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The first thing you need to know about me is that I know absolutely nothing about cars.  Well, ok – I know how to drive a car, a stick shift at that, but for me a car is simply a way to get from A to B.  I can’t tell a Tesla from a Toyota and when it comes to maintaining a car, I’m really in the dark.  So, when little orange lights come on indicating that I need…something, I get a twinge of anxiety.

This happened recently when the maintenance light came on reminding me I needed my regular service.  I knew I didn’t need to make an appointment immediately, so I put it off.  Every day I would get into my car, see the light on, think about making an appointment and then go about my day.  The longer I waited, the less I wanted to schedule it.  I started to worry I had waited too long and now there was something wrong.  Of course, that just made me want to deal with it even less – a classic procrastinator’s catch-22.  The funny thing is I’m not really a procrastinator.  My penchant for planning ahead and dealing with things in advance is partly why I love my job as financial planner.  So, I had to ask myself “what is going on here?”

It finally occurred to me that I was avoiding dealing with the service because I didn’t want to deal with a professional mechanic.  Even though pragmatically I know most mechanics are honest people who work hard to earn a living, I have this stereotype in my mind that makes me avoid them; a preconceived idea that they’re going to rip me off and it makes me feel a little vulnerable.  I know with my limited knowledge, I probably won’t be able to tell the honest ones from the ones that want to take me for a ride.  It’s a little scary to be at someone’s mercy that way. Scary enough on some level that I wound up postponing something relatively painless that I knew was in my best interest to handle.

This got me to thinking about what it must be like for people who have a similar preconception about financial advisors as the one I have about mechanics.  Let’s face it – there are some rotten apples out there who have given a lot of good advisors a bad name.  With this as my chosen profession, it’s easy for me to know what to look for and how to decipher different kinds of advisors.  I spend all day in the world of finances, but of course that’s not the norm.  Most people approach their finances like I do my car – I use it to get through life and do what I need it to do.  Beyond that, I don’t spend much time thinking about it unless something indicates to me that there’s a problem.

Here’s the difference, though.  I eventually, begrudgingly took my car for service.  I knew that if I put it off forever, it was going to cost me.  Maybe it would be a small cost like a blown tire, maybe it would be a big cost like a ruined engine but either way the potentially negative financial ramifications got me to the mechanic.  The diagnostics of our finances are more nuanced and harder to identify.  We might not even notice the equivalent of a blown tire in our financial life.  That makes it really easy to keep avoiding getting help from a professional.  Maybe that’s why as a whole, we do a lot better job taking care of individual assets like our cars than we do our entire nest eggs.

My hope is that if you are reading this and have been ignoring the little orange lights on your dashboard, you’ll consider making this the year you reach out to an advisor.  The following checklist is a great place to start when interviewing different companies.  There are 25 questions that will help you determine the service you will get, who will provide it and how they are compensated for their advice.

Financial Advisor Checklist

If your financial affairs are already in mint condition, you can be a help to others just by sharing your experiences and reducing some of the apprehension they might have about working with an advisor.   Let them know we’re not all bad.  And better yet, let me know if you’ve got the name of a good mechanic.