THE festive period is often a starting point for making resolutions and embarking on new goals.

Whether it be a diet, job promotion or fitness regime many people start the New Year with good intentions.

However one thing that often gets overlooked is personal finance.

The start of the year is an opportune time to put your finances in order and speak to a professional. By paying a visit to your local Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) they can help you on a range of issues.

The benefits of a good Independen Financial Adviser are as follows:

Impartiality - IFAs offer genuine independence, which means an objective view of your financial arrangements and situation. Thus allowing individuals to make an informed decision.

Advice - It is the responsibility of IFAs to offer clients advice, simplifying jargon and explaining contracts. Emphasis is on good quality advice, rather than commissions and sales.

Choice - Any recommendations are made from the entire market of products. The company is able to deal with all financial product providers, therefore making sure that the contract suits the needs of the individual.

It is important to note that financial advice is not just about investing money, but rather providing long term peace of mind to clients regarding all aspects of financial planning. Pertinent areas include:

pension Provision - In an environment where people are living longer, doubts surround the future of state pensions and the pressure to retire younger means there is greater guidance needed as to the most efficient and appropriate pension arrangement.

Life Cover/ Health Protection - Through illness, injury or death your income might reduce. Would you or your family be able to continue the standard of living that you currently enjoy if one of these scenarios occurred?

Tax Planning - With individual tax burdens increasing on a frequent basis, the need for tax planning in respect of savings, inheritance and pension contributions have increased importance.

Savings/ Investments - Low interest rates combined with tax on savings mean that many bank and building society accounts are barely keeping up with inflation. Perhaps its time to consider an alternative strategy with potential greater capital returns.

So when deciding on those New Year's goals, perhaps it's worth considering a financial health check. It might be the most important resolution you make for 2002.

Richard James is from Research Independent Financial Services, Darlington