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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

5 Essential Steps to the Financial Planning Process

By Hank Brock

The financial planning process involves five basic steps. After the initial meeting with your financial planner, the five steps to the financial planning process include: data gathering, plan preparation, plan presentation, plan implementation, and on-going monitoring.

1. Financial Planning Process: Data gathering.

Data gathering is a marathon. It usually takes place at your home. It may take two hours or all day. Your planner will need to examine all your documents: Tax returns. Balance sheets. Income statements. Employee benefit plan booklets. Retirement plan documents. Wills. Trusts. Insurance policies. Investment statements. Brokerage house statements. Bank statements. These are the tangible bits of information.

The tangible information is not all that is needed however. A good financial planner will want to know your lifestyle goals. When do you want to retire? What kind of income will you require upon retirement? What type of lifestyle do you want to live? Your answers will need to be calculated into the planning process. The planner must also make assumptions on the future. Where will interest rates go? What direction is the economy headed? What find of inflationary pressure will we see? Your planner needs to learn your feelings on these various assumptions.

Finally, your financial planner will determine your personal attitudes - toward taxes, risk tolerance, complexity/simplicity of your financial affairs. The primary objective of the data gather is to have a clear idea of where you are currently and where you want to head for the future.

2. Financial Planning Process: Plan preparation.

Your plan will usually take three to four weeks to prepare. During this time the planner does the analysis and diagnostic work. Now that the planner knows where you are and where you want to be, he can find the most efficient path to get you there.

For example, maybe it's a family partnership. Or a family corporation. Or a family trust. They'll look at all the pros and cons -- then prepare written recommendations. Some will be major strategic recommendations. Others will be minor tactical recommendations. They will all fit together.

3. Financial Planning Process: Plan presentation.

After all of the recommendations have been compiled into writing, the planner will sit down with your to present the plan, review any major areas. That day you'll take the plan home and study it. Read and pick it apart. As you review the plan, jot down any questions that arise.

When you get back together with your planner, you'll go over the plan in detail. They'll answer your questions. Clarify details. As you agree on each recommendation, your planner will prioritize them into an "Implementation Check List." It's simply a "To Do" list for you and your planner.

4. Financial Planning Process: Plan implementation.

The first three steps will likely be completed in about a month's time.

The fourth step, plan implementation, takes on average five to six months (sometimes longer). During this time, you will cover topics such as tax planning, retirement planning, estate planning, and other insurance concerns. Your financial planner may want to bring in other experts at this time to consult on specific issues.

When all is said and done, you may have as many as 30 different recommendations in your plan. Some will be major, broad, strategic recommendations, likely worth thousands of dollars to you. The rest will be to help you fine-tune your financial affairs. These things will help you cross the T's, dot the I's, and ensure your finances are really in order.

5. Financial Planning Process: On-going monitoring and maintenance.

In the final step of the financial planning process, your planner should be retained to help provide periodic updates and on-going advice. You should do a couple of tax planning meetings each year, review your portfolio, update insurance, etc... You'll often find little questions that you'll want to run past your advisor. Because your planner knows your unique situation, you will be alerted to changes in conditions that directly affect your plan.

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June 9, 2010 at 4:36 AM  

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