Americans looking to figure out just where they stand financially don’t necessarily need to hire a pricey financial planner -- not when there are a slew of no-cost financial planning software models that give you the financial equivalent of a health check-up and a prescription for what to do next.

A caveat though … we're simply talking the basics here. For any complicated personal financial planning moves, like crafting an estate plan, allocating investment assets, or handling an inheritance, using a savvy financial professional is still the best way to go.

But to give yourself a financial check-up and to see where you are on the path to your long-term financial goals, there’s a fairly abundant menu of online, financial planning software options that can get the job done for free.

Sites like CNN Money, Financial Engines, or eFinPLAN all offer free financial health “check-ups”(the latter costs $98 per year, but you can do the financial check-up and then cancel the subscription).

However, before using these sites, know how to use them and what to expect.

For example, each site will expect you to have your financial documents in order, to properly run you through your financial physical. Free sites like those aforementioned are fairly comprehensive and will make a complete and thorough review of your personal financial picture, including your household budget, your debt, your investment portfolio, college planning, home mortgage, health care costs and any state planning programs you’ve started.

Once you’ve accumulated your vital personal financial data, expect most financial planning software check-up packages to ask for the following data

• Annual income
• Annual expenses (estimated)
• Amount of money saved
• Total debt
• Amount of investment assets
• Expected expenses (like college payments for your teen-age daughter)
• Expected income (that could include income if your spouse goes back to work, or income from a real estate investment)

The software should use that data to estimate some key financial metrics, like cash flow (are you spending more money than you’re earning), compound interest (how is your 401k doing), disposable income (the cash you have left after paying your taxes), and discretionary income (the amount of money you have left after paying your bills).

A good financial check-up will also direct you to save a certain amount of “emergency” funds in case of a layoff, health issue, or other calamity.

So afterwards, what’s the best bet? Once you have acquired your free, personalized financial check-up report, bring it to a trusted and reputable financial planner who should know exactly how to use the report’s information to quickly and effectively help you meet your financial goals.

Knowing where you stand financially … well, as the commercial says ... "that’s priceless."

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