retirement planningWhen looking for the best ways to save and invest money, a financial planner is a valuable asset. A good financial planner can guide you whether you’re purchasing real estate, planning for retirement, paying for college, or pursuing any other financial ventures.

It’s critical that you select a reputable financial planner who has the skills and knowledge necessary to advise you. Whether you’re searching online or asking friends and family for referrals, it’s important you know what to look for in a financial planner.

Be sure to ask your potential planner these four questions:

1. What are your certifications?

You want to be sure you’re working with a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®). If a financial planner has this certification, you know he or she has passed a comprehensive personal finance exam. And, in order to keep this CFP certification, financial planners must earn continuing education credits that keep them up to date on the newest financial specifications.

Do a quick online search on any planners who interest you in order to make sure their credentials are current. Do a background check, and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. It is perfectly acceptable to ask a financial planner if he or she has been convicted of a crime or investigated by an investment-industry organization.

Also, be sure to check references from previous clients who had financial objectives similar to yours.

2. How are you paid?

At first, it may seem like a good idea to go with someone who works on commission because the better you do, the more he or she will make. But a planner like this may be biased and may push you to invest in a company that gives him or her a percentage of the revenue.

Feed-based financial planners—those who take a flat percentage of your yearly worth instead of working on commission—also pose a problem. They may advise you to buy more than you need in order to line their own pockets.

Your best bet is to select someone who charges by the hour, especially if you’re just getting involved in the world of financial planning and investments.

3. What can you do for me?

Never use a planner who promises to outperform the market. Guarantees like this are extremely unrealistic and should not be trusted. If any planners tell you they can do this, it likely means they are going to take dangerous risks with your money.

The planner you choose should be asking about the risks you want to take and should be ready to advise you on a whole host of financial matters.

4. Whose best interest do you have in mind—mine or yours?

Review all potential financial planners’ code of ethics and look for the word “fiduciary.” This means they are ethically loyal to their clients and are committed solely to their best interests. If a planner is not a fiduciary, move on.

If you’re looking for advice when planning for retirement, a planner fresh out of college might not be the best match. It may be better to find someone who is close to your age and who has beliefs similar to yours.

The planner must be in tune with exactly what you want, and he or she should always ask about your financial goals. Don’t be afraid to go with your gut—if a planner is too pushy or if his or her style of handling money makes you uneasy, find another one.

Jeff Rose is a Certified Financial Planner and Iraqi combat veteran. He blogs at Good Financial Cents, Soldier of Finance, and Life Insurance By Jeff.