by Michael J. Swanson

AThe first step to preparing for retirement is to select the right financial planner

Having an expert on your side is always a good idea. The right financial advisor can make the difference between a comfortable retirement and not being able to retire at all. Be careful to do your homework when selecting an advisor. Anyone can call themselves an advisor, so make sure they have the right credentials. At a minimum, your advisor should be a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). This status is awarded by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and must be maintained by the advisor through ongoing education.

However, the CFP certification is just the starting point. Research your potential advisor carefully and ask for references of clients   that he or she has been working with for a long period of time. You may want to consider hiring a fee-based planner rather than a com- missioned planner. A fee-based planner will have fewer potential conflicts of interest since they do not earn fees or commissions by recommending particular investments. If you are not sure where to get started, you may want to check out the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).

B. Next, max out your best savings options

If your employer offers a 401(k), find a way to take advantage of it—ideally maxing out your contributions, if possible. This  is especially valuable if your employer offers a “match,” whereby they contribute to your account by matching your contributions up to a certain limit. You can think of the matching contributions as an instant return on your investment. When you put in one dollar and your employer matches that, you just made a 100 percent return on that dollar! Where else can you get returns like that?

The other great advantage is that all of the funds that you contribute to your 401(k) are pre-tax. Plus, you pay no taxes as your account grows, until you begin withdrawing funds. If your employer does not offer a 401(k), ask them to consider it. Even if they aren’t willing to do matching contributions, your ability to save pre-tax dollars and grow your account tax-deferred would be a great help. If your employer won’t do that, you can always create your own Individual Retirement Account (IRA) into which you can contribute pre-tax dollars. In fact, many people don’t realize that you can do both! If you have a 401(k) at work, you can also create your own IRA to maximize your two best savings options.

C. Lastly, educate yourself

Everyone loves to use Google to learn about topics like favorite sports teams, cooking recipes and vacation destinations. Why not spend a little time each week educating yourself about your financial future? Spending a little less time surfing the Internet for pure entertainment and a little more time investing in your financial future through education just makes sense. Here are a few websites to get you started:





Whether you are facing retirement in the next few years or decades from now, it’s never too late to get started. Make a commitment to investing time and money in your future and get started today!