Before meeting with a financial advisor for the first time, it’s a good idea to call ahead and see what kind of information the advisor would like you to supply. This will save you a lot of scrambling to collect the necessary paperwork later. Here is what you need to know.
- Your first meeting with a financial advisor can be either an opportunity to get to know each other or an actual start of the process.
- Make sure the advisor understands what your financial goals are.
- Ask what the advisor charges and what you will get in return.
- Be prepared to round up documents including recent pay stubs, retirement plan account statements, investment accounts, and cash balances.
What to Expect During the First Meeting
Unless you’ve already had an introductory phone or Zoom conversation, your first in-person meeting may be little more than a meet and greet, an opportunity for the two of you to decide whether you’re a good match.
“I usually tell potential clients they don’t need to bring anything. The point of the meeting is to get to know each other,” says Michael J. Garry, a certified financial planner (CFP) with Yardley Wealth Management in Yardley, Pa. “I start the meeting by asking what made them reach out to a financial advisor and what are they hoping to get from the relationship. One exception to that is if in the initial call they express some need to make a financial decision that is pressing.”
If you haven’t already worked it out beforehand, don’t be bashful about how asking much the advisor charges someone in your situation. Some advisors charge by the hour, while others have flat fees for preparing a financial plan.
First, Think About What You Need Help With
What are the things to discuss with a financial advisor? Whomever you choose to work with may eventually want information on your income, investments, and other assets, as well as your current debts, insurance, and tax situation. This article will discuss all of the documents you might need.
Still, perhaps more important than any documents are your goals and expectations. Why are you seeing the advisor? What do you hope to accomplish? Are you looking ahead to retirement and want to make sure you’ll have an adequate income to support you when the time comes? Are you thinking about how you might be able to provide for your heirs someday? Are you going through a major life change, such as getting married or divorced, launching a new business, starting to raise a family, or facing the prospect of big college tuition bills?
What to Bring to Your First Meeting
Whatever your goals, here’s a financial advisor document checklist delineating what you might want to have handy for your first (or perhaps second) meeting.
- Most recent federal tax return
- Pay stubs
- Information on expected income, such as a year-end bonus
- Latest Social Security statement
- A list of your investments and cash accounts
- Retirement plan statements
- Documentation of mortgage and property tax payments
- Documentation of outstanding debts
- Documentation of insurance policies
Many financial planners now have online portals where you can upload your documents in advance. Let’s look at these documents and how to find them.
Don’t forget to include any unusual income, such as a congratulatory bonus at work or an expected inheritance, in your income total.
Your most recent federal tax return (or the last several years’ returns) will tell the advisor a lot about your financial situation, in particular your income, investments, and deductions. Elizabeth Cox, a CFP with Merit Financial Partners in Westport, Conn., who frequently works with divorced clients, says that tax returns “often contain information that even the client isn’t aware of,” such as investment accounts opened by their spouse.
If you work for an employer who provides you with pay stubs, you may want to collect some of those, too, especially if your income is higher or lower now than when you filed your taxes. Your pay stubs will also show how much you’re contributing to any at-work retirement plans.
If your income is irregular, tell the advisor about that as well. For example, if you usually get a big year-end bonus, make sure the advisor knows about it. If you’re a self-employed freelancer, discuss how and why your income may wax and wane.
Finally, whether or not retirement is in the foreseeable future, a copy of your latest Social Security statement will give the advisor an idea of how large a monthly benefit you can probably expect. Workers under 60 can get these on the Social Security website, while those 60 and older also have the option of receiving paper statements annually.
Your Investments and Other Assets
Make a list of any bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), or other investments you own. The monthly or quarterly statements you receive from the financial institutions that hold them should show their current value.
If you have a pension plan at work, whether it’s a traditional, defined-benefit plan, a 401(k) or similar defined-contribution plan, or both, gather the latest statements you’ve received from the plan administrator. You should be getting a statement at least once every three years in the case of defined-benefit plans and at least annually for defined-contribution plans.
If you own a home or other real estate, documentation of your mortgage payments (if any) and property taxes could be helpful. If you have a mortgage, the lender should have provided you with a year-end statement, also known as an IRS 1098 Form, before you filed your most recent taxes.
