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Free Financial Advice, No Sales Pitch

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Financial planners are offering free meetings this month.

Meeting with a financial planner has its pitfalls. If he works on commission, you might be left wondering if the advice is as good for you as it is profitable for him. And with an advisor paid by the hour, detailed discussions could pad your bill.

Starting this weekend, consumers have an opportunity to sidestep those concerns. During Financial Planning Days each Saturday in October, credentialed financial planners will offer free one-on-one advice to all comers in different cities across the country. Event organizers, which include the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and the U.S. Conference of Mayors — say participating planners aren’t supposed to sell you anything, ask you to schedule a follow-up appointment, or even give you their business card.

There’s no appointment necessary – which means you might want to bring a book or a magazine – and you will need to be in or near one of the 31 cities hosting an event. This weekend, that’s Houston, Las Vegas, Reno, Oakland, and Philadelphia.

If you go, use your time wisely. There are no set time limits, but if there’s a crowd, you might be asked to keep your session to 20 minutes, says a spokesman for the CFP Board. Cathy Seeber, a certified financial planner with Wescott Financial Advisory Group in Philadelphia (and a volunteer at Saturday’s Philly event), suggests coming prepared with documents and targeted questions. Here’s how:

Debt. If you bring credit card and mortgage statements, the planner can review your interest rates and suggest ways to negotiate a better deal with lenders. Be prepared to discuss monthly expenses – the planner might see areas to could cut back.

Retirement. Would-be retirees uncertain about investments should bring retirement account statements and documents, says Seeber, and ask if they’re saving enough and whether their investment choices are appropriate. There are other considerations for retirement too, and the planner may want to know about your insurance coverage and the options for additional policies through work.

Estate planning. Come prepared to talk about anything you’ve already established, including wills and medical directives. Adults caring for aging parents could also use the time to cover elder care or Medicare issues, Seeber says.

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About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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