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Q. My wife and I keep hearing about the importance of using a financial advisor—but we don't know how to find a good one. None of our friends have any references, so we're at square one. And are they really that important?

A. Getting a financial plan is like planning a trip. You need a roadmap to reach your destination. A financial plan is like a roadmap that will help you achieve your financial goals and show you how to accomplish them.

The key to effective financial planning is to take into account all aspects of your financial situation. A financial planner is one who can help you: plan for retirement (it creeps up quickly), save for children's education, save for a house, or simply put your finances in order.

Finding the right financial planner is extremely important because your choice will probably affect your financial future. It's important to look for a certified financial planner (cfp)—they have the highest level of professionalism in providing financial advice. cfp standards include requirements in education, examination, experience, and ethics. (For one in your area, contact cfp Board of Standards at 800-487-1497 or www.cfp.net).

Interview more than one candidate. Ask about their experience and what services they specialize in. Find out how they're paid—through commissions, salary, fee-for-service, or a combination.

Your initial consultation should be free. For that appointment you'll need to take all pertinent paperwork that shows your assets and liabilities—that includes retirement and income statements, social security benefits, bank account statements, 401k statements, pensions, and properties you own.

With this information, you and your financial planner (the objective party) can design a specific financial plan for you and your family, which will get you on the road to financial success and stability.


Pre-owned vehicles

Shopping for a new car? Try looking for a pre–owned vehicle and save money.

A certified pre-owned vehicle refers to a used automobile that's been inspected by a factory trained technician and has possibly been reconditioned to meet certification standards. The inspection usually includes exterior and interior, electrical systems, ac/heating unit, road test, tires, under the hood and vehicle, safety features, and a vin (vehicle identification number) match.

Once the vehicle has passed inspection and any needed repairs have been made, it will receive certification. Certified pre-owned vehicles should come with a warranty.

The benefit to buying a certified pre–owned vehicle is that you save money and have the peace of mind the auto is in good working condition. Many times dealers offer incentives on certified pre-owned vehicles.

Three things when checking out this option:

  1. Be aware that the prices on these vehicles may be higher than buying a used car that isn't certified.
  2. Ask to see the inspection report. Make sure the vin matches.
  3. Check over the vehicle and take it for a test drive.

Bed and breakfast getaways

Thinking about a quick getaway to a Bed and Breakfast? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. Beware if you're asked to send a check and not a credit card with the full amount to secure your room. You need to take some safeguards so you don't lose your money or reservation. Credit cards are the best way to secure reservations since you have the opportunity to dispute with the credit card company if something goes wrong. It's also difficult to get a refund from a check or debit card.
  2. Make sure you get a written agreement between you and the B&B owner.
  3. Review carefully the terms of the agreement, especially with regards to your payment being required prior to your arrival.
  4. See if there's an escape clause issuing a refund if you cancel. If there is, be sure you understand how much of a refund you'll receive, how many days notice you must give prior to the cancellation, and in what form and timeline you will receive your money.
  5. Check with the Better Business Bureau (www.BBB.org) to see if they have a good rating.
  6. Get references.
  7. Look around for another establishment if you're not completely comfortable with their terms.

Deborah McNaughton, coauthor of Rich and Thin: Slim Down, Shrink Debt, & Turn Calories into Cash (McGraw-Hill), is a credit expert. Hal McNaughton is a certified financial planner. They've been married 36 years. www.financialvictory.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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