In addition to any mortgage debt you have, make sure the advisor knows how much you owe to credit card issuers, auto lenders or leasing companies, and other creditors, as well as what your monthly payments are. The same goes for any student loans—yours or a child’s—for which you’re personally on the hook. If you’re having trouble keeping up with your bills, the advisor can help you with budgeting.
Ideally, your advisor won’t try to sell you insurance, but they will probably want to know how much you have. In particular, they can tell you whether you have an adequate amount of life insurance for your current stage of life. People with young children or other dependents may need a lot of it, while those with no dependents may need little or none. In addition to any policies you’ve bought on your own, make sure the advisor knows how much insurance (if any) your employer provides.
Along with your life insurance, the advisor might want to make sure you have sufficient liability coverage on your auto, homeowners, and optional umbrella policies in case you are ever sued.
The amount of time for which you should keep tax returns.
What if I Don’t Have These Documents?
If you haven’t saved these documents or can’t easily locate them, you can usually retrieve them fairly quickly. Here’s a guide for each of the categories above:
- Your Income – If you don’t have your most recent tax returns (ideally you should hang onto them for at least three years), you can get copies from your tax preparer, if you use one, or from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Cox notes that you can also request tax transcripts from the IRS, which contain much the same information as your tax returns and are free. (Copies of tax returns are currently $43 each.) Your human resources department at work should be able to provide you with all of the information on your pay stubs.
- Your Investments and Other Assets – The details on all of your financial accounts should be readily available online. Your employer or plan administrator can provide information on your retirement accounts. Information on your mortgage and property taxes should also be available online, especially if you pay your taxes through an escrow account maintained by the lender. Otherwise, you may have to consult your local tax authority or check your own payment records, such as canceled checks.
- Your Debts – Information on your debts should also be available online at your various creditors’ websites. If you pay those bills through a bank account, you can also find the monthly payment amounts there.
- Your Insurance – Once again, this information is often available online. If you bought your insurance through an agent, they’ll also be able to help.
Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor
In addition to finding out how much your advisor charges and what you can expect in return, there are some other questions you shouldn’t hesitate to ask, either at your first meeting or even before that.
- How are you paid? – Besides whatever they charge you, some financial advisors receive commissions on the products they recommend. To avoid that potential conflict of interest, you may choose to go with a fee-only financial advisor, who, at least theoretically, is only working for you. Another way to put this question is, “Are you a fiduciary?”
- What are your qualifications? – You can usually find this out from the advisor’s website, but they probably won’t be insulted if you ask them directly. Because anyone can call themselves a financial advisor or financial planner, individuals who have actually gone through rigorous training and testing and have the credentials to prove it are usually proud of the fact. Don’t be unduly impressed by a long string of letters after the advisor’s name. Some of those credentials are meaningful, while others are of dubious value at best. Among the more highly regarded ones are the above-mentioned CFP held by both Cox and Garry and chartered financial consultant (ChFC). Fee-only financial planners will often indicate that they are members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). Some financial advisors also have credentials as a certified public accountant (CPA).
- Will I be working directly with you? – Some financial advisors are one-person shops, while others have teams of associates. A junior person at the firm may be just fine for your needs, but you’ll want to make sure you aren’t shunted off to someone who isn’t right for you.
How Can You Find a Good Financial Advisor?
One way to find a financial advisor is to ask trusted friends and co-workers for recommendations based on their own personal experiences. If you have an accountant or a lawyer, you can also ask them. Don’t stop there, however, or you could inadvertently become the victim of an affinity scam. Instead, check out the advisor with other, independent sources.
How Can You Check Out a Financial Advisor?
There are a variety of online resources you can use to check out financial advisors, depending on what sort of credentials they have (or claim to have). For example, you can see whether someone is a CFP and if they have had disciplinary actions against them by using a search tool on the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards website. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors has a similar search tool on its website.
What Is a Robo-Advisor and What Can They Do for You?
Robo-advisors are online platforms typically offered by investment companies to help small investors build and manage their portfolios, often at a very modest cost. Human financial advisors sometimes work in conjunction with robo-advisors.
The Bottom Line
A financial advisor can help you with a lot of things, but you’ll have to do some of the work yourself. In particular, be prepared to clearly articulate the kind of help you need and round up whatever information the advisor requires to understand your situation and make useful recommendations.