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Help! I need a money adviser, not a salesperson

Though most ‘financial advisers’ are on commissions, there are some who work on a fee-only basis. Jean Chatzky tells how to find one.

Q: How does one find a financial adviser to create a financial plan for retirement who is not selling a product?

I would love to have an adviser who sits down with me to create a total plan which might include savings, real estate advice, other funds to invest in, what accounts yield the highest interest, how much time I need to do what I want to do, and pay that person a fee for the service rather than a percentage of the investments the he/she recommends.

Also, do you recommend finding someone who is not an acquaintance?— Susan, Columbus, Ohio

A: Hi, Susan. What you’re talking about is called a fee-only financial planner (or fee-only financial adviser).  And, although they’re not nearly as common as planners who get a commission for the financial products they sell to you, there are enough of them out there that you should be able to find one in your area. 

The easiest way to find one is to go to the Web site of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors,, and plug in your ZIP code.  All the planners in this database are fee-only. 

As for finding someone who is not an acquaintance, I’m mixed.  The unfortunate thing about fee-only advisors is that there may be only one or two in your town. 

If the better of the two happens to be an acquaintance I’d probably go with him or her — but only after I had a sit-down and was comfortable with the dialogue.  If the person was a friend rather than an acquaintance, I’d probably drive a few towns away to find someone else.  You don’t want to be in the position of losing a friend because their mutual fund recommendation tanked.

Q: I recently pulled credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies. I was surprised to see accounts that I don't recall ever having opened. Obviously, the high amount of available credit affects my score.  I have not been able to contact many of these lenders to ask additional information or to close the account.  How can I find a way to reach them?— Brent, Las Vegas, Nev.

A: Hi, Brent. The three credit bureaus should be able to help you.  I’m assuming you’ve contacted the bureaus to let them know that there may be a problem in your file and that these accounts are not yours.  That’s step one.

Step two is to figure out if you’ve been a victim of identity theft (which unfortunately could be the case) or if someone else’s information has simply been co-mingled into your account. (You don’t indicate whether these accounts have been sent to you for payment, are dormant or whether they are being used independently, all of which could be clues as to their status.)

In order to get to the bottom of it, you’re right — you need to get in touch with the creditors.  I’d start by using the Internet to try to track down the addresses and 800-numbers for these lenders.  If you don’t succeed, call the customer service hotline or, even better, call the fraud hotline at the bureaus — all three credit bureaus maintain separate lines for cases of fraud — and hold on until you get a live person to help you. 

If they give you a hard time, point out that they gathered the information directly from these creditors, so they should of course have contact information available.  If the first person you talk to can’t help you, ask for a supervisor and work your way up the food chain until you find someone who can. 

Good luck!

Q: My husband and I both have significant student loans. We both consolidated prior to marriage, but now that we are married, can we consolidate our loans again together? What are the pros and cons? Tessa, Queens, N.Y.

A: Hi, Tessa. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I’m sorry — you can’t.  Consolidation is a one-time-only option and you and your husband have both used your one time.  Keep an eye on the papers, though.  I’m starting to hear whispers about making consolidation available more than once.  With interest rates at historic lows, that’s something many, many borrowers would be interested in hearing about.

Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for “Today,” editor-at-large at Money magazine and the author of “Talking Money: Everything You Need to Know About Your Finances and Your Future.” Her latest book, "Pay It Down: From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day," is now in bookstores. Copyright ©2005. For more information, go to her Web site, .