It’s normal to wonder if you’re doing the right things with your money. Sometimes, all it takes to feel financially confident is a quick review of your budget (☑️ you’re actually following it); a look at that list of small wins you had last week (☑️ yep, you really are making progress); or setting an auto deposit for your investment account (☑️ you’re making Future You proud).
Other times, it’s not so simple. When your personal finances feel like they could get a little more personalized, but you’re not sure what money moves to make next, that’s when you might consider working with a financial planner. But not just any financial planner. When your hard-earned money — and your dream life — is on the line, you deserve to work with the best financial planner for you.
Here are eight questions to ask a financial planner to find the right fit. They’re complete with the answers you want to hear *and* red flags to watch out for so you can feel confident about working together from the start.
But first, back up. What is a financial planner?
On paper, a financial planner is someone who helps you define, prioritize, and make a plan to hit your financial goals. Financial planners specialize in general goal-setting and investment guidance (while financial advisors do all that and can help with investment portfolio management). But that experience IRL — and the outcomes — can vary wildly depending on your financial situation. Especially if you’re a woman.
Why does finding the right financial planner matter for women?
Well, finance for women is just different. But the financial industry traditionally doesn’t take women’s differences into account. Take, for example, the fact that women make different earnings, specifically 83 cents for every dollar earned by men. That’s a $900k disparity (or more) over a lifetime. Or that women have different lifespans, living six to eight years longer on average than men. Plus, women have different investment needs, which other advisors (mostly men) don’t always understand.
And women feel the difference. 89% of women say that working with a woman financial planner would make them feel more confident about their money decisions. That’s why finding your best match is so important. Partnering with a financial planner who can meet you where you are — because they’ve been there — isn’t just a good thing for your finances. It’s a good thing for your financial confidence and well-being.
How do I find the best financial planner for my situation?
By now, it’s probably clear that finding the right financial planner isn’t as simple as calling up your dad and asking for his guy’s number, or finding the closest financial planner in your area. Convenient? Sure. The best option? Hardly.
To find a qualified financial planner who gets you, it helps to approach your search with the aim of establishing and building a relationship, not merely securing a service.
Once you’ve done some research, made your short list, and booked an intro call, use these eight questions to determine if they’re the right choice for you. From the basics, like checking credentials and understanding costs, to the personal, like learning about their financial values and areas of expertise.
8 questions to ask a financial planner
What are your credentials?
The answer you want to hear: That they’re a fiduciary, someone who’s required to put their clients’ best interests above their own when they give out financial guidance. Or, that they’re a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. CFP® pros, like those on Ellevest’s all-women team of financial planners, have met rigorous education and training standards — and they’re held to fiduciary standards.
The red flags: That they don’t hold one of these designations. Surprisingly, not all financial professionals are required to have a deep level of expertise or abide by high ethical standards.
What are your areas of expertise?
The answer you want to hear: That they have experience in areas where you’re seeking financial guidance. Here’s a broad but important example: They know how to help women build their wealth and reach their financial goals. Or, to get a little more nuanced, they’re familiar with self-employment finances if you’re a 1099 worker or an entrepreneur. Or they know the smartest ways to manage a large sum of money if you’ve received an inheritance or your company just IPOed.
You also want to hear that they hold the credentials for any specific financial guidance you’re after. Say divorce is in the picture. Look for someone who is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) pro. Or, if you need help preparing your taxes, sync up with an enrolled agent (EA) or a certified public accountant (CPA). Women who hold these credentials are on Ellevest’s financial planning team.
The red flags: That they’re unfamiliar with the areas where you’re seeking financial advice, but still confident they can make it work — no matter what.
What’s the cost (and what services are included)?
The answer you want to hear: That there are no surprise costs, so you always know what you’re paying for. Your all-in cost — and which services are included in it and which aren’t — should be transparent. No matter if you pay a flat fee, there’s a commission structure, or it’s percentage-based.
