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Nitesh Patel
Finance | Financial advice

By Nitesh Patel

Achieving financial security on your own can be complex and overwhelming for even the savviest savers. What investments are best for you? Do you own enough life insurance? Are you saving enough for retirement and your children’s college education? If you don’t have all the answers, you’re not alone. It is estimated that as little as 8 percent of Americans consider themselves “very knowledgeable” when it comes to investing and financial planning. And, more than half of the people shopping for life insurance have difficulty deciding how much to buy.

For most, a comprehensive plan should include provisions for income replacement, education funding, retirement income, tax planning, asset accumulation and estate protection. No doubt, there’s a lot to consider when planning for your financial future. But, with the help of a trusted professional, you can achieve the peace of mind that comes from knowing you and your family is on the road to reaching your financial goals.

Meeting with a financial professional is good for one’s financial health. In fact, research shows that those who sought professional guidance are more likely to be extremely satisfied with their finances. And, those who have met with a financial professional feel more confident about their own financial futures than those who have not. Rather than “pushing products,” a good financial professional should be interested in building a long-term relationship. The planning process can focus on a single issue or it can be comprehensive; to that end, a skilled professional will take the following five steps:

Fact-finding. In this initial stage, the person interviews and listens to you in order to understand and perhaps even help you articulate your personal and financial goals, understand your time horizons and gauge your risk tolerance.

Analyzing information/determining feasibility of goals. The next step is assessing your current situation and determining the best course of action to meet your goals. Depending on your needs, this could include analyzing your assets, liabilities and cash flow, current insurance coverage, investments or tax strategies.

Preparing a customized plan/making recommendation. Based on your information, the representative can develop a plan, recommend strategies and provide a timeline to help you successfully reach your goals. He or she should explain all recommendations carefully so you understand them completely and can make informed decisions. Any concerns you have should be addressed and the plan or recommendations should be revised, if appropriate.

Implementing the plan. Moving forward, the representative may help you carry out the plan’s recommendations or serve as your "coach," coordinating the whole process with you and other professionals, such as your attorney or accountant.

Servicing the plan. Once a plan is established, determine how it will be monitored over time to ensure it continues to help you progress towards your goals. A skilled professional will provide good service year after year by letting you know how your plan is performing relative to your objectives. He or she also should review your personal and financial situation periodically and recommend appropriate adjustments to your plan if your objectives or circumstances have changed.

Because your relationship with your representative will be personal and confidential, it’s important to choose one on whom you can rely and you feel will have lasting interest in you, your family, and your affairs. Some qualities to look for include:

Good references - Ask for references from other clients in your same age and income bracket.

Good credentials - Find out if he/she has any professional education and training credentials, advanced insurance designations and membership in professional organizations, such as the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors chapter of the Society of Financial Services Professionals.

Knowledgeable - The representative should be able to provide you with up-to-date information on new product developments.

Trustworthiness - Most of all, your representative should be someone you trust, either through recommendations from people you respect, or from your own experience. You should be able to communicate openly with the representative and get answers to your questions in language you understand. Don’t be afraid to ask how he or she is compensated for their time and services.

Quality company and products – Look for products from companies that have a history of strong product performance and earn the highest ratings for financial strength from Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, Fitch Ratings and A. M. Best.

Cost alone should not be the single determining factor driving your financial and insurance planning decisions. In making your choice, both the company's and the representative’s reputation for good service is also very important. After all, a sound plan aimed at helping you and your family reach your financial goals is often designed to last a lifetime and will need to be monitored for many years. For millions of Americans, consulting an experienced professional who can offer expert guidance and build a customized plan is an essential step toward reaching their financial dreams of tomorrow. It could be just what you need to start feeling more financially secure today.

Money Maladies Studies, Northwestern Mutual, 2000-2004

2 LIMRA International - FastFacts - Special Edition August 2004

3Advisor Today, April 2002

4 Money Maladies Studies, Northwestern Mutual, 2000-2004

Nitesh Patel is a financial representative with the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network based in Clearwater for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin). To reach Patel, call (727) 799-3007 or e-mail

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