5 Essential Steps to the Financial Planning Process

There are five basic steps to the financial planning process. Your financial planner will typically want to have an initial meeting to determine the suitability of any engagement. Afterwards, there are generally five steps to the planning process: data gathering, plan preparation, plan presentation, plan implementation, and on-going monitoring.

1. Financial Planning Process: Data gathering.

The data gathering session is one of the most important meetings you will have. This session is typical done in the home, and can takes anywhere from several hours to all day. The planner will want to inspect tax returns, bank statements, account information, retirement plans, insurance policies, trusts, wills, pensions, IRAs, investments, brokerage accounts, and other tangible bits of information.

The tangible information is not all that is needed however. A good financial planner will want to know your lifestyle goals. When do you want to retire? What kind of income will you require upon retirement? What type of lifestyle do you want to live? Your answers will need to be calculated into the planning process. The planner must also make assumptions on the future. Where will interest rates go? What direction is the economy headed? What find of inflationary pressure will we see? Your planner needs to learn your feelings on these various assumptions.

Lastly, your planner will look at your personal attitudes towards risk, taxes, and the importance of simplicity in your financial affairs. The goal of the data gather is for your planner to have a good understanding of where you are now and where you want to be in the future.

2. Financial Planning Process: Plan preparation.

Your plan will usually take three to four weeks to prepare. During this time the planner does the analysis and diagnostic work. Now that the planner knows where you are and where you want to be, he can find the most efficient path to get you there.

For example, maybe it’s a family partnership. Or a family corporation. Or a family trust. They’ll look at all the pros and cons — then prepare written recommendations. Some will be major strategic recommendations. Others will be minor tactical recommendations. They will all fit together.

3. Financial Planning Process: Plan presentation.

Once your plan is prepared, your planner will schedule time to present their findings to you. During this first meeting, he’ll present the plan to you and review any major points. You’ll then take the plan home to read and study. It is important that you sit down with your spouse (if applicable) and fully examine the plan. Write down any questions that you have regarding it.

You will review the plan in greater detail at your next meeting with your financial planner. At this meeting, ask your questions and make sure that the planner adequately addresses them. This meeting should be spend clarifying the details of the plan, and as each recommendation is approved, your planner will prioritize them into an “Implementation Checklist.” This is simply a “To Do” list for you and your planner.

4. Financial Planning Process: Plan implementation.

The first three steps will likely be completed in about a month’s time.

The next step, step four, generally takes much longer – typically around five or six months. During this period, your planner will discuss topics such as tax planning, retirement planning, estate planning, and insurance issues. Other experts, such as attorneys, may be brought in to work on specific aspects of your plan.

In the end, your plan might have as many as 25 recommendations. A few recommendations will be major, broad, strategic recommendations, each worth thousands of dollars to you. The remainder will be fine-tuning recommendations — crossing the T’s, dotting the I’s, and making sure your financial affairs are really in order.

5. Financial Planning Process: On-going monitoring and maintenance.

The final step of the planning process is on-going monitoring and maintenance. Your planner should be retained to assist with periodic updates and on-going advice. Having closely examined your financial situation, the planner is in a unique position to alert you to changing conditions that affect your plan. A couple of time a year, the planner should be consulted on tax planning issues, portfolio review, and other related maintenance topics.

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