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Our society can make it hard to talk openly about money.

But for many of us, having that open communication can be an important step to financial security. 

When our finances get more complicated — because of a new job, mounting debt or growing investments — speaking to a professional about money can make a difference. According to Brian Ramsay, with WealthSpan Partners in Davenport, receiving personalized advice can be motivation to keep your finances on track. 

Here are his tips for knowing when it's time to hire a professional and how to find the right one. 

When do you need professional help?

Two factors come into play, Ramsay said: Time and complexity.

"It can be when you realize you don't have enough time to handle your investments, if you don't know how much you should be saving for when you reach retirement, or if you're a busy married couple without the time to sit down and talk about it," he said. "I think time is the No. 1 thing." 

Second is the complexity of your finances. For example, you may seek financial help if you don't understand your employer's benefits package or if you receive an inheritance and don't know what to do. Financial planners or advisers can help you understand tax complications, investments and debt structures. 

How can you benefit from a financial adviser?

Financial advisers manage your money without emotions, Ramsay said. 

"You're paying an adviser because it's their job to keep your emotions in check. They're there to help protect you from yourself in a way," he said. "Because money is an emotional thing. And sometimes we tend to react in that way based on what's happening in the market or the news." 

Financial advisers create an overall strategy for your money and investments. 

"An adviser lays out a financial plan or road map to help you achieve the goals you want to get to," he said. 

What types of advisers are there?

There are a many types of financial professionals, but the first distinction if how they charge you for the work: fee-only or fee-based. 

Fee-only advisers are often recommended for comprehensive financial planning, including advice on estate, retirement, taxes and investments. They charge hourly rates, flat fees or a percentage of the assets they manage. 

Fee-only advisers are required to remove all conflicts of interest, Ramsay said, so they act in the best interest of the client without considering how the adviser may benefit from certain investments. 

Fee-based advisers are also common, and often hold a license to sell investments, insurance or other products. They also charge a fee for their work, but they can sell products to receive commissions, meaning there may be a conflict of interest. 

In choosing, it's important to determine what help you need. It may be a couple of hours to discuss your current situation, someone to manage your assets or someone to sit down and lay out a comprehensive road map for your finances. 

How do you know you can trust your adviser?

It's best to shop around before choosing your financial adviser.

One of the best ways to do so is checking out credentials online. Advisers may have a variety of credentials and certifications, including Certified Financial Planner, or CFP, which requires several years of experience, continuing education and the upholding of ethical standards.

"The reason why credentials are so important is because we had to go through rigorous testing and we're being upheld to ethical standards," Ramsay said. "If you do anything unethical, there are fines involved and they can take marks away from you. And if you really do something unethical, you can get removed from the industry." 

There are several websites out there, including the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, which helps you find fee-only advisers. And, there's CFP Board, which details credentials, ethics and other requirements. 

Ramsay said referrals also are important. Check with family members, your attorney or other professionals you trust to determine which financial adviser may be a good fit for you. 

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Sarah Ritter is the business reporter for the Quad-City Times. Each week, she will write an experiential column as part of the series, "Cash Course," aimed at reaching financial security and tackling stereotypes about money. Have an idea or want to share your money story, email