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Some help in finding the right financial advice

From the January 2000 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright © 1999 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

You won't need a detailed financial plan until you have been in practice for a few years, said Brian Fenn, a certified financial planner in Charlotte, N.C., but an expert can still help you get through the basics.

When you meet with a planner, the first step is to find out if the person is knowledgeable about key issues that affect you, such as debt deferment and cash flow management. If you mention these topics and the planner steers the conversation to insurance policies or investment opportunities, find another planner. This is more likely to be the case with planners who work on commission, compared with fee-only planners. Certified financial planners can be either. (A list of certified financial planners is available online at www.icfp.org/.)

Ask potential consultants for a copy of their advisor form ADV that they file with the state or the Securities and Exchange Commission. "It's a great disclosure document that shows how much of a planner's income comes from fees or commission," said Mr. Fenn. "If they don't have the form, they might actually be working for a bank or brokerage house." In any case, the initial interview with the planner should be free of charge.

Another good source of free information is the National Foundation for Consumer Credit (NFCC). The NFCC is a network of 1,450 non-profit agencies nationwide that provide debt counseling and debt repayment plans. Look for an NFCC office near you.

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