By Karen Cheney and Ashley Tate
August 17, 2014
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Credit: Clayton Junior

What’s that again? Think of these as the primary-care doctors of the fiscal world. After examining your entire portfolio, they give advice on virtually every pocketbook issue—from budgeting to stock picking. And a planner can work with you to set big-picture goals, like buying a house, paying for college, and starting a business, and put you on a savings-and-investment path to help achieve these objectives.

When to hire: If you’re befuddled by how much to put in your 529 versus your 401(k) (or by similar money-management questions), call a planner. While some personal-finance websites offer these services, a planner provides customized advice, which is important if you’re facing a major life change ( job loss, a baby, marriage), if you’re behind on retirement savings, or if you inherited an investment and don’t know what to do with it, says Eleanor Blayney, a certified financial planner and a consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, an industry group.

There are several types of advisers: commission only (charges a commission on the products, like mutual funds and stocks, that she sells you), fee-based (charges a consultation fee and then possibly a commission), salaried (earns a salary from the investment company she works for, such as Fidelity or Vanguard, that is not tied to what you do with her advice), and fee-only (charges by the hour, by a percentage of assets managed, or by a flat fee or a retainer and does not earn fees directly from the companies she recommends). Conventional wisdom advises to go with a fee-only planner, since she can’t move your money around just to get a commission. But regardless of whom you choose, “see an adviser about three to four times during the first year to get on track,” says Manisha Thakor, a coauthor of Get Financially Naked (Adams Media, $13, amazon.com). “After that, touching base once or twice annually is sufficient.”

Expect to pay: Approximately $150 to $300 an hour for a fee-only hourly planner; a commission-based planner will charge 2 to 7 percent of the sales.

How to find a good one: Go to fpanet.org and search by how the planner charges, your net worth, or your specialty area (retirement, college, and so on). Look for someone designated as a certified financial planner (CFP).