What Is a Financial Planner, and Do You Need One?

A financial planner takes inventory of your finances, then creates a plan to help you reach your goals. Some financial planners also provide investment management.
What Is a Financial Planner, and Do You Need One?

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.


The investing information provided on this page is for educational purposes only. NerdWallet does not offer advisory or brokerage services, nor does it recommend or advise investors to buy or sell particular stocks or securities.

You’ve got financial questions. The internet’s got answers. So do friends, family members and Instagram influencers.

Financial planners can cut through the noise and provide expert money advice that’s tailored specifically to your needs.

A financial planner guides you in meeting your current financial needs and long-term goals. That typically means assessing your financial situation, understanding what you want your money to do for you (both now and in the future) and helping create a plan to get you there. Financial planners can help you reduce spending, pay off debt, and save and invest for the future.

But financial pros are like doctors: Some are specialists in defined areas, such as taxes or managing investments. Others, like , are general practitioners, offering advice on everything from budgeting and investing to insurance and retirement planning.

Generally speaking, the more complex your financial situation, the more likely you are to benefit from a financial planner.

If your finances are simple, you may be able to take a DIY approach. But financial planners can provide an objective perspective, and bring expertise to decisions about how you should invest your money, what your financial priorities should be and what sort of insurance coverage and other protections you need. A financial planner can be especially helpful when you're faced with a life change  — think marriage, a divorce or an inheritance.

The type of financial planner that is best for you will depend on your needs, life stage and budget. We'll outline a few options below.

If you're just starting out, a robo-advisor may be enough to meet your needs. Automation has enabled traditional firms like Vanguard and Fidelity, as well as online-only companies like Betterment and Wealthfront, to substantially lower the price of . These companies are ideal if you need investment management, but not holistic .

Robo-advisors build and manage a portfolio of low-cost investments suited to your financial goal for a small fee — many top choices charge 0.25% or less of your account balance. The investment mix is determined by a computer algorithm and is automatically adjusted when needed. At the basic account level, you can start investing with $500 or even less.

The low-cost, easy-entry nature of robo-advisors reduces barriers to working toward your financial goals. That's important because avoiding the market can starve your retirement. You can start with a robo-advisor and add a human advisor later on if needed. (Sound like a good plan? View our list of .)

For those with complicated or ongoing planning needs, a traditional, in-person financial planner may be a better fit. A CFP can provide holistic, one-on-one advice for the most complex financial situations. The official CFP designation indicates that a provider has gone through a rigorous formal training and testing process.

A fee-only CFP typically charges by the hour (usually $200 to $400) or by the task (a flat $1,000 to $3,000 fee, for example). Some might charge based on the size of the investment portfolio they are managing for you; this is called an assets-under-management fee and is typically 1% of your portfolio balance per year. The initial consultation to discuss your needs and their services is usually free.

» Learn more about

Before you enter a relationship, ask whether the person you’re considering is a fiduciary, a term that means they’re obligated to put the client’s best interests first. (Members of the  and  fill both the fiduciary and fee-only requirements.)

There are several online planning services that combine computer-driven portfolio management with access to living, breathing financial planners. In many cases, you'll get a dedicated financial planner and a comprehensive financial plan, but you'll meet with that advisor via phone or video conference rather than in person.

Online planning services like this typically charge more than a robo-advisor but less than a traditional financial planner. Examples of companies in this space include  and .

» Compare online advisors: Our picks for the 

 (or ) is a broad term that encompasses many different professionals who help people with their money.

A financial planner is a type of financial advisor who typically focuses on offering holistic financial guidance in addition to services like . For example, financial planners can help you answer questions like, "How do I save for retirement and my child's college fund at the same time?"

Online financial planners like robo-advisors or online planning services often offer virtual tours, demos and even the chance to test-drive the investment platform before you sign up. With an online planning service, you may be able to meet with your dedicated financial planner before deciding to sign on.

An initial meeting with a financial planner is like a first date: It’s the chance to get to know one another and see if you mesh on a personal and philosophical level. Take this opportunity to find out everything you can, including how much you can expect to pay, how the will be presented and how often to expect ongoing communication. (Here are  to gather information and see whether you click.)

When you work with a CFP or an online planning service, you'll begin with a review of where you stand. You’ll be asked about:

You can expect any financial planner to be in fairly regular contact with you, though the form that contact takes will vary. Robo-advisors typically send regular emails and account prompts while online planning services and traditional planners will meet with you throughout the year. You should update your planner with any changes to your financial situation.

On a similar note...
Dive even deeper in Investing