How You Can Get Good Financial Advice for Free

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The personal finance business attracts more than its share of scoundrels. Unscrupulous salespeople pitch high-commission, high-fee, underperforming investments and overpriced insurance plans that masquerade as investments, turning your hard-earned cash into their wealth.

Two key ways they do that are by burying the costs in opaque language in the fine print of their investment contracts, or by only showing you high-cost options. In essence, they either disguise their costs or make it seem like every investment available to you will cost you significant management fees.

While bad money advice is easy to come by -- and is often offered for "free" by those pitching those high hidden-cost investments -- good advice is a bit tougher to find. Generally speaking, the best type of money professional to turn to for solid money guidance that's truly in your best interest is a fee-only certified financial planner. And as luck would have it, the CFP Board is offering free consultations in various cities, starting Oct. 4 and running through Nov. 8. This might be a great opportunity for you.

Valuable Guidance

Certified financial planners go through an extensive training and testing program and have to adhere to strict ethical guidelines. They also must be experienced, with at least three years of professional background in the field, before they can adopt the designation. The ones who are fee-only are valuable because they get paid for their time and advice, not the products they sell. Their advice forms the basis of their reputation -- and if they give bad advice, their reputation and business suffer.

Still, while fee-only certified financial planners may be able to provide you the most unbiased money advice you can get, their time and guidance does not typically come for free. Typical fees run from $125 to $350 per hour for guidance or $2,000 to $5,000 for a comprehensive, individualized plan.

Your Chance to Get That Guidance for Free

While those prices may seem steep, they can easily be worth it, especially when compared to the hidden fees you may already be getting charged for the "free" help offered by your current adviser. Still, if you've never worked with a certified financial planner before, you may want a way to try one's services before you buy them.

The CFP Board's free Financial Planning Days offer you the chance to talk to certified financial planners about your current financial situation and plans, with no strings attached. Planners will not sell you products or services or pass out business cards, though you will have the chance to follow up with them later, if you find value in your talks.

The typical meeting will only last about 15 minutes, which won't be enough for more than a few basic questions. Still, if you bring your records and plan a few key questions, you can get a heck of a good start, and perhaps find a planner to help you get your own finances in order.

Questions to Ask

  • If you have debt: What's a good plan to get that debt paid off? If you have a mortgage, should you refinance it, accelerate the payments or just pay it as planned and put your money elsewhere?

  • If you have investments: Are your investments appropriate for your age, career stage and risk tolerance? Are they cost-effective ways to get the potential rewards you're seeking? Are you saving enough and in the right places to meet your life goals?

  • If you have dependents: Do you have enough insurance and in the right type of insurance to assure your dependents are cared for should you pass away prematurely or become disabled? Are you saving enough and in the most efficient types of accounts for their educations?

  • If you're close to retirement: When should you take Social Security? Are you able to retire on your nest egg? How should you adjust your investments to provide you income in your retirement?

Can 15 Minutes Change Your Life?

The Financial Planning Days won't be enough to get your financial house in order. Still, it can be an excellent start down a path toward a smarter, more cost-effective financial plan. For an investment of 15 minutes of your time and absolutely no cash out of your pocket, it's worth looking into.

Chuck Saletta is a Motley Fool contributor.Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. To read about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check out our free report.