Financial advisors 101: Preparing for your first meeting

Yesterday, I wrote about how I recently decided to get more serious about my financial plan, and I described the process I went through in selecting a financial consultant to advise me about my plans for retirement. But once you’ve selected one (or found several financial planners you want to meet with to “audition”), what’s next? Obviously, you need to make an appointment to see him/her.

Bonus tip: When you make that appointment, be sure to confirm their consultation fees, if any. All of the consultants with whom I met offered free initial consultations, but that isn’t always the case, so ask when you call to ensure that you aren’t in for an expensive surprise when you meet. We’ll talk more about how fees should figure into your decision-making about retirement investments in a future post.

But what do you need to bring to your first meeting? Some consultants will make it easy for you by giving you a financial summary form to fill out in advance of the meeting. But even if the consultant doesn’t ask you to fill out such a form, you should gather some pieces of key information and take them with you when you meet. Having as much information as possible will enable the consultant to develop a plan that is better customized to the specifics of your unique financial circumstances.

Here is a list of the information that I was asked for in my consultations:

  1. Savings. Estimate of bank accounts: average balance in checking, savings, emergency fund, Certificates, etc.
  2. Property. Estimated value of your home if you are a homeowner, and the amount of any mortgage or home equity loans. Value of vehicle(s) you own and the loan amount(s) outstanding on them, if any. Value of antiques or collectibles.
  3. Debts. Student loans, credit card balances or other debts you owe.
  4. Retirement accounts. Retirement savings, including information on how your funds are allocated. Is everything in a target date fund? Is it split across bonds and stock funds? Although this may sound complicated, it can actually be as simple as printing out a report from your 401(k) or IRA website. On most sites, it only takes a couple of clicks to generate an account summary report that shows your investment allocations with colorful pie charts.
  5. Social Security summary. Your consultant can make a ballpark projection of your future Social Security benefits based on your current income, but if you’re really serious about making accurate projections of your future income, it helps to have an official estimate of your Social Security benefits. You can request a printed benefits projection from the Social Security Administration (SSA), but that takes about six weeks, so you’re probably better off to create an account at the SSA website. Once you have an SSA.gov account, you can generate estimates of what your Social Security benefits will be at various retirement ages.
  6. Family financial background. Do you have dependents for whom you provide financially? Do you expect to receive a large inheritance from your parents or other relatives? Do you expect that you’ll need to help support your parents financially in their retirement? If so, let the consultant know, as those factors should be figured into your long-term financial plan. You don’t necessarily have to give a lot of details here, but if it affects your future income and expenses, it’s better that the consultant knows about it before formulating a financial plan for you.
  7. Miscellaneous factors. Is the $20,000 in your savings account already allocated to a kitchen remodel or your child’s upcoming wedding? Do medical issues or chronic illnesses mean that you need to have a larger-than-average emergency fund or HSA? If so, be sure to let your consultant know so that he/she can make recommendations that reflect those factors.
  8. Your end goal. What are your retirement and end-of-life goals? Do you want to have enough to just live comfortably, and that’s it? Do you want to travel the world? Do you hope to leave a financial inheritance behind for your children or your church, or do you hope to die with just enough money left to cover your funeral expenses?
  9. Intangibles. I was thrown when one of the consultants asked me about my parents and grandparents. He explained that he likes to know about family longevity patterns in order to better estimate how many years of retirement he should build into my financial plan. The fact that my parents are healthy in their mid-70s and my grandmother just turned 103 meant that he projected a longer than average retirement lifespan into the plan he developed for me.

Bonus tip: If you use a personal financial management (PFM) app, it’s easy to pull together most of the info you’ll need. For my meetings, I printed out the net worth page from the Alliant Budgeting and Money Management Tool via Online Banking and the summary pages from my 401(k) website and I was all set.

I wish you the best of luck in finding a professional to help you with a financial plan. As I mentioned, I ended up with a Financial Consultant with Alliant Retirement and Investment Services. If you’re interested in meeting with one of Alliant’s consultants, you can find their contact information at alliantcreditunion.com.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles on some of the lessons I learned when reviewing my investments with the consultants with whom I met, including my decisions on my 401(k), my defined-benefit retirement (pension) account, and choosing my new investment vehicles.


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