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I’m 56 and plan to retire at 62. I’ll have both a state retirement plan and Social Security — but I also have a child starting college, which I want to pay for. Do I need professional help?

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Question: I’m 56 years old and working for a state university, so I will have a state retirement plan. I previously worked full time and contributed to Social Security for 20 years. I still work part time and contribute to Social Security. I’m planning to retire in six years when I’m 62, and I have recently started working with a large bank, but I’m not happy with their services. I have one child starting college this year and I need to know if I should hire a financial adviser and how they might be able to help me navigate paying for college. (Looking for a financial adviser too? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.)

Answer: Juggling retirement and college tuition is often stressful. Hiring a financial adviser is certainly worth looking into — especially because many advisers will provide a no-charge consultation to see if they can help you and if they’re a good a fit. That said, hiring the right one is essential, and you may not need one at all. Here’s what you need to know.

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First, let’s explore what a financial adviser might be able to help you with, and how to find a good one. In addition to investment and retirement guidance, many of them can help explore how much and in what ways you might pay for college. (Remember: If you aren’t fully prepared to fund your own retirement, you will want to limit the amount you pay for college; your child can get student loans.) 

Have an issue with your financial adviser or looking to hire a new one? Email picks@marketwatch.com.

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“Since you’ve waited until right before the start of college to do your planning, your options are limited. You’ll want to figure out your budget, determine how much comes out of your savings each year, figure out if you’re eligible for any education tax credits and decide whether to borrow money for college and if so, how much,” says certified financial planner Ann Garcia, author of How To Pay for College. Those are things an adviser can assist with, if you go that route. (Looking for a financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.)

An adviser can also look at how best to add to and shore up the retirement savings you do have — while balancing your desire to pay for college. What’s more, “they may be able to help uncover things which you may not have been aware of or opportunities such as 403(b) programs and the effect of a public service retirement on your Social Security benefits such as the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), if it applies to you,” adds certified financial planner Joshua Flatley of X Vector. (WEP changes the way Social Security benefits are calculated and can reduce one’s retirement or disability benefits if they receive a pension.)

Additionally, a good financial adviser will look into the impact of your retirement plan, state pension and Social Security on your taxes and “utilize strategies to minimize the amount of lifetime tax paid, as well as position your retirement plan to generate the desired amount of income in retirement,” says Ivan Havrylyan, certified financial planner at Orbit Financial Planning. 

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So how do you find the right adviser?  First, you’ll want to be sure you’re working with an adviser who has experience helping families navigate paying for college, says certified financial planner Jason Siperstein of Eliot Rose Wealth Management — as well as extensive experience in retirement planning. Some advisers list their areas of expertise or specialty focus on their websites, but if you don’t see it spelled out for you, it’s okay to ask them about their experience with certain issues. You can also ask for references and speak to actual people they’ve helped regarding a specific topic. 

Here are the 15 questions you should ask any adviser you might want to hire, and how to vet the person as well. Consider looking at the networks National Association of Personal Finance Planners (NAPFA), Garrett Planning Network and XY Planning Network to find advisers who have credible designations. (Looking for a financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.)

What’s more, while many advisers work under the assets-under-management model, charging you a percentage of your assets to manage your investments for you, in your case, you may want to consider another type of advisers. Indeed, consider an advice-only financial planner, who will charge you a fixed hourly rate or fixed project rate to advise you on paying for college and preparing for retirement in 6 years. “The advice-only planner will never seek to manage your investment portfolio, and they will just focus on planning and actionable advice without selling you products or investment management services,” says certified financial planner Kaleb Paddock of Ten Talents Financial Planning.

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If you’re interested in saving even more money, you may be able to avoid an adviser altogether. Investor.gov offers free financial planning tools, edX offers a free self-structured college course, Ramsey Solutions has a $129 course with a 14-day free trial that provides money management apps and a community forum and the non-profit organization Khan Academy offers 9 free personal financial courses.

The advice, recommendations or rankings expressed in this article are those of MarketWatch Picks, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by our commercial partners.

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