, it's important to first ask what type of help you're looking for. For example:

  • Do you need help preparing your taxes? You'll want to find a CPA (certified public accountant), tax attorney, or tax preparation firm.
  • Do you need help settling your spouse's will, drawing up a will for yourself or changing an existing will? You'll want to get in touch with an estate lawyer.
  • Do you need help determining if you can afford to keep your house? Contact the mortgage department at the bank that holds your loan. Ask to meet with a loan officer.
  • Do you need help buying insurance? You'll want to work with an insurance agent. Sometimes financial planners work in firms that also employ insurance representatives, so they can advise and set up a plan for you.
  • Do you want to buy stocks, bonds, or other investment products? You'll need the services of a broker or a registered investment representative from your local bank.
  • Do you need help creating a financial plan for your family and getting some ongoing professional assistance? Look into working with a certified financial planner. Whereas an investment adviser will advise about specific investments to help you meet your financial goals, a financial planner takes a much broader look at your overall financial situation and works with you to create a comprehensive plan to meet your expenses, save and invest money for future needs.

Before rushing ahead, or feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of having to find and contact so many professionals in so many different places or who work for so many different firms, it can help to think about how you'll actually work with them. For example, drawing up a will or purchasing a life insurance policy will usually require just one meeting, and possibly working with that attorney or agent in the future if you need to amend your will or change your policy. Say, however, that you want to find someone to help you with your taxes. You may want to consider finding a CPA or tax attorney to help you on an annual basis. It's similar to having a general practice physician that you go to once a year for a physical - you have a relationship with him/her, but generally you'll only need to retain his/her services once a year. If, however, you want to find someone who can help analyze your finances, help you plan for your financial future, give you personalized investment advice and buy/sell investment products for you, you're going to want to establish a good, ongoing relationship with a financial planner or advisor.

When looking for professional help, you have several sources of information:

  • Ask friends, family members, and coworkers whom you trust and have demonstrated financial responsibility for referrals to professionals they have used.
  • If you have professional affiliations, like membership in a union, ask your representative if the union or association provides members with any professional financial help. You may be able to get helpful literature or resources, take advantage of free seminars, or even be able to have a personal consultation with a professional.
  • Look in the yellow pages for local firms or individuals.
  • Use the internet. For example, www.tomorrowsmoney.org contains a large set of helpful links and professional resources.

Don't forget that there is a wealth of information and resources out there that you can use to get started. For example, check out the "Personal Finance" section of your local library or bookstore for current books and publications on financial topics. There are software programs for just about any financial topic - for example, you can find budget and bill-paying help using programs like Quicken or Microsoft Money. There are also software programs to draw up your own will. You may feel a little bit more comfortable doing a little bit of research on your own by becoming familiar with resources such as these before meeting with a professional.

When you decide that you do need professional help, you should develop a list of several professionals to meet with and call for an initial appointment.