What Should You Ask a Financial Planner?

By Samantha Vient

The thought of getting your money organized might feel like … a lot. Where do you start? What if you’re behind? The good news: No matter where you are, there are plenty of things you can do right now, and a lot of them aren’t even hard. I promise.

But sometimes you might want to talk to someone who can give you a little more personalized advice. Like if your spending feels out of control and you want help making a budget, or you’re looking for some advice about how to wrangle your debt. You might also run into questions you just don’t have good answers for. For example, you might have questions about building or repairing your credit, or detailed planning for the future. Sometimes, those things are best answered by a pro.

In that case, you could decide to meet with a financial planner.

Back up. What’s a financial planner?

It’s someone there to help you with your money, give you guidance, and cheer you on — aka a financial planner. The women on Ellevest’s team are CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals. (Btw, in case you were wondering if we got just stuck on caps lock, the CFP® Board kindly requests we write those things like that.) They’re experts in a lot of financial topics, which means they can work with you to figure out how to fit all the different pieces of your financial puzzle together, then make a plan to hit your money goals.

They’re also highly trained. They have to meet education and experience requirements and pass a rigorous, 10-hour certification exam. A non-profit called the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards sets the standards and gives CFP® professionals their certifications.

Also, they have to abide by a set of ethical standards, and they’re required to put their clients’ best interests above their own when they give out financial planning advice. (Kind of like what Ellevest does as a fiduciary.)

What kinds of things will you talk about?

That’s up to you. If you’ve signed up for a session with a specific focus, like budgeting, debt, or retirement, then you’ll talk about that. But if it’s more open-ended or you’ve signed up for a series of sessions, then the first step is usually a “get to know you” conversation — you’ll get a feel for who they are and how they’re talking with you about your money, and they can get to know more about you and your finances.

It’s worth spending a little time to prep for that first session — gathering some info and thinking about your money picture so you can help them understand how they might be able to help you.

Questions to ask yourself before your appointment

  • What are your biggest financial goals? This should (hopefully) be the starting point of your conversation. Do you want to buy a house in a few years? A vacation home in a few more? Cope with a financial challenge? Do you want to start your own business? Save for your kids’ college educations? Retire someplace warm?

  • About how much income do you make each year, and how often do you get paid? This is the foundation of where you are with your money today, and it will really help your financial planner work with you to plan. Bring your most recent pay info to your call.

  • How much money do you have now, and where is it? Do you have a savings account? A retirement account at your job? A taxable investment account with a broker? On the flip side, do you have debt? Again, no judgment, you just want to be able to tell your financial planner what’s up. And again, it’ll be helpful to bring that info with you — balances for your accounts, and the interest rates on all your debts.

  • Do you have a sense of your spending habits? If not, it might be worth combing back through a few bank or credit card statements to share. At bare minimum, you’ll want to have an understanding of whether you’re spending less than you earn.

  • Has anything major in your personal situation changed lately? Like getting married or divorced, having kids or grandkids, moving between states, changing jobs, or unemployment? All these things can affect your future financial plans, so they might mean you have to adjust your money picture to fit them in.

  • What lifestyle do you visualize for your retirement? (If you plan to retire someday, that is.) This is key to figuring out how much money you’re going to need to save and invest in order to make that vision a reality someday. Where will you live? What will you do with your time? (It may not seem like it now, but “do nothing at all” will get boring fast.) Are there any hobbies or passions you’d like to pursue? What legacy do you want to leave behind?

Questions to ask your financial planner when you talk

  • How can I tweak my spending habits? Show your financial planner your pay info and account statements, and walk them through how you handle your money today. They can give you advice about how you might adjust your budget so that there’s more room for making progress toward your financial goals.

  • How do I prioritize my savings and investing? Of course you want to do everything, so one of the big questions you’ll work on is what you should do now. Pay off debt? Save for emergencies? Focus on retirement? Your financial planner can help you sort through all those priorities so that you know where to focus your efforts first.

  • How big should my emergency fund be? Your financial planner can help you decide how much you should aim to save in your emergency fund and then make a plan to hit that number, if you aren’t there yet.

  • What’s the best way to pay off my debt? Whether you have student loans, credit cards, personal loans, car loans, or some mix of all of the above, it pays (often literally) to have a strategic payoff plan. Your coach can help you make one.

  • How can I get on track for my goals? Whether you’ve started investing for your long-term goals or not, your financial planner should be able to give you a sense of whether you’re on track. If you happen not to be, they can give you some suggestions to get there. Ask them how they define “on track,” too — it should map to your own life rather than a cookie-cutter milestone. (This is especially important for women, since things like gender money gaps and more career breaks lead us to retire with two-thirds as much money as men — even though we live an average of six to eight years longer.)

Working with a financial planner can be one of the best things you ever do for yourself. Future You will thank you for setting yourself up with a plan. And you’ll thank yourself right away for taking some of the stress out of the money stuff.


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Samantha Vient

Samantha Vient is a CFP® Professional at Ellevest. She works with Ellevest clients to help them take financial control and make a plan to hit their money goals.