What to bring to your first appointment with Wendy Marsden, CPA, CFP®

You’ve just signed up for a consultation with a financial professional.  What do you need to bring? It depends a bit on what you’re hoping to get out of the meeting.  Let’s break it into three cases and you can skip to the section you think fits your situation:

Financial planning

Tax planning

Investment advising

Financial planning (which may include investment advising, but see that below)
The first thing you need to bring is your problem. What is keeping you up at night? Don’t name the solution, tell me the underlying issue.  (So, for example, don’t say “I need an IRA”, say instead, “I am anxious about whether I’ll have enough money for retirement” and/or “I’m trying to cut my tax bill because I’m in a high bracket” or “Rabid squirrels eat my money and I need help hiding it.”  Don’t come with a named solution, come with your problems.  I’m good at problem solving and it’s quite possible I’ll think of something you haven’t already thought of.

I can tell you right off the bat that the answer to any direct question you pose is going to be “it depends”, so to get anything useful out of this relationship I’m going to have to know you a lot better. What are your values? What are your goals? What are your fears and hopes? Some of this is quite inpertitent: I might ask you how strong is your marriage, or how long your parents livedm and how long you think you’ll live.  I’ve recently set up an area for our meetings that is based on the sort of setup marriage therapists use. In this case it’s not about trying to fix YOU, it’s about making your financial life work for who you already are.

Of course, there’s a quantitative part, too.  Bring recent statements from all your accounts (or internet logins to use in my office.)  Bring at least the most recent tax return, but preferably the last three years (even if things have changed a lot.)  It’s handy if you can bring year-to-date earnings and withholding information, so a recent paystub. Reading these things is a little like reading your medical charts to a doctor: I can infer a lot from what they say. It’s a good place to start.

Income tax planning
Taxes are pretty cut and dried, not nearly as detailed as the financial planning engagements I mention above.  For this please bring copies of your most recent tax returns if I did not prepare them.  (If they were prepared here, it’s still not a bad idea to bring the folders, but not as important.)

Please also bring an idea of year-to-date earnings, including pay stubs, recent investment statements for taxable accounts, an idea of what you’ve already withdrawn from retirement accounts during the current year, and an idea of your income year-to-date from your business, how things differ from last year for rentals, and a projection of the income you expect for the rest of the year. Some of this will emerge from our conversation, just bring what you can get your hands on.

It’s also a good idea to bring internet login passwords to taxable investment accounts.  Capital gains sometimes catches me by surprise: I like to look at year-to-date activity for mutual funds that might have made distributions that you don’t have statements for yet.

We use either last year’s tax software’s tax planner module, or sometimes I start your upcoming year’s return in a pro-forma way using estimates.  Let me know if you need an estimate of your 2016 taxes by the end of the meeting because I’ll use the newest year’s software if you want that.  (It’s a bit more work, but not much.)


Investment advising

To offer investment advice I am required to register with FINRA and the MA Secretary of State’s Office. It is quite a complex process involving several thousands of dollars, as well as accreditation.  I received the accreditation as a Certified Financial Planner™ in 2012, but my registration as an investment advisor wasn’t completed until January, 2016.  But at this point I am allowed to advise only Massachusetts residents on investments. I am considering registering in Maine as well but have not yet done so.


Originally written September 22, 2015 by Wendy Marsden, CPA, CFP®.  Updated August 3, 2016.