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It's a new year, and, if you're like many people, you've made some New Year's resolutions. Maybe you've decided to visit the gym more often. Maybe you're going to become better informed on current events. Or maybe you're just going to take more time to enjoy life. All of these are admirable and worthwhile objectives, but they probably won't help you achieve your long-term goals, such as a comfortable retirement. And that's why you might want to add one more resolution: Get quality financial advice in 2003.

Of course, if you already rely on a qualified financial professional, and you're satisfied with the help you're receiving, then you probably won't need to make any changes this year. But if you're not working with someone, then now is the time to start.

In an age of financial Web sites, financial news programs and financial publications, why is it so important to seek face-to-face assistance from an investment professional? Can't you get all the information and recommendations you need from a variety of media?

To understand why these other sources are no substitute for personal interaction with an experienced financial professional, you need only consider two events of the past couple of years: the series of corporate accounting scandals and the long bear market.

These stories grabbed headlines and shook investor confidence in the financial sector. And yet, people did not lose faith in their individual advisers. In fact, 85 percent of respondents were "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with the services of their own financial professionals, according to a 2002 survey conducted by the Securities Industry Association, an organization representing more than 600 securities firms.

Why do people maintain faith in their investment representatives in good times and bad? Just consider what financial professionals offer:

· Appropriate recommendations - You can find "hot investment tips" on the Internet, on television and in magazines. But what good are these tips if they aren't right for you? A qualified investment professional will only make recommendations based on your tolerance for risk, investment preferences and long-term goals.

· Diversification strategies - Diversification is one of the most important factors in effective investing. By spreading your investment dollars among a variety of asset classes - stocks, mutual funds, bonds, government securities and money market accounts - you help to reduce your overall risk level and increase your chances for success.

· Portfolio reviews - Over time, your life will change in many ways. When you're first starting out, you might just want to save enough money to make a down payment on a house. Later on, you'll want to send your kids to college. Still later, you'll want to manage your assets in retirement. And at each of these stages, your investment needs will be different. A financial professional can help you review your portfolio at regular intervals to make sure you're on track toward meeting your goals.

As you can see, a qualified financial professional can help you in many ways. How do you find one that's right for you? Start by asking your friends and relatives whom they use. Then, interview a number of professionals to see if their style and investment philosophy suits your needs. Don't be afraid to ask as many questions as you want - and make sure you know how a prospective financial professional gets paid.

Start 2003 off right by committing yourself to finding a suitable, capable investment representative. By fulfilling this one New Year's resolution, you can reap the rewards for decades to come.


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