As the year end approaches, you may find yourself reflecting on your financial magagement…did it get better or worse this year? And do you have a plan for next year which will get you to where you want to be, financially, this time next year? If you have a student loan, how much can you pay off in 2008? How will you lower your taxes? Or your out-of-pocket medical costs? Can you pay your bills and get started on saving for some big ticket item, maybe even a home?
Some people can develop a solid and effective financial mangement on their own, but others have complicated financial situations, and need help. If you have the time, you can probably learn much of what you need to know to act as your own ﬁnancial advisor. But most people don’t have time or the confidence to play that role solo, especially when the stakes are high (ex: it affects family members).
That’s where a ﬁnancial advisor comes in. A good one can assess your current ﬁnancial situation, help you carve out a ﬁnancial path, and then help you move down that path to help you achieve your life goals.
Mint’s Point of View
Financial advisors aren’t necessarily just for large corporations or the rich. They can help you plan for major expenses, investments, and help you prepare for life altering events like marriage, children, and college. They can help you manage your budget, reﬁnance your mortgage, even lower your taxes.
Seven Steps to Find the Guru for You
If you decide you need a financial planner, you should know where to begin. And you should know how to pick one that will help you save and make more money. So, how do you ﬁnd someone to worry about your money as much as you do?
- Decide what your ﬁnancial situation calls for. Do you need to establish or revisit your retirement plan? Do you want to buy a new car? Or put a down payment on a home? Are you trying to decide between an IRA and a 401k? Your goals can be broad or speciﬁc, long-term or short-term. What progress you have made so far in achieving your goals. Do you have a time table? What stands in your way?
- Decide on a budget for advice, and the way you’d like to pay for it. Some advisors are fee-only; some commission only. Some charge a combination of fee and commission, and others offer salary-based services. Commission-based payments only save money if you keep the same investments for 7 years. Since the average lifespan of mutual fund ownership is 2 years, you’ll end up paying more. If you’re unsure, stick with the fee-based plans.
- Use referrals and the Internet as starting points. Referrals shouldn’t be your deﬁnitive source of information. What works for a friend or colleague might not work for you. Sites like www.wiseradvisor.com and www.myﬁnancialadvice.com provide unbiased, criteria-based searches as opposed to zip code searches.
- After your initial research, make a list of 3-5 ﬁnancial advisors whom you’d like to meet. You can request a Form ADV from each advisor to learn more about them before you meet. That’s a form they must ﬁle with the SEC containing information about their services, fees, investments, business activities, and background information.
- Hold initial interviews with your short-list. And conﬁrm that the initial consultation will be free. They shouldn’t be charging you for an interview; this is their opportunity to sell you on their services. Here are some of the critical questions to ask during the interviews:
- What licenses they hold, in which states
- What services they provide
- Their investment strategy
- How they would prepare and implement your plan
- Who their existing clients are (ask for references)
- The average size of their portfolios
- How their portfolios have performed
- Their fees and/or commission fees
- If they sell ﬁnancial products
- After the interviews, get critical. Did they seem straightforward and honest? Did they listen well and come up with good ideas for your ﬁnancial plan? Did it seem like your situation was uniquely analyzed? Consider how well you got along with the ﬁnancial advisor. Did you sense a rapport?
- Lastly, contact their references and run a background check. Federal and state laws require that brokers, advisors, and forms be licensed and registered with the SEC. Sites like www.sec.gov and www.ﬁnra.org provide databases that allow you to investigate potential advisors. If you’re unsure about independent advisors, go with a major brokerage firm. Use sites like the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (www.napfa.org) to ﬁnd comprehensive question sheets and explanations of credentials.
By following this seven step plan, you’ll give yourself a great gift in the New Year: an expert partner in your quest to achieve some more financial success, goals and peace of mind. It’s a great head start on your New Year’s resolutions.
And we, of course, encourage you to Sign Up Now for Mint.com if you’re going to be looking for a financial planner. We can make it easy for you to get an accurate picture of your financial situation in time for your advisor interviews.