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Top 7 Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor When Planning Your Retirement

Fiduciary Financial Planner in Dayton Ohio

Choosing the right financial advisor is crucial for navigating the complexities of financial planning and investment management. This guide aims to equip you with the essential knowledge and strategies needed to select an advisor who aligns with your financial goals, ethics, and priorities.

With a focus on transparency, ethics, and the right fit, we outline a streamlined process for vetting potential advisors. From understanding different advisor types to asking the right questions during interviews, this article helps you identify an advisor who can effectively guide you through retirement planning, tax strategies, and investment management.

Key Takeaways

  • Finding the right financial advisor goes far beyond investment returns - you need to vet ethics, transparency and priorities.
  • Asking smart questions during your interviews will help reveal any mismatched priorities early on.
  • Key areas to probe include their specialty, ideal clients, fees, services, custody of assets and investment philosophy.
  • Fiduciary advisors legally must put your best interest first.
  • Resources like the CFP Board and the SEC provide further guidance on your search.

How to Choose a Financial Advisor in 3 Steps

Finding and vetting financial advisors takes time and diligence. With so many different advisor titles and specialties, it can be confusing to know where to start.

Follow this 3-step process to streamline your search:

1. Document Your Questions and Pain Points

Start by writing down your most pressing financial questions and pain points. These may include:

  • How can I generate stable retirement income that will last my lifetime?
  • What strategies can reduce my taxes in retirement?
  • How should I invest my portfolio to meet my goals?
  • How much can I safely withdraw each year without running out of money?

Clarifying these questions ahead of time will help you communicate your needs to potential advisors.

2. Learn About Different Types of Financial Advisors

Next, spend some time learning about the major categories of financial advisors:

  • Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) - Registered with the SEC or state securities regulator. May be fee-only and act as a fiduciary.
  • Investment Advisor Representatives (IARs) - Affiliated with an RIA firm but not licensed themselves.
  • Broker-Dealers - Licensed to buy and sell securities and receive commissions. Not necessarily fiduciaries.
  • Insurance Agents - Licensed to sell insurance products only and paid via commission.
  • Robo-advisors - Automated online investment platforms that use algorithms. Low cost but less personalized.

Understanding these common titles will help you ask informed questions later.

3. Interview Potential Advisors and Check Their Background

With your objectives defined and advisor types clearer, it's time to interview candidates.

  • Create a shortlist - Ask trusted friends for referrals or search sites like the CFP Board and NAPFA.
  • Check credentials - Confirm any licenses, education, years of experience, and specialty.
  • Do a background check - Review an advisor's record on BrokerCheck.finra.org or AdviserInfo.sec.gov.
  • Ask key questions - Use the list we're providing next. Take notes on responses.
  • Validate fee structure - Request their fee schedule and service agreement in writing.
  • Trust your gut - After several interviews, you'll get a feel for the right match.

Now let's explore the top 7 questions every investor should ask a financial advisor before committing.

Top 7 Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor

Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor in Dayton, Ohio

Choosing an advisor involves more than just considering investment returns. You need to align with their values, transparency, and commitment to ethics.

Asking the right questions during your interviews will help reveal any mismatched priorities early on.

Here are 7 questions we recommend posing to financial advisor candidates:

1. Are You a Fiduciary 100% of the Time?

One of the most important questions to ask a financial advisor is whether they are a fiduciary.

A fiduciary is legally required to act in the client's best interests at all times. They must provide advice and recommendations that align with the client's goals - not their own financial incentives.

The term fiduciary applies primarily to Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) regulated by the SEC or state securities boards. Other common advisor titles - like broker-dealers and insurance agents - are typically not held to a fiduciary standard.

Ask directly, "Are you a fiduciary 100% of the time?" If the answer is anything less than an unambiguous yes, that's a red flag.

2. What is Your Specialty + How Many Clients Do You Have?

No advisor can be an expert in every area - and that's okay. The key is finding an advisor whose specialty aligns with your financial needs.  Having a specialist advisor who aligns with your financial needs is crucial because it allows you to benefit from their expertise and experience in that specific area. While it's true that no advisor can be an expert in every field, it doesn't mean that they are less capable.

In fact, advisors often have a network of professionals to whom they can refer clients when specialized advice is needed. By focusing on their niche, advisors can provide more in-depth knowledge and tailored strategies to help you achieve your financial goals.

Finding an advisor with a specialization in your specific area of interest can greatly enhance the quality of advice and guidance you receive. 

Some common specialties include:

  • Retirement planning
  • Investment management
  • Tax planning
  • Estate planning
  • Insurance planning

But don't stop there. Ask follow-up questions like:

  • How long have you focused on this specialty?
  • What credentials do you have in this area?
  • How many clients do you currently work with?
  • What is your ideal client profile?

Their responses will reveal if they have the right skills, bandwidth, and experience to handle your situation.

3. What Is My Total "All-In" Cost to Work with You?

Make sure you understand how a financial advisor charges fees and how much you will pay in total for their services.  When working with a financial advisor, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of how they charge fees and the total cost involved for their services.

By acquiring a complete understanding of how a financial advisor charges fees and the total cost involved, you can make an informed decision about whether their services align with your financial goals and budget.

Don't hesitate to ask questions and seek clarification whenever necessary. 

Some advisors charge an Assets Under Management (AUM) Fee - usually 1.35% or less - based on the value of investments they manage for you. Others charge fixed or hourly retainer fees for financial planning.

