The 7 Steps of Financial Planning
Learn How to Plan Your Finances Like the Pros
The seven steps of financial planning are followed by Certified Financial Planners (CFPs) to create recommendations for their clients. These steps are considered to be the practice standards for CFPs and should be followed to comply with the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards' Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct if the planner and client agree they are part of the scope of engagement between them.
These steps could also be learned and applied by individuals for their own benefit if they wanted to act as their own, nonprofessional financial planner.
What Are the 7 Steps of Financial Planning?
The seven steps of financial planning start with getting to know the client's current financial situation and goals and end with continually measuring performance toward those goals and updating them as necessary.
- Understanding the client's personal and financial circumstances
- Identifying and selecting goals
- Analyzing the client's current course of action and potential alternative course(s) of action
- Developing the financial planning recommendation(s)
- Presenting the financial planning recommendation(s)
- Implementing the financial planning recommendation(s)
- Monitoring progress and updating
The CFPB defines financial planning as "a collaborative process that helps maximize a Client’s potential for meeting life goals through Financial Advice that integrates relevant elements of the Client’s personal and financial circumstances."
Step 1: Understanding the Client's Personal and Financial Circumstances
The CFP begins their financial planning process by asking their client many questions designed to help them get a clear picture of who the client is and what they want. Some of the questions are qualitative and lead to a better understanding of the client's health, family relationships, values, earnings potential, risk tolerance, goals, needs, priorities, and current financial plan. Some of the questions are quantitative and lead to a better understanding of the client's income, expenses, cash flow, savings, assets, liabilities, liquidity, taxes, employee and government benefits, insurance coverage, and estate plans.
The adviser may ask open-ended questions to uncover necessary information to start the plan. This information may include a range of topics, from financial goals, to feelings about market risk, to dreams about retiring in the Caribbean.
The purpose of establishing the goal or relationship is to form the foundation or purpose of planning itself. Financial planners do this by asking open-ended questions, which are questions that cannot be answered by a simple yes or no. Here some examples of open-ended questions you can use in your own planning.
Financial Planning Process Step 2: Gather the Relevant Data
The relevant data you gather is required to make recommendations for the appropriate strategies and financial products to reach your goals. For example, what is your time horizon? Do you want to accomplish this goal in five years, 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years? What is your risk tolerance? Are you willing to accept a high relative market risk to achieve your investment goals, or will a conservative portfolio be a better option for you?
Also, how far along are you in your goals? Do you have any money saved yet? Do you have life insurance? Do you have a will? Do you have children? If so, what are their ages?
For example, if you are gathering data for retirement planning, some of the key information needed is your annual income, savings rate, years until proposed retirement, age when you are eligible to receive Social Security or a pension, how much you've saved to date, how much you will save in the future, expected rate of return and more.
Financial Planning Process Step 3: Analyze the Data
You've gathered the relevant data, now can analyze it! Continuing the retirement planning example in Step 2, the data you've gathered can help you arrive at some basic assumptions. Let's assume you have 30 years until retirement, you've already saved $50,000, you expect an 8.00% return on your investments, and you can save $250 per month going forward.
You can analyze the data with a financial calculator or you can go to one of many online calculators, such as Kiplinger's Retirement Savings Calculator, plug in the numbers and see if your retirement nest egg will be just right for you.
Using a financial calculator, these assumptions will arrive at approximately $920,000 at the proposed retirement date of 30 years from now. Is this enough? Is your retirement goal achievable? Often, the initial assumptions are not quite enough to obtain the goal. This where you begin devising alternative solutions that are in the next step.
Financial Planning Process Step 4: Develop the Plan
Let's say you need $1 million to reach your goal. The previous assumptions (in Step 3: Analyze the Data) made you about $100,000 short of your goal. If you can handle taking more market risk, you could increase your exposure to stocks in an aggressive portfolio of mutual funds and assume a 9.00% rate of return.
If all other assumptions remain the same, and by increasing your expected return by 1.00%, your 30-year time horizon, and savings rates would bring you to a nest egg worth nearly $1.2 million! But what if you want to keep the rate of return at 8.00%? You could increase your savings rate to $300 per month and still come close to your goal with $990,000.
The key word in Step 4 is "develop." Financial planning requires devising alternative solutions that are achievable for each individual. With so many different variables to consider, your plan needs to develop, which means to evolve with your needs but remain within your capabilities and risk tolerance.
Financial Planning Process Step 5: Implement the Plan
Implementing the plan means you are putting your plan to work! But as simple as this sounds, many people find that implementation is the most difficult step in financial planning. Although you have the plan developed, it takes discipline and desire to put it into action. You may begin to wonder what may happen if you fail. This is where inaction can grow into procrastination.
Successful investors will tell you that just getting started is the most important aspect of success. You don't need to start out at a high level of savings or at an advanced level of investment strategy. You could learn how to invest with just one fund or you could start saving a few dollars per week to build up to your first investment. Just do it!
Financial Planning Process Step 6: Monitor the Plan
It's called "financial planning" for a reason: Plans evolve and change just like life. Once the plan is created, it's essentially a piece of history. This is why the plan needs to be monitored and tweaked from time to time. Think of what can change in your life, such as marriage, the birth of children, career changes and more.
These life events may require new perspectives or changes to your financial plans. Now think events or changes beyond your control, such as tax laws, interest rates, inflation, stock market fluctuations, and economic recessions.
The CFP Board includes a seventh step, Updating the Plan. Some financial planners consider this to be part of monitoring but it's helpful to remember that plans often require updating.
Now that you know the 6 steps of financial planning, you can apply them to any area of personal finance, including insurance planning, tax planning, cash flow (budgeting), estate planning, investing, and retirement. Why not plan for yourself like the professionals do it?
Whether you do it yourself or hire an advisor, remember to keep referring back to the steps as significant life or financial changes occur. You may also want to do as the professional financial planners do and sit down and reevaluate your plan on a periodic basis, such as once per year.
The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.