Deciding you’re ready to consult with a financial advisor is a first and important step in reaching your financial goals — but finding the right professional for your needs takes some time and effort, starting with a closer look at what you need, exactly.
A financial advisor can do many things. Generally, they examine a client’s current financial picture, from debt to savings and investments; discuss financial goals (whether retirement, saving for college, or another goal); and create a plan to help the client get there.
Some financial professionals simply offer guidance or a basic plan; others may completely manage a client’s portfolio, while others may offer services that fall somewhere in between. Finding the right person hinges on whether their services match your needs, whether their cost structure makes sense, in addition to other considerations.
Benefits of Using a Financial Advisor
Financial advisors can help their clients create a financial plan that allows them to save and invest for future goals while still meeting the obligations of today. In other words, they can help craft a comprehensive plan to guide people through multiple stages of life in a way that dovetails with their unique goals. Typically, the plan has some degree of personalization.
Plus, advisors can help their clients stay the course, saving and investing for the long term. Creating a financial plan is a key step, but then it’s crucial to stick with the plan. This isn’t always easy when, for example, the market is volatile and emotions are triggered. But that’s when an experienced advisor may come in handy; they can provide perspective and help clients stay focused.
Some financial advisors help clients to become more financial savvy. Some may make trades for their clients, while many monitor investments made to help ensure that a client’s portfolio is on track. Some help with tax issues as well, e.g. whether to use a strategy like tax-loss harvesting, and more complex financial matters like estate planning.
By looking at these benefits, which seem most important to you? Sometimes making a list of requirements can be helping when trying to find a financial advisor. Under some circumstances you may even want to consider hiring a wealth advisor.
Seeking an Advisor
Next step in finding an advisor is to obtain some recommendations. To get a list of advisors to consider:
Friends and Family Recommendations
• Ask friends and family if they’ve used or are using an advisor. If so, what services are they receiving? How happy are they? Are there any concerns about any of the advisors they’re using? Ideally you want to take recs from people in similar circumstances to your own.
• Do the same with business colleagues, or people who belong to the same organizations that you do.
By looking at the websites of these advisors, do they seem like a potential match?
Another option when seeking an advisor is to consult industry associations and trade groups.
• The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors website (NAPFA focuses on fee-only financial planners).
• Financial Planning Association. Advisors in this network are CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERS™ (CFP®s) and you can search by location, area of specialty, how they’re paid and any asset minimums that may exist.
• Garrett Planning Network. All advisors in this network charge hourly.
Finding the Right Fit
Just as you wouldn’t buy the first car you test-drove, or the first pair of shoes you tried on, you don’t have to commit to working with the first financial planner you talk to. Many advisors offer a free consultation so you can find out more about them. While the selection process does take a little extra time, it’s worth investing that time for your future.
Questions to Consider
Some people may find that the same names keep cropping up when asking for recommendations and exploring online sites. It can therefore make sense to create a short list of financial advisors from those findings and explore those options in more depth.
Questions to ask those advisors can include:
• What specific services do you offer?
• What processes do you use to create a plan for me?
• What qualifications do you have?
• How often would we meet or otherwise communicate?
• What is your overall investment philosophy?
If you’re a beginning investor, it can help to ask about the financial advisor’s experience in getting new people started with planning and investing in a basic portfolio.
Another key question: is a financial advisor a fiduciary? If so, the advisor must work in the best interests of a client and either disclose conflicts of interest or avoid them. If an advisor is not a fiduciary, he or she is required only to make recommendations that are considered suitable.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor tried to mandate that all financial advisors needed to follow a fiduciary standard with retirement accounts. But in 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court overruled the standard. Although this issue may be revisited, for now, investors who want a fiduciary must find out what standard a particular financial advisor follows.
Advisors who follow a fee-based payment structure are, by definition, fiduciaries. Those who get paid a commission when clients make certain investments may or may not be. When an advisor isn’t a fiduciary, they might recommend investments because they’re right for the client, but they could also be recommended because the advisor gets paid a commission.
Also, when comparing advisors, what will services for each of them cost?
Common Financial Advisor Charges
Financial advisors’ fees can be structured in a number of ways, and what you pay for a financial advisor depends on a number of factors. In general, financial advisors are either paid a flat fee (such as a retainer or a fee-for-services), commissions on products and investments they sell you (such as insurances and/or mutual funds), or a hybrid.
Some advisors charge fixed retainer fees, due monthly, quarterly, or annually. The fees can range significantly; annually, the low end may be $2,000, with the high end at $7,500. Investors can ask an advisor to explain what they get for paying the retainer.
In this scenario, advisors get paid based on the products they sell to clients. Some advisors may receive a percentage of the assets of a client before the investments are made. Others can be paid by a financial institution after the transaction has occurred, while others may charge clients each time that a stock is bought or sold.
This can be a percentage of the assets being managed by the financial advisor. Generally speaking, paying 1% annually is reasonable under this structure when including both the fees of a financial advisor and any investment fees. When considering an advisor who charges these fees, it can make sense to ask for a breakdown and the reasoning behind the fee structure.
This could be an upfront fee for a financial plan or for ongoing advice. There can also be a subscription-based fee structure, similar to a retainer. Fees for these services vary widely, so be sure to ask what your all-in costs would be when working with any advisor.
This would involve a straight hourly fee for services provided. For example, setting up your retirement portfolio might cost $X, while setting up a 529 college savings plan for your kids might cost $Y.
Robo Advising vs Financial Advisors
It may also make sense to consider an online robo-advisor, or automated investing platform. This is an algorithm-driven digital platform that provides clients with basic financial guidance and pre-set portfolio options.
First, the investor responds to a questionnaire by inputting their goals and time horizon. Typical questions may also include risk tolerance. (Here’s a helpful risk tolerance quiz.)
Based on the investor’s preferences, the technology on the backend comes up with a basic plan and a recommended portfolio option (e.g. one that’s more aggressive or more conservative).
Because most automated portfolios are built with low-cost index or exchange-traded funds (ETFs), these services are considered efficient and low cost compared with using a human advisor.
Robo portfolios often involve an annual fee, perhaps 0.25% to 1% of the account balance. In some instances, a robo advisor may charge a small monthly dollar amount for lower balances, e.g. $4 per month, instead of a percentage. Remember, these costs are in addition to the fees for the underlying funds in your portfolio.
Automated investing platforms may not be the right choice for people who need advice for complex financial situations, such as tax planning. It also wouldn’t fit the needs of investors who simply prefer to sit down with a human advisor, of course.
Just like with human advisors, different robo advisor programs offer different services. So if the idea of robo advising sounds appealing, it can help to check more than one option.
Free Financial Advice
Some companies offer complimentary financial advice for their customers. In some cases this feature is only offered if your account balance is high enough. But even though an advisory service might be touted as ‘no cost’, remember that different investment products always come with a fee, such as an expense ratio. Topics discussed can include how to:
• Set and reach financial goals, based on the current financial landscape.
• Create a budget and practice good spending habits.
• Leverage debt strategically by balancing repayment of debt with saving for long-term goals.
• Build an emergency fund and save for the future.
• Create an investment strategy that dovetails with personal risk tolerance and goals.
Deciding to work with a financial advisor is an exciting step toward taking control of your financial future. Finding the right person, however, takes time and diligence. Financial advisors can come with a range of qualifications and specialties. The services they offer and the fees they charge also vary.
Fortunately, there are a number of organizations that can help you do a search for someone who is the right fit. And you can also consider taking a more tech-driven route and using a robo-advisor.
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