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How to prepare for a retirement meeting with a financial advisor

Couple doing home finances together at home
FG Trade/Getty Images/iStockphoto

When it comes to preparing for retirement, navigating how much to save, different investment options, rules and tax laws can feel overwhelming—and quickly. That's why teaming up with a financial advisor who can help steer your retirement income planning can be a wise decision.

If you found a financial advisor and are ready for an appointment but aren't sure what to expect, these tips can help you get the most out of your meeting.

What to expect from a retirement meeting with a financial advisor

When meeting with a financial advisor to talk about retirement goals, at minimum you will go over your current progress, investing and budgeting. Before the meeting, it can be helpful to understand the many ways a financial advisor could potentially help in these areas. By being proactive and having goals in mind, you can then focus the conversation (and subsequent conversations) on what you're most interested in.

Here are some common topics to discuss with a financial advisor regarding your future retirement:

Setting retirement goals that focus on you

You can find general recommendations almost anywhere on what you "should" be doing or what you "are not" doing correctly when it comes to retirement savings and investing. But one-size-fits-all strategies might not maximize your specific values and needs. That's why developing a financial blueprint starts with a rich conversation around what you imagine for your sunset years.

Financial advisors can then work with you to figure out your ideal retirement budget and help you calculate how much you need to put aside to meet your exact goals. Since these financial goals can change as your situation changes, your financial advisor will work to update your financial strategy as needed.

Planning for major life changes

If you experience a major life change that affects your financial status, such as marriage, divorce, a loss of income due to a death or illness or a surprise inheritance, you may need to significantly adjust your financial goals. A financial advisor can help you update your financial strategy as needed to account for these changes.

Tracking and evaluating your current progress

Financial advisors can review your current savings to forecast your finances and account for changes. Whether you're saving for a large purchase, helping a child with college expenses, or or determining a meaningful amount to hold in cash for unexpected expenses, a financial advisor can forecast whether you're on track to reach your retirement goals despite expenses like these that will come up in your life. If they determine you need to change your savings strategy, they will give guidance on how to do so.

Planning investments

Investing is an important part of saving for retirement. In retirement conversations, you will talk about your long-and-short term investing goals and your current investment portfolio. Together, the two of you can find an appropriate approach for your investments based on your age, investment objectives, risk tolerance and life stage.

An investment portfolio review may also include an evaluation on how taxes affect your financial situation and whether there are any strategies that can help. For example, you might explore IRAs for increased tax diversification* options with your retirement contributions. While Thrivent does not provide specific legal or tax advice, we can partner with you and your tax professional or attorney.

What to ask your financial advisor

The first meeting with a financial advisor is their chance to show you how they can help you reach your retirement goals. So, treat this as an interview. You should ask questions both about the services they offer and about their general working style.

If the meeting is a success, you should feel informed and confident in the financial advisor's abilities. But above all, trust is the most important feeling to walk away with.

These six questions will help you test whether the two of you are a good match.

1. How will we work together?

You and your financial advisor would be a team, so get a sense of what that partnership would look like. If the financial advisor gives recommendations, will they put them into action, or will it be up to you to follow through? A good example is investing: Do they make the trades on your behalf, or is it still up to you to manage the portfolio based on their advice?

2. What types of savings and investments can I start with?

If you're new to planning for retirement, your financial advisor can provide you with ideas throughout the process. They'll factor your investment experience, overall risk tolerance and your target retirement age. There are even some options that automatically rebalance as you approach retirement.

3. When should I start planning for retirement?

Based on your current financial strategy and income, a financial advisor can let you know what a good retirement income plan looks like for you. Ideally, you would begin saving as soon as possible, but that—understandably—isn't always realistic. If, for example, you need to pay off some debt first, a financial advisor can provide ideas for catching up.

4. What can I include in my retirement portfolio?

See what investments the financial advisor recommends for you based on your specific financial situation, while also factoring in guaranteed income sources (such as Social Security.) Common investments in addition to your employer-sponsored retirement plan include stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, cash-value life insurance and annuities.

5. How can I plan for potential setbacks?

A financial advisor should be able to recommend a variety of paths in case something unexpected happens, such as a job loss, and you suddenly can't save as much as you intended. Ask how you can prepare for roadblocks and, if one happens, how you can adjust your retirement plan.

6. What happens after this meeting?

If, after your initial meeting, you feel like the financial advisor is a great fit, ask when you can see them again and how often. How will they send you updates about your plan outside of those meetings? Establish the next steps right then and there.

What's next?

To effectively assist with building your individualized retirement income plan, a financial advisor will typically benefit from a follow up meeting to review your financial records. With these documents, they can better determine the amount you could put aside per month, evaluate any investments you may already have, identify what retirement plan benefits you qualify for and pinpoint possible tax advantages you could use to help save more.

Documents to gather for subsequent meetings

You may be asked to gather these documents to either bring in person or email them to your advisor as a follow up so your financial advisor can get started on a holistic strategy designed for you:

  • Household budget
  • Past tax returns
  • Bank statements
  • Insurance policies
  • Investment account statements, including any retirement plans
  • Charitable donation summary

Getting started

A little preparation goes a long way toward making the most out of your first meeting with a financial advisor. With these tips, you'll be informed and ready to embark on your journey to prepare for retirement.

Ready to connect with someone? Find a Thrivent financial advisor near you.

*While diversification can help reduce market risk, it does not eliminate it. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.

Thrivent financial advisors and professionals have general knowledge of the Social Security tenets. For complete details on your situation, contact the Social Security Administration.

The primary purpose of life insurance is the death benefit protection. Loans and withdrawals will decrease your death benefit and the cash value available to pay insurance costs. Loans and/or withdrawals may cause a contract to lapse or terminate without value. Surrenders may generate an income tax liability and may be subject to a surrender charge. A significant taxable event can occur if a contract lapses with an outstanding loan. Contact your tax advisor for further details. Loaned values may be credited at a lower rate than unloaned values.