The first call to a new financial planner is difficult enough for many people, because asking for help often is. Don’t complicate their initial impression of you or future relationship with these opening lines:
1. ‘I retired last month and am trying to figure my financial situation out.’
Like planning and preparing for a career, the more done ahead of time, the smoother the transition into retirement. This is a new chapter, not an end point. Retirement is a major change in lifestyle and income. If and when you are thinking of retirement, the time to consult a financial person is five years before the anticipated date of leaving your job.
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Once you have left a company, there are fewer options for saving or strategizing a successful retirement. It’s better to consider all options while still employed. There are many possibilities around saving, pensions, catch-up contributions, investment withdrawals and housing choices. All of your decisions impact taxes and your Medicare premiums. Think ahead and plan ahead to maximize your retirement income.
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Samantha had retired and came to me looking for advice. However, at age 60 she was so excited about her ability to retire and claim her pension that she jumped on the opportunity without digging into some important details. The questions she forgot to ask left her retirement finances in jeopardy. Her medical insurance was only partly covered by her former employer – leaving her wanting for medical insurance until she could claim Medicare at age 65. Her options were to live on less or withdraw more from her IRA, or go back to work for an employer that would pay her medical insurance.
She chose to go back to work but because she had already been collecting a pension, she had to look for a job with benefits outside of her company. Just when she thought her time was her own, she was faced with learning new skills, meeting new co-workers, and challenging herself in new professional ways when she would have rather been traveling.
Read: Medicare and HSAs don’t mix — what near-retirees need to know
Although I as much as I wanted to say “too late,” I didn’t, because “better late than never” is also true. Tweaks can be made but some major decisions are unchangeable.
2. ‘My spouse/partner did all the financial stuff and died suddenly. Can you help me?’
Of course, a financial professional can help in the above situation. This becomes like piecing a puzzle together while educating the surviving partner. All of this has to happen at the pace of the grieving partner who is already overwhelmed. Many are not ready to make decisions and instead defer to a CFP, dead spouse’s way of doing things or another friend. They are unprepared to sort through a lifetime of money history and make their own financial choices.
The real issue is how any couple operates while they are both living. Every adult responsible for earnings, spending or investments should know their monthly debt, savings in the bank and investments. All of your and your partner’s financial life may fall in your hands due to death, disability or divorce.
Partnerships create shared responsibilities. Build into the relationship a time to review and understand together – even if one person takes care of the day-to-day details.
Often the person who does not take care of the finances has a sense of what is going on financially – at least they know what they spend and perhaps what the family owns. But they also need to meet the accountant and the investment adviser while understanding the assets and responsibilities of the family.
One couple I worked with divided their financial life. When the wife had a minor stroke and started donating monthly to a charity she had previously given the same amount annually to – the husband never noticed, because, “she has always managed the checkbook.” He wanted her to be back to normal and never considered looking at what she was doing in the past or post-illness.
I heard other stories of once sharp businessmen falling prey to Ponzi schemes, women giving money away or men buying cars when they no longer had a valid license. Be prepared by being in the know.
Don’t have a partner? Be sure your estate plan is up to date, and you leave an easy accessible trail to follow if you are ill. One client sent a sealed envelope to his brother every year who was his executor and financial power of attorney. The brother was ready with the information.
3. ‘I just need an hour of your time.’
A good adviser needs to know a person’s financial and personal life. As a financial professional, insurance, investments, debt, tax, and estate planning are all a part of the review. This takes more than an hour to understand and appreciate where you are financially.
In the interest of saving money today, I understand the desire not to spend much money or time meeting with a financial professional; however, most times a CFP will help you see the full picture and improve your financial situation.
Some financial do-it-yourselfers cannot see their own blind spots. Many are great at investments but may have overlooked their estate planning. Or without a deep understanding of their tax situation they end up paying so much more each year in taxes. Financial planners can not only help you save money, but also be sure you are spending your money more effectively. So, the cost of more than one session may actually save you money.
Read: Can I afford to retire? Not before you know the answer to this big question
On rare occasions, there are not many meetings involved. One client, Maura, stands out who was so well organized and had done her research that after two meetings, I could say “Come back in a couple of years or if anything major changes.” She had done her legwork and did not have a complex situation or many assets.
After decades of learning financial planning and studying and understanding people and legal changes, that simple opening can be bothersome. The words display a lack of understanding of the work we do. Think of calling a dentist and saying “I just need one cleaning and one dental overview – I have been brushing my teeth for years.” There is more to finances and health.
In all of these situations, financial professionals can help you. Just remember, to take care of yourself now and understand we have made a career learning the financial world so we can help you.
CD Moriarty is a Certified Financial Planner, a MarketWatch contributor and a personal-finance speaker. She blogs at MoneyPeace.