Nowadays, you can find many people who call themselves “financial planners” or “retirement advisers.” Unfortunately, there aren’t consistent definitions and professional requirements for these common terms, unlike the situation with professionals such as doctors, dentists, accountants, or lawyers.

Another problem is that many people confuse investment advice with retirement planning. While investing can be an important part of your retirement plan, there are other decisions you’ll need to make that don’t involve investing, yet can have a greater impact on your retirement security.

Before you begin working with a retirement adviser, be clear about the retirement decisions you’ll need help with, such as deciding when to retire, when to claim Social Security, and how to deploy your savings to generate retirement income. Then look for advisers who have training and credentials in the critical areas you need help with.

There’s a significant difference between types of credentials

When you’re searching for the right adviser, you’ll likely encounter a confusing alphabet soup of credentials after their names. For example, the website of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) lists more that 250 financial designations that often carry impressive-looking, alphabetical credentials.

It’s important to understand that not all credentials are created the same. You’ll want to look for advisers with professional credentials that require extensive study and tests, a minimum amount of relevant experience, and ongoing continuing education requirements. Examples of such credentials that indicate a basic foundational knowledge of financial planning and investments include Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).

However, these professional designations place much of their focus on investing and accumulating money for retirement. As a result, you’ll also want to look for credentials that require study and experience with the decisions that are important for pre-retirees and retirees. Examples of such credentials include Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP), Retirement Management Advisor (RMA), and Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC).

Understand that there’s an important difference between the professional credentials listed above vs. being registered or licensed to sell insurance or investment products. These latter credentials often include the word “registered” and usually have less stringent requirements than professional credentials do.

Watch out for meaningless credentials

One more thing to understand: There can be some impressive-looking credentials or titles that mean absolutely nothing. Consider the story of Allan Roth, the well-respected writer and financial adviser. Roth’s dog Max Tailwager possessed a crystal plaque from the Consumers’ Research Council of America that identified him as one of America’s Top Financial Planners. That’s impressive—until you learn that all Max had to do was wag his tail to convince Roth to use his credit card to pay for the plaque!

One last check: FINRA’s website offers a database of advisers where you can learn about the credentials of a potential adviser and see if they have any disciplinary actions against them.

In addition to determining the training and credentials of a potential adviser, you’ll also want to ask about their real-world experience working with pre-retirees and retirees with circumstances similar to yours. Ask for references from clients like you.

Of course, there are other qualities you’ll want to look for when hiring a retirement adviser, including how they’re paid and whether they’ll act as a fiduciary on your behalf. Be sure your research is thorough before you start working with an adviser.