Ask directly:

  • Do you earn any commissions for selling certain products?
  • Do you receive any third party compensation?
  • What is the total all-in cost for me to work with you?

Transparent, fiduciary advisors will lay out their full fee structure in writing. Be wary of any vague answers or reluctance to disclose fees.

4. What Experience Do You Have Navigating the Complex World of Financial Planning?

Managing finances in retirement is very different from accumulation. When you are working and accumulating wealth, you are mainly focused on saving and building your wealth. You may be investing in stocks, bonds, or real estate, contributing to your retirement account, and putting aside money for unexpected expenses.

However, when you retire, your financial focus shifts. Instead of building wealth, you are now focused on making your savings last as long as possible.

This means carefully managing your investments, withdrawing money in a tax-efficient manner, and budgeting for daily expenses. You also need to consider factors such as inflation and potential healthcare costs.

In retirement, you may also be dealing with more complicated financial issues, such as managing your Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs), navigating Medicare, and potentially dealing with long-term care costs. Additionally, most people have a fixed income during retirement, so they need to be more cautious with their spending.

Hence, it's crucial to adapt your financial strategies when you transition into retirement as the objectives and repercussions are different from the accumulation phase.  You need an advisor experienced with strategies like:

  • Sustainable withdrawal rates from portfolios
  • Optimizing Social Security benefits
  • Generating retirement income from investments
  • Mitigating risks like inflation, taxes and longevity

Ask about their specific experience advising situations like yours. Do they have advanced credentials like the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) designation?

Longevity and real-world experience are valuable advisors assets.

5. Will You Provide Me with a Comprehensive List of Your Advisory Services?

Financial advisors vary widely in their range of services provided. Some are investment managers only, while others take a more holistic wealth management approach.

Ask the advisor to list their core services so you can assess alignment with your needs, such as:

  • Investment management and portfolio construction
  • Financial planning and cash flow analysis
  • Insurance review and risk management
  • Tax planning strategies
  • Estate planning guidance
  • Consulting on retirement income and withdrawals

Ideally, you want an advisor who provides full-picture guidance versus just optimizing isolated areas.

6. Where Do You Keep My Money and How Can I See It?

For investment management services, a fiduciary advisor should use an independent third-party custodian - not their own company - to hold your assets for safekeeping.

Examples of reputable third-party custodians include Charles Schwab, Pershing, Fidelity and TD Ameritrade.


  • Who will have custody of my investment accounts?
  • Will I be able to access and view my accounts online?
  • How often will I receive statements?

You should retain ownership and visibility into your accounts at all times.

7. What is Your Investment Philosophy and How Will You Manage My Portfolio?

Financial advisors can differ significantly in their investment management styles.  Some advisors may take a more conservative approach, focusing on minimizing risk and protecting the principal balance. 

Another approach is the tactical investment style, where advisors continuously adjust the investment portfolio according to market conditions. They aim to make short-term profits from market fluctuations.

While some advisors believe in active investing – trying to beat the market through constant buying and selling of securities, others think it's near impossible to beat the market consistently, so they follow a passive investment approach, often investing in index or mutual funds that mimic specific market indices.

The appropriate strategy may depend on an individual's financial goals, risk tolerance, and investment timeline. It's vital to discuss these factors with prospective advisors to ensure their investment management style aligns with your needs and expectations. 

Ask open-ended questions to assess if their approach suits your risk tolerance and goals, such as:

  • How would you describe your investment philosophy?
  • What key risks do you manage against?
  • Do you take an active or passive approach to investing?
  • How often do you rebalance client portfolios?
  • What investment vehicles do you frequently utilize?

There are no universally "right" answers here - the key is finding an advisor whose strategy resonates with you.

Additional Resources for Finding a Financial Advisor

Selecting an advisor involves serious due diligence across multiple steps. Here are a couple of other useful resources for your search process:

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do financial advisors typically charge?

Financial advisors use various fee structures, most commonly charging either an AUM fee (around 1% of assets managed) or hourly/fixed planning fees. The average total costs range from 1% - 2% annually for a typical investor.

What questions should I ask about asset custody?

Key questions include: Who will have custody of my accounts? Can I access and view my accounts online? How often will I receive account statements? You want to pick an advisor who uses a reputable third-party custodian.

Should I choose a large or small financial advisor firm?

Both large and small firms have pros and cons. Larger firms may have more resources but could provide less personalized service. Smaller firms offer a more intimate feel but could have limited capabilities. Focus more on choosing the individual advisor, not just the firm.

What credentials should a financial advisor have?

Relevant credentials to look for include CFP®, ChFC®, CFA®, CPA, PFS, EA. Confirm any advisor licenses through FINRA BrokerCheck or the SEC AdviserInfo databases.

How often should I meet with my financial advisor?

Annually is typical, but you may need more frequent check-ins if your financial situation is more complex. Communicate your desired meeting frequency, and find an advisor willing to provide at least that level of service.


Finding the right financial advisor requires asking the tough questions upfront - and really listening to the answers.

While the process takes time and diligence, it's well worth the effort. A trusted advisor aligned with your needs can help you retire with greater confidence and peace of mind.

We hope these seven key questions provide a framework to streamline your search. Finding the right fit comes down to open communication and taking the time to deeply understand a potential advisor's experience, specialties and priorities.

👉 If you would like to get a FREE retirement assessment, click the link to schedule your 20-minute call to start the retirement assessment process.

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