7 signs you need to see a financial planner right now


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  • We all love to DIY, but there are certain times when seeking professional financial help is wise.
  • If you want to retire or send your kid to college, a CFP can help you achieve those goals.

We are a DIY culture that places a high value on doing everything from home improvement to day trading ourselves. But not everyone is a financial whiz, and it’s OK to consult an expert when you’re stumped.

Michael Garry, a financial planner, self-described “recovering lawyer,” and founder and CEO of Yardley Wealth Management, outlined seven situations where you should talk to a financial planner.

1. You anticipate a significant life event, such as a new child or losing a job

To truly enjoy a happy life event such as a birth or a wedding — or to reduce the stress of losing a job — get help from a financial planner.

Garry notes that a financial planner or a financial advisor can help you plan for “big, expensive, life-changing events that people aren’t sure whether they afford or not.” And figuring out the money up front can save you from a lot of stress later on.

2. You get a windfall: inheritance, IPO, winning the lottery!

Lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy, and 70% spend all their winnings within five years. Without proper money management, one-off financial payouts like getting an inheritance, an employer buyout, winning the lottery, or an IPO can make your life worse rather than better. Even high-wealth people can end up broke without good financial advice.

Garry suggests talking to a financial planner before doing anything with a windfall, especially if the money is new to you. “A lot of choices of what you do will determine the taxes you pay,” he says. And the amount you owe in taxes will determine how much you have left after tax.

Plus, advice can help put the money in perspective. “Sometimes it would take an outsider such as a financial advisor or even a CPA,” Garry says, to help you understand if a big chunk of money is truly enough to be life-changing.

3. You’ve had a sudden change in your financial situation that you don’t understand

Here’s the situation: You suddenly can’t pay your credit card bills at the end of the month, though that was never a problem before. Or, on the flip side, your savings account balance is on the rise even though you aren’t doing anything different. In either case, it’s worth finding out what’s happening.

“It might be much easier for a financial planner to find the root of that than for a lot of clients,” Garry says.

Common causes of financial mysteries are a change in tax withholding or the amount taken out of your paycheck for benefits. Garry notes that tracking these items is not in everyone’s wheelhouse, but it’s easy for a seasoned financial professional to uncover the cause of the change and help craft a plan to get you back to economic equilibrium.

4. You’re doing fine with money — but you can’t explain why

Garry notes that many people do everything right with their finances: working steadily, saving, investing, and taking advantage of company matching programs. But that doesn’t guarantee your future financial health.

“We’ve had mostly bull markets since the ’80s,” he says. “People could be in great shape just by going to work all the time.” Your money kept growing as long as you didn’t bail out during a recession.

“But it may not always be that easy in the future,” Garry continues. In uncertain markets, solid financial advice can help you protect your investments.

That’s particularly true if you’re getting close to retirement. “If you are within a few years of retirement or expected retirement age,” — age 55 or older — “and you’ve never sat down with somebody to discuss your finances, I think it would be really eye-opening.” You might discover that you need to increase your retirement contributions or work a few more years to fund a comfortable life in retirement.

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5. You want to retire someday

Yes, this is just about everybody. As noted above, stumbling into retirement without a clear picture of your financial needs and resources is risky.

You don’t want to discover when you’re 58 that you’ve been doing the wrong thing and you’re not prepared for retirement, so the best time to make a retirement plan is well before you retire.

For example, Garry points out that paying for a child’s college tuition can cut into your retirement savings. That could be fine, as long as you have a plan to fill the hole.

If you don’t figure out that you’re short on retirement savings until after you leave the workforce, he notes that it can be tough to go back to work. After a few years without work experience, finding a job that pays anything close to what you earned before could be difficult or impossible. That’s why it’s essential to understand your retirement income before you stop working.

6. You’re sending a child to college

Garry has firsthand knowledge of the pain of student loans. Law school left him $90,000 in debt, and his first child was born two weeks after graduation. He had to work nights as a bar back during his first years as a lawyer to make ends meet.

He doesn’t want the same for his kids, so he had a frank conversation with his youngest daughter about the tuition at her first choice school compared with the income she could expect from her chosen career.

He figured out how much he could contribute to her education, how much debt she’d have to take on, and her monthly loan payments after graduation. The heavy debt load would have taken a big bite out of her salary, and could keep her living at home. Armed with that information, she chose an excellent state college, loved her school, and was able to graduate debt-free.

Garry thinks parents have the responsibility to get clear on the finances of student debt because “it’s numbers without context” for an 18-year-old.

College decision time is a critical moment to sit down with a financial planner and figure out the ramifications of different school choices. It’s a decision that can have a substantial financial impact on both the parents and the student long after graduation.

7. You’re worried or stressed about your finances

Garry thinks financial stress is the biggest reason to get professional help. “[If] you can’t sleep or you’re very nervous, and it’s on your mind all the time, then you should talk to a financial planner,” he says.

In most cases, he finds that people know what the problem is, but they don’t know how to solve it. It might be monthly payments you can’t afford or whether an employer buyout is enough to carry you into retirement.

For people whose stress comes from crushing debt, the fee for a financial planner may be unaffordable. That doesn’t mean you can’t get help; many free or low-cost debt management and credit counseling services offer services to help people understand their finances and find solutions to money problems.

This article was originally published in July 2022.


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