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If You Had a Toothache: Partner with experts to care for your financial health

Today, one can access a flood of information with the simple click of a button. With countless resources available, it’s no wonder that the do-it-yourself approach is increasingly popular. However, popularity doesn’t always ensure that you’ll end up with the best results. For example, access to WebMD doesn’t make you a physician or even an expert in medicine. If you had a toothache, wouldn’t you go see a dentist?

Just as you would never make serious medical decisions without consulting a professional, you should care for your financial health in much the same way—with the appropriate professionals by your side. The world of finance is complex, probabilities are often stacked against you, and the risks can be your entire financial future! So when it comes to something as important as your finances, it makes sense to hire an advisor, someone who can provide you with expertise and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your money is well cared for.

A professional toolbox

Attempting to invest on your own can be difficult, time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. Most don’t have the skills or disposition to manage their own investments. Even for those who do, it may not be a wise decision. In today’s world of global markets and complex financial instruments, professionals have access to superior resources. It is difficult for an individual to effectively create and maintain a portfolio that is properly diversified, minimizes fees and taxes, and avoids overlapping assets. In addition, the ongoing portfolio monitoring and maintenance of your desired risk exposure can be challenging and even overwhelming without access to the tools used by competent advisors.

Also, when it comes to investing, our instincts often become our worst enemies. For those who have ever invested using the “rearview mirror approach” (buying after something has already performed well) or sold an investment simply because it lost value, congratulations—you’re normal! Unfortunately, being normal won’t likely produce the results required to achieve your goals.

Dalbar, a financial research company, measures these effects by comparing potential versus realized returns achieved by individual investors. According to its 2015 study, the average investor underperformed the return of their own mutual fund investments over a 5, 10, 20 and even 30-year time period.

How can investors make less than the fund they’re invested in? Dalbar noted that most investors buy after prices have risen and then further reduce their performance by constant switching in and out. People often feel confident when markets are up, so they invest. By the same token, when markets are down, fear sets in and selling occurs. With additional fear-driven motivation coming from the investment media, it’s no wonder this behavior often results in buying at highs and selling at lows.

A qualified partner

So how can you avoid this behavior? By partnering with a qualified professional.

Just as medical patients seek specialist referrals, when it comes to your finances seek out financial specialists that have extensive experience in helping others in your situation. Asking trusted colleagues for recommendations can be a good place to start. Professional associations can also be great sources. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (cfp.net) and Financial Planning Association (plannersearch.org) are examples of two excellent resources that also provide insights, hiring tips and tools.

To narrow down the list of potential candidates, start by checking backgrounds, education and credentials. Unfortunately, anyone can call himself an advisor and even buy designations. With that in mind, it is important that you perform due diligence, noting that certain certifications, including the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER designation, require legitimate time and expertise to acquire. Furthermore, in addition to the CFP requirements of education, experience and successful completion of the CFP Board’s Certification Exam, the designation also requires ongoing continuing education and adherence to high standards.

Finally, meet with planner candidates and ask questions. During these interviews it is important to get a sense of how they work and communicate. Don’t hesitate to ask for client references. Also, ask about professional financial organizations they belong to, as membership in those groups can indicate whether the advisor has met certain standards and obligations.

In the end, mastering personal finance requires many hours of research and learning. As your career progresses and wealth grows, your financial goals and options become more complicated. Additionally, most individuals do not have the desire nor do they spend the time and ongoing effort required to manage their finances appropriately.

The right financial planner can help you remain disciplined about your financial strategies. Financial procrastination is often responsible for unrealized potential and unachieved goals, so it pays to have someone helping you stay on track! Just as going to the dentist can help you solve that toothache, working with an expert planner will help you plan financially and ensure that you get the most out of your money, which should pay for itself many times over!

Jeff Zesiger, MS, is the CEO and chief compliance officer for UMAFS. He is also a member of the Salt Lake Estate Planning Council and Financial Planning Association.