Q&A: How to pick a fee-only financial planner when family’s finances suddenly increase?

Dear Liz: I have had a fairly predictable financial life. I’m a school administrator, and my husband is a nurse.

We now have three properties. Two are income properties, and the third is a home that has sat for eight years in mid-construction. When finished, the home could be rented for $4,500 to $5,000 per month. Altogether the properties could bring in about $200,000 per year.

Additionally, my salary has doubled in the last two years. Bottom line, we will be making about $500,000 a year but are woefully unprepared with low financial IQs. You write about picking a fee-based financial planner, but internet searches leave me still wondering if we would be entering shark-infested waters.

Answer: Plenty of sharks do lurk in the financial advice world. Too many people calling themselves advisors are actually salespeople without the comprehensive financial planning background to give truly good, objective advice. Advisors who call themselves “fee-based” typically charge fees but may also accept commissions, bonuses or other incentives to recommend investments that may profit them more than you.

A true fee-only financial planner accepts compensation only from clients. You’ll want one who has an appropriate credential such as certified financial planner (CFP). The planner should be willing to be a fiduciary and put that in writing. “Fiduciary” means the planner promises to put your best interests first.

In the past, you may have had trouble finding a fee-only financial planner willing to work with you. Although your income is high and you have substantial real estate assets, you may not have a ton of “investable assets,” such as stocks and bonds.

Many of the best fee-only planners used an “assets under management” model, in which they required clients to have a minimum level of investable assets — say, $500,000 or more — and charged them about 1% of those assets in exchange for investment management and advice.

There are still plenty of fee-only planners who use that model, but a growing number now offer different fee structures, including monthly or quarterly retainer fees or hourly fees that aren’t based on investable assets.

For example, the XY Planning Network is a network of CFPs who offer ongoing, flat monthly fees that are typically $100 to $200, with some planners requiring an initial or setup fee of $1,000 to $2,000.

Garrett Planning Network represents planners willing to charge by the hour and who are either CFPs, on track to get the designation or are certified public accountants who have the personal financial specialist credential, which is similar to the CFP. Hourly fees usually range from $150 to $300.

You also can get referrals from the National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors, the oldest fee-only group of CFPs.

Interview at least three planners before choosing one and make sure to find someone with whom you have a good rapport. If you’re not financially savvy, you’ll want someone willing to take the time to answer your questions clearly and not talk over your head while helping you deal with your increased level of prosperity.