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Looking for a financial planner? Help is out there

Q. I would like to find a reputable financial planner. I am looking for advice on long-term financial planning, including investments, retirement and tax planning. I am interested in a fee-for-service arrangement. I don't want a broker. The Yellow Pages are full of financial advisers but I don't know anything about their reputations. Also, is it possible for you to recommend a list of financial advisers?

A. The method of compensation is just one factor to consider in choosing a financial adviser. You also want to look at a person's qualifications, the services offered and the basic approach he or she takes to financial planning.

You can get names of fee-only financial advisers through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors on the World Wide Web (http://napfa.org) or by calling (888) 333-6659. Another possibility is to look for a Certified Public Accountant who has earned the PFS designation, which stands for personal financial specialist. You can get referrals on the Web (http://www.cpapfs.org) or by calling (888) 999-9256. In addition, you might ask for referrals from any lawyers or accountants you know who work in related fields such as taxes, estate planning and employee benefits.

The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards offers two free booklets: "What You Should Know About Financial Planning" and "Questions to Ask When Choosing a Financial Planner." Call (888) 237-6275 or visit the group's Web site (http://www.CFP-Board.org).

If the adviser is a CFP, you also can call that number to check on his or her disciplinary history. Another place to check for disciplinary action or complaints is the Florida Division of Securities at (800) 848-3792.

Q. Is there any chance you could explain the capital gains tax in simple terms? I sent for the IRS instructions and they make no sense. I would like to sell stock worth about $70,000, but I have no idea what the rules are and it seems no one else does either.

A. The rules are still complicated, but not as complicated as they were for 1997 tax returns, when some transitional rules applied.

Here's how the tax works now: If your holding period is 12 months or less, your gain will be taxed at your regular income tax rate. Beyond that, gains are divided into two categories: mid-term gains for holding periods between 12 and 18 months and long-term gains for holding periods longer than 18 months. Mid-term gains are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate, capped at 28 percent. Long-term gains are taxed at 10 percent if you are in the 15 percent tax bracket and 20 percent if you are in a higher tax bracket.

That's the simplest that I can make it.

Q. As a new subscriber to the Times, I find some of the stocks I own are omitted from any regular daily listing for the New York Stock Exchange. It would be most helpful if these stocks received a daily listing.

A. Unfortunately, there are more stocks and mutual funds than we have room to list in the Times. Stocks are listed based on their daily trading volume. If your stocks are among the 1,919 most active in daily trading on the New York Stock Exchange, they will be listed.

The proliferation of stocks and mutual funds is one of the main reasons the Times offers stock quotes over its free TimesLine 24-hour telephone information service. If you have a Touch-Tone phone and know the ticker symbol for your stock, you can get a quote any time. Instructions on using TimesLine to get stock quotes run weekdays in the business section.

Online money map

Want to know about how much you need to save for retirement? One place you can get an answer to that question is the American Savings Education Council (http://www.asec.org), which publishes both online and print versions of its "Ballpark Estimate" form. A copy also can be obtained by sending a request with a self-addressed envelope with 78 cents postage to ASEC Savings Education Brochures, American Savings Education Council, Suite 600, 2121 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20037-1896.

_ Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, send it to On Money. We'll try to answer questions we think are of greatest reader interest. All questions must be submitted in writing, but readers' names will not be published. Send questions to Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or to huntleysptimes.com by electronic mail.

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