What Is a Financial Planner? What They Do and How to Find One

What Is a Financial Planner?

A financial planner works with clients to help them manage their money and reach their long-term financial goals.

A financial planner needs a thorough knowledge of personal finance, taxes, budgeting, and investing. They may specialize in tax planning, asset allocation, risk management, retirement planning, or estate planning, Many draw their clients from a particular population such as young professionals or retirees.

Financial planners advise and assist clients on a variety of matters, from investing and saving for retirement to funding a college education or a new business while preserving wealth.


  • Financial planners work with individuals, families, and even corporations to help them effectively manage their current money needs and long-term financial goals.
  • Some financial planners may hold the “CFP®” professional designation to establish their professional qualifications.
  • Financial planning includes help with budgeting, investing, saving for retirement, tax planning, insurance coverage, and more.

Should You Be A Financial Planner?

Understanding the Role of a Financial Planner

The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) describes financial planning as “a collaborative process that helps maximize a client’s potential for meeting life goals through financial advice that integrates relevant elements of the client’s personal and financial circumstances.”1

While some financial planners specialize in one area—such as retirement savings—many offer a holistic approach that takes the client’s overall well-being into consideration. They may address the financial implications of family, career, education, and physical health.

The Fiduciary Financial Planner

Financial planners are considered fiduciaries. This means that they are legally bound to act in a client’s best interests and can’t accept payments from any third parties when recommending specific financial products to their clients.

The titles used by financial planners can vary. Registered investment advisors (RIAs), for example, are fiduciaries under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 who advise high-net-worth individuals on investments. They are regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or state securities regulators.2

An effective financial planner must have sufficient education, training, and experience to recommend specific financial products to their clients. As evidence of these qualifications, a practitioner may earn and carry one or more professional designations, such as the certified financial planner title.

The CFP® Designation

The most commonly held professional designation is certified financial planner (CFP®), issued by the CFP Board, the nonprofit certifying and standards-setting organization that administers the CFP exam.

Certified financial planner is a formal credential of expertise in the areas of financial planning, taxes, insurance, estate planning, and retirement. The designation is awarded to individuals who successfully complete the CFP® Board’s initial exams, then engage in ongoing annual education programs to maintain their skills and certification.3

A CFP® may do much more than simply advise clients on available investments. They may assist their clients with budgeting, retirement planning, education savings, insurance coverage, or tax optimization strategy.

Fee-Based vs. Commission-Based Financial Planners

Financial advisors, including financial planners, generally fall into one of two categories: fee-based and commission-based.

Fee-based financial advisors charge a flat rate by the hour, by the project, or by assets under management (AUM). Their income comes primarily from fees paid by their clients. However, fee-based advisors may also earn income through commissions for selling certain financial products. Fee-only advisors, on the other hand, earn income only through fees paid by their clients.

Commission-Based Advisors

Commission-based financial advisors earn income by selling financial products and opening accounts on their clients’ behalf. The commissions are payments made by companies whose products and services are recommended by the advisor. Commission-based advisors can also earn money by opening accounts for clients.

Commission-based financial planners can have an incentive to direct clients to investment products from which they receive payment. Fee-only planners have no such temptation.

Choosing the Right Financial Planner

It’s a good idea to interview at least three financial planners so you can choose the one who is best for you. Be sure to get answers to the following questions:

  • What are your credentials?
  • Can you provide references?
  • What (and how) do you charge?
  • What is your area of expertise?
  • Will you act as my fiduciary?
  • What services can I expect?
  • How will we settle disputes?

To check the status of a CFP®, visit the CFP Board website.


What Do Financial Planners Do?

A financial planner helps clients manage their current money needs and reach their long-term financial goals. Their focus may be broad or narrow. Some help clients with many aspects of their financial lives, including savings, investments, insurance, retirement savings, college savings, taxes, and estate planning. Others have a narrow focus, such as retirement or estate planning.

Some financial planners sell investments, insurance, and other financial products. Others help their clients create an investing plan and leave the clients to make the specific decisions.4


How Much Does a Financial Planner Charge?

A 2021 AdvisoryHQ study found that hourly rates for financial advisors typically range from $120 to $300. The per-project cost ranges from $275 to $4,500 or more, depending on the complexity of the job. For example, college planning “package deals” average from $275 to $1,500. Comprehensive financial planning costs $2,000 to $4,500.

Commission-based financial planners earn money when their clients buy financial products that the advisor recommends. Fee-only financial planners don’t receive commissions for products sold. Instead, they charge by the hour, by the project, or by assets under management (AUM).5


What Is the Difference Between a Financial Planner and a Financial Advisor?

Every financial planner is a financial advisor, but not every financial advisor is a financial planner. A financial planner helps clients (individuals, families, and businesses) create programs to reach their long-term financial goals. They may offer broad financial advice or specialize in an area such as investments, taxes, retirement, or estate planning.

On the other hand, “financial advisor” is a broad term that refers to nearly any professional who advises people on their finances, including certified financial planners. They may help manage their clients’ money, manage investments, buy and sell stocks and funds on the client’s behalf, and help with estate and tax planning.

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