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Philadelphia Five Star award winner

How to find the right financial adviser

Many people could use help from a talented financial planner, but they don't know where to begin when looking for one, says Mike Garry, an attorney and certified financial planner.

An estimated 300,000 people in this country call themselves financial advisers, and there's a wide variety of skill levels among them, says Garry, author of Independent Financial Planning: Your Ultimate Guide to Finding and Choosing the Right Financial Planner.

He owns Yardley Wealth Management, a fee-only registered investment advisory firm in Yardley, Pa., as well as a law firm Yardley Estate Planning. Garry worked as a financial consultant for Merrill Lynch.

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USA TODAY's Nanci Hellmich talked to him about how to find a financial planner.

Q: Why do you think people need a financial planner? Are planners just for the rich?

A: People get so much conflicting financial advice, and they don't know what to do, so they may not do anything, or they may accumulate cash, which doesn't earn anything. Most people who reach out to me are in their late 50s and early 60s. They know their work life is short, and they get worried enough that they'll actually call for help. A good financial planner can help you clarify and prioritize your goals and help you make the most of your money.

Financial planners are not just for rich people. Everyone, no matter where you stand financially, can benefit from the advice and guidance of a qualified financial planner. For those with modest means, even a one- or two-hour session with a planner can make a huge difference in their lives.

Q: What should people look for in a financial planner?

A: Many financial planners belong to professional organizations that certify them. The most notable one is the Certified Financial Planner Board (, which is an independent professional regulatory organization that owns the CFP and Certified Financial Planner trademarks. To become a CFP Certificant, a financial planner must meet all the requirements, including extensive study and a comprehensive test on the financial planning process, investment planning, income tax planning, retirement planning and employee benefits and estate planning. Other prominent financial planning designations include the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) and the American College of Financial Services' Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC).

Q: How do you find the right financial planner?

A: Many different websites will help you track down a person in your area, including the Certified Financial Planning Board (, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors ( and the Financial Planning Association ( What matters is how well you click with your prospective adviser, how well he or she understands your situation and how skilled he or she is in the areas that you need expertise. It's probably a good idea to get three to five names of financial planners and call them. If you have a friend or relative who has a recommendation, I would consider that suggestion. See if the planners are still taking on clients, and see if they have experience and work with people whose situation is similar to yours.

After going through that exercise, pick two or three advisers to visit in person and go spend an hour with them to make sure you have a good fit. If someone is taking on new clients, they will probably talk to you on the phone and meet with you for an hour or so at least once without charging you. Ask them lots of questions to make sure you understand their process and feel comfortable with it.

Q: How much do independent financial planners charge?

A: Fee-only financial planners have different billing structures. They may charge an hourly rate, a yearly retainer or a percentage of your investment assets, which is usually 1-1.25% a year. Some charge a fixed fee per service. The amount they charge really varies. But they don't receive a commission on your investments.

Q: What are the pros of working with large financial services companies?

Large financial services companies include full-service brokerage firms, online and discount brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, insurance companies and banks. There are plenty of good, honest, hardworking professionals in these fields. Some of these companies are household names, and clients often appreciate the familiarity and security of working with a major investment firm. The firms' size creates an additional sense of security. Clients often find comfort in knowing their assets are entrusted to a big name. Full-service firms offer multiple branches with similar quality of service.

Q: What are the cons?

A: No matter how good your representative is at the company, his chief role is as a salesman. In most cases, their employees are not allowed to give their clients independent advice. Their advice has to be tied to the sale of specific products, and they often receive a commission for those sales. You might ultimately buy his product if it makes sense for you. But when you go to an investment professional, you are really looking for advice, not a product.

Q: Why do you prefer fee-only independent investment advisers?

A: Fee-only independent investment advisers have no financial incentive to steer you towards a financial product that is not in your best interests. They don't sell any products and can't receive any commissions. Most of the people who I have seen come in to my office who were wary of working with a financial planner feel that way because at some point in their lives, they were sold something that they regretted buying. In looking at their situation, it was usually an inappropriate product for which someone received a pretty good-sized commission.

This award was issued on 11/1/20 by Five Star Professional (FSP) for the time period 02/10/2020 through 09/11/2020. Fee paid for use of marketing materials. Self-completed questionnaire was used for rating. This rating is not related to the quality of the investment advice and based solely on the disclosed criteria. 4148 Philadelphia-area wealth managers were considered for the award; 366 (9% of candidates) were named 2020 Five Star Wealth Managers. The following prior year statistics use this format: YEAR: # Considered, # Winners, % of candidates, Issued Date, Research Period. 2019: 3910, 437, 11%, 11/1/19, 2/11/19 - 9/20/19; 2018: 3721, 439, 12%, 11/1/18, 2/20/18 - 9/19/18; 2017: 3022, 437, 14%, 11/1/17, 1/20/17 - 9/8/17; 2016: 2671, 660, 25%, 10/1/16, 3/5/16 - 10/7/16; 2015: 4696, 805, 17%, 11/1/15, 3/5/15 - 9/9/15; 2014: 4438, 856, 19%, 11/1/14, 3/5/13 - 9/9/13; 2013: 3354, 934, 28%, 10/1/13, 3/5/12 - 9/9/12; 2012: 2847, 773, 27%, 11/1/12, 3/5/11 - 9/9/11.
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*Winners appearing on this page do not pay a fee to be considered or to win the Five Star Award. Professionals with a digital profile have paid a promotional fee.
Wealth managers do not pay a fee to be considered or placed on the final list of Five Star Wealth Managers. The award is based on 10 objective criteria. Eligibility criteria-required: 1. Credentialed as a registered investment adviser (RIA) or a registered investment adviser representative; 2. Actively licensed as a RIA or as a principal of a registered investment adviser firm for a minimum of 5 years; 3. Favorable regulatory and complaint history review (As defined by FSP, the wealth manager has not; A. Been subject to a regulatory action that resulted in a license being suspended or revoked, or payment of a fine; B. Had more than a total of three settled or pending complaints filed against them and/or a total of five settled, pending, dismissed or denied complaints with any regulatory authority or FSP's consumer complaint process. Unfavorable feedback may have been discovered through a check of complaints registered with a regulatory authority or complaints registered through FSP's consumer complaint process; feedback may not be representative of any one client's experience; C. Individually contributed to a financial settlement of a customer complaint; D. Filed for personal bankruptcy within the past 11 years; E. Been terminated from a financial services firm within the past 11 years; F. Been convicted of a felony); 4. Fulfilled their firm review based on internal standards; 5. Accepting new clients. Evaluation criteria-considered: 6. One-year client retention rate; 7. Five-year client retention rate; 8. Non-institutional discretionary and/or non-discretionary client assets administered; 9. Number of client households served; 10. Education and professional designations. FSP does not evaluate quality of services provided to clients. The award is not indicative of the wealth manager's future performance . Wealth Managers may or may not use discretion in their practice and therefore may not manage their clients' assets. The inclusion of a wealth manager on the Five Star Wealth Manager list should not be construed as an endorsement of the wealth manager by FSP or this publication. Working with a Five Star Wealth Manager or any wealth manager is no guarantee as to future investment success, nor is there any guarantee that the selected wealth managers will be awarded this accomplishment by FSP in the future. Visit