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financial planning

The old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” is a philosophy with many applications. And personal finance is one arena that certainly requires a proactive strategy to ensure success. Financial planning takes into account myriad factors including taxes, saving and investing. A financial planner is a professional who helps people to create a plan for their financial future. To find one to help you, use SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service.

What Is Financial Planning?

Financial planning is the practice of putting together a plan for your future, specifically around how you will manage your finances and prepare for all of the potential costs and issues that may arise. The process involves evaluating your current financial situation, identifying your goals and then developing and implementing relevant recommendations.

Financial planning is holistic and broad, and it can encompass a variety of services, which we detail below. Rather than focusing on a single aspect of personal finance, it views clients as real people with a variety of dreams, goals and responsibilities. It then addresses a number of financial realities to figure out how best to enable people to make the most of their lives.

Financial planning is not the same as asset management. Asset management generally refers to managing investments for a client. This can include choosing the stocks, bonds and mutual funds in which a client should invest their money. However, the same professionals who offer asset management services can also offer financial planning. A financial planner is effectively one type of financial advisor. Advisors can earn advanced certifications focused on financial planning, the most notable of which is the certified financial planner (CFP).

Financial Plan Basics

The most important thing your financial planner will do for you is right there in the name — putting together a financial plan for you and your family.

A financial plan is a comprehensive overview and what steps you’ll be taking to achieve the goals you lay out for yourself. Goals could include paying for your children to go to college, giving to charity, paying for a comfortable retirement or maximizing the amount of money you pass down to your children.

Your financial planner will help you come up with your financial plan after you talking to you about what you want to be in it. Then they’ll engage in a variety of services, described in the section below, to help you achieve your goals.

What Services Are Included in Financial Planning?

financial planning

A financial planner may offer a variety of services to you. These services will often be considered in concert with one another. This helps the planner to put together an overall plan that considers all aspects of your situation and helps you achieve your goals.

Here are some of the services that you’ll frequently see offered as part of financial planning:

  • Tax planning: This could take a number of different forms. Financial planners often help clients address certain tax issues and figure out how to maximize their potential tax returns and minimize tax liability. Certain advisors may also be able to actually help you with preparing your taxes and filing your annual taxes.
  • Estate planning: Estate planning seeks to make things a bit easier for your loved ones after you die. Preparing a will may be part of a financial planner’s services. Estate planning also helps prepare for any estate tax you may be subject to.
  • Retirement planning: You presumably want to stop working some day. Retirement planning services help you prepare for that day. They ensure that you’ve saved enough money to live the lifestyle you want in retirement.
  • Philanthropic planning: It’s always nice to give something to people who need it or help a cause close to your heart. Financial planning can help you make sure you’re doing it efficiently and getting all the tax benefits you may be eligible for.
  • Education funding planning: If you have children or other dependents who wish to pursue a college degree, you may want to help them to pay for it. Financial planning can help make sure you are able to do so.
  • Investment planning: Though financial planning doesn’t include the actual management of your assets, it can still help with your investment portfolio by mapping out how much you should be investing and in which types of investments.
  • Insurance planning: A financial planner can help you evaluate your insurance needs. Some financial planners are also licensed insurance agents and can sell you insurance themselves. However, they’ll likely earn a commission, which would create a conflict of interest.
  • Budgeting: This is perhaps the cornerstone of financial planning. A planner can make sure you are spending the right amount given your income and can also make sure that you aren’t going into debt.

The exact services offered by a financial planner will vary based on the individual. Make sure your  planner offers the services you need.

How Much Does Financial Planning Cost?

financial planning

The cost of financial planning depends largely on the advisor you work with and that advisor’s fee schedule.

Many financial advisors who offer financial planning services will do so on either a flat fee or hourly fee basis. A flat fee means you’ll pay a single fee for all financial planning services. Your total fee will likely depend on the value of your assets under the advisor’s management as well as the complexity of the financial planning services you require. An hourly fee structure means you’ll pay a set fee for each hour of work that your advisor puts into your plan.

A financial advisor who offers both financial planning and investment advisory services may charge a wrap fee. This means you pay one fee for all the services the advisor offers you. This fee is generally based on a percentage of assets under management.

The Bottom Line

Financial planning is about looking at all elements of a person’s financial life and coming up with a plan to help you as an individual meet your responsibilities and achieve your goals. It can include a number of services such as tax planning, estate planning, philanthropic planning and college funding planning. You might pay based on an hourly fee, a flat fee or an asset-based fee.

Financial Planning Tips

  • Finding a financial planner isn’t always easy. SmartAsset can help with our free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and we match you with up to three advisors in your area. We fully vet our advisors and they are free of disclosures. After asking questions and talking to each advisor, you make a decision about how you wish to proceed.
  • Before even talking to an advisor, you can think about how you want to potentially divvy up your investable assets. Use this free asset allocation calculator to figure out the right balance for your portfolio based on your risk tolerance level.

Photo Credit: © iStock/filadendron, © iStock/PeopleImages, © iStock/Jirapong Manustrong

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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