The red flags: That they’re being pushy about products or services that aren’t right for you, but may earn them a greater commission or fee. There’s a big difference between making thoughtful, strategic suggestions that work for your life and being a hardliner.
Are there discounts offered?
The answer you want to hear: Yes. Some financial planners may discount certain costs to get started. Others may offer discounts to returning clients or clients who hit specific wealth levels (Ellevest does both).
The red flags: No, but they promise you returns. Just because a financial planner doesn’t offer a discount doesn't mean they’re not legitimate. They could be a really good fit (as long as their cost fits your budget). But if they speak about returns like they’re a sure thing, that’s problematic. While investing is one way to build wealth, there are also no guarantees in investing. Period.
What's communication like (and with whom)?
The answer you want to hear: That there’s unlimited access to some type of communication during the time you’re working together, and that responses are reliably timely. You want the line of communication to be clear, too, so you know exactly who to hit up for what (technical questions vs investment questions vs planning questions). Even better if they’re proactive with their communication — so you don’t have to chase them. They'll connect with you, along with coordinating directly with your other money pros to keep all parts of your financial life working together.
The red flags: That their availability is limited. You deserve to have your financial planner actively listen to you. And if something big happens in your life, you should feel comfortable enough to give them a call, shoot them an email, or send them a text. And you should know that they’re going to care and listen.
How often do you review my financial plan?
The answer you want to hear: That it’ll formally happen at least once a year, or whenever you experience a major lifestyle change that could affect your financial plan. You need this dedicated time together to review that your finances and goals are on track. And so your financial planner can understand your needs and wants for the year(s) ahead, then flex your plan accordingly.
The red flags: That your plan is set in stone. Life happens — pandemics happen — and you should be working with someone who can monitor your plan and adjust it as your life changes. Your financial plan changing isn’t an “if.” It’s a “when.”
What are your core values (and how are they reflected in your work?)
The answer you want to hear: That their core values are aligned with your own. When you use your core beliefs (the principles that are most important to you) to guide your financial decisions, you make more intentional money choices. And, you feel more aligned with the outcome in situations where you have to make a tradeoff. The same goes for your financial planner, too. It’s valuable for you both to be on the same page for you to trust them to make the most meaningful, beneficial financial decisions for you.
The red flags: That their core values are incompatible with your own. It’s important to consider how any differences might play out in your relationship (and your financial outcome). Maybe you value “equity” and they value “ambition.” Their guidance might drive results, but isn’t the most morally considered. Or say you value “understanding” and they value “efficiency.” They might not be willing to slow down to explain while they advise. Fair. None of this makes them a bad financial planner. It just doesn’t make them a good fit for you.
Who's your ideal client?
The answer you want to hear: That it’s someone kinda like you. For a financial planner to meet you where you are, they need to be familiar with where you are. Ask if they or any of their clients have come from a financial situation like yours, who’ve had goals like yours, who’ve had a money mindset like yours.
The financial planners at Ellevest understand women’s lives on a deep level, being women themselves. They know that women are bombarded with the lie that they’re “bad with money.” They know that women have more debt and less disposable income. They know women are overburdened by unpaid labor. They know that women are more likely to be the ones caring for loved ones. They know. And they’ve spent their careers providing help.
After you’ve reflected on their answers, check in with yourself to determine if you’re in a place to be their ideal client. Are you ready to be open about your finances, accept feedback, and take action? You should want to commit to them (and your plan) as much as they commit to you.
The red flags: That it’s someone nothing like you. The financial industry wasn’t built with women in mind. Women are tired of being overlooked, talked down to, patronized, and trivialized in this space. Don’t waste any more time, energy, and resources — like your actual money — with someone who's unable to consider your needs holistically and without judgment.
Want to chat with a like-minded financial pro? Book a complimentary call with a financial planner on Ellevest’s all-women team and get support right away.
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Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but are not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.
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