You Don’t Need a “Sexy” Financial or Investment Plan.
Wall Street and big investment companies make investors think that the private market of products and services, that the average investor does not have access too, are the keys to financial success. While it is true that high net worth individuals can access more complex strategies, it does not mean that private offerings are the right fit for everyone. This is especially true if you are just starting out.
This misconception, that financial planning and investment advice is only as good as it is “sexy,” is not true. The truth is, you do need a fancy strategy or product to reach your financial goals. Here is how.
Don’t overthink your finances – work on the non-sexy basics and start building a foundation.
Start with writing down your goals. What goals do you want to achieve and when do you want to achieve them? “…people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals…” – Forbes. Once your goals are written, decide how you are going to keep yourself accountable. Start by setting a small goal and accomplishing it before you start on the next.
The simpler the strategies you employ, the more likely you are to continue doing them. It is much easier to control your financial destiny if you work on creating good habits and then consistently build wealth over time. It isn’t an exciting way to get rich, but it is the easiest way to make sure it happens.
Financial planning and investing strategies are best when they are simple – not sexy.
Simple planning and investing advice that is true:
- Spend less than you earn.
- Save 10-20% of your earnings.
- Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.
- Set up automatic savings and debt payments.
- Anything that sounds too good to be true – is.
- Don’t make investing more complicated than it needs to be.
Investing in the stock market is confusing enough – don’t make it complicated.
“The number of mutual funds and ETFs in the U.S. now stands at more than 10,000, 10% higher than it was in 2013, according to the latest data from Morningstar…” – Forbes
A couple of low cost and diversified funds is all you really need.
The 3-fund portfolio theory is a strategy where you buy just three funds that account for most of the investable universe at a very low cost. The 3-fund portfolio would typically include these three funds: Total US Stock Market, Total International Stock Market, and Total US Bond Market. Each is diversified and covers a major market sector, and you can get them all for close to a 0% expense ratio. If you deploy this strategy, you will have to choose the percentage you want to invest in each of these funds based on your risk and time horizon and then rebalance them at least annually.
Another simple option is a Target Date or Lifecycle fund.
These funds are great for many investors who want to pay a little more to have the fund completely manage itself – a set it and forget it option. These types of funds have a fixed or decreasing asset allocation, mix of stocks and bonds, to which the fund automatically rebalances. They also cover all the funds of the 3-fund portfolio, so they are very diversified. Target date and Lifecycle funds are a simple, 1 fund, option to get you started with investing at a very low cost.
You do not want to invest money that you will need in the short term.
Before you invest any money, make sure you have an emergency fund and keep cash set aside for anything happening in the next 0-2 years.
Hiring a financial planner or investment manager becomes necessary as your life becomes more complicated.
“A 2014 survey by Charles Schwab found that most of us spend twice as much time choosing a car as we do choosing investments that are supposed to support us for years.” – NYT
As life becomes more complicated, you end up having less time and brainpower to keep up with the growing complexities in your financial life. This is when you know it is time to outsource the job.
While you can do many of the steps above on your own, at some point, you will need help.
Get an objective third party to review your plan and give you a financial roadmap. Significant life events or transitions are great times to have a CFP® confirm that you are covered for the future.
These are great reasons to reach out for help:
- Having kids
- Buying a home
- Move to a lower-paying job
- Staying at home with a new child
- Retiring or planning to retire
- Making a Life Insurance or Annuity purchase
- Starting to feel like you’ve reached the limit of your knowledge
If you need help creating your financial strategy, or want someone to keep you accountable to your goals, we can help.
Alicia Butera, CFP® is a Financial Planner for Planning Within Reach, LLC (PWR) located in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA. She is the Director of Financial Planning and Marketing for PWR. Alicia manages the financial planning process from start to finish with her clients, answering their questions and providing them guidance. Alicia has 8 years of experience in wealth management and works virtually with clients all over the US.
Planning Within Reach, LLC (PWR) is a fee-only and fiduciary wealth management firm offering one-time comprehensive financial planning, ongoing impact-focused investment management and tax preparation services in San Diego, CA. PWR is a virtual firm that is woman-owned and serves busy families and impact investors. Planning Within Reach, LLC and their advisors never receive any type of commissions for sales and does not have any insurance licenses or brokerage relationships.
Dear Financial Planner, Can I get a Reference?
No, we can not give you a reference.There has been this misconception that advisors can provide references, but this is not the case. While for us advisors, this makes our job of getting new clients harder, especially for those of us who pride ourselves on providing top notch service, this rule does come with a valid reason.
Let’s start with what the rule is.The Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Commission” or “SEC”) regulates investment advisers, primarily under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”). The Advisers Act “…generally defines an “investment adviser” as any person or firm that: (1) for compensation; (2) is engaged in the business of; (3) providing advice, making recommendations, issuing reports, or furnishing analyses on securities, either directly or through publications.” “Subsection (a)(1) of the Advertising Rule provides that it shall constitute a fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative act, practice, or course of business to, directly or indirectly, publish, circulate or distribute any advertisement that refers, directly or indirectly, to any testimonial of any kind concerning the adviser or concerning any advice, analysis, report or other rendered service. . . . such advertisements are misleading; by their very nature they emphasize the comments and activities favorable to the investment adviser and ignore those which are unfavorable.”
Why is this in your best interest?The SEC enforces this rule on investment advisors because they do not want one good experience of a client to be marketed as the sentiment of all the clients of that advisor. When you ask for a reference from an advisor, are they going to send you to someone who had a bad experience with them or a good one? Of course, they will give you the name of someone who is a cheerleader for them and their firm. The SEC does not want advisors to be able to tout their good experiences without advisors sharing the bad ones as well, so they do not allow advisors to use client referrals. A reference is considered a testimonial since the advisor would first be able to vet who the reference is, which allows them to choose someone who they know had a good experience and will say good things. Also, your advisor should not give out a reference because it breaks confidentiality with their client. Clients of advisory firms have a right to privacy and confidentiality and unless it is previously discussed with a client, an advisor should not share any contact information or details about their clients with anyone. Instead of asking for a reference you might want to ask your future advisor if they have had any complaints from previous clients and what they did to remedy their client. You can use the SEC search or BrokerCheck websites to find any discourse or suspensions for advisors you are currently looking to work with. If you find an advisor who is going to give you a reference, ask them how they do business and who they are regulated by. You might find out this is not someone you want to work with.
Finding and giving advisor referrals.You can still find referrals for advisors in your general network, on Yelp, or other social media profiles. The SEC does allow clients to post their experiences on the internet as long as the advisor has no ability to edit, hide, or delete unfavorable posts. Advisors should have no control over the content that is posted about them on third-party independent websites. “An investment adviser’s or IAR’s own social media profile or account that is used for business purposes is not an “independent social media site.” So, if you would like to leave a review, do not post it on the personal social media pages of the advisor or they will likely have to take it down. Your advisor should not draft your review for you or post it on your behalf. If you would like to review your advisor it needs to solely come from you. Also, your advisor should never provide you compensation for giving them a review.
Trust in your own experience.So, when you call an advisor and directly ask for a referral, they should not give you one, but you can still find them on your own. Just remember, this rule was instituted to benefit the consumer, not the advisor. The SEC’s goal was to help the consumers to not get sold bad advice based on one client’s favorable experience. Consider this when you are looking for reviews of an advisor. There are so many different types of advisors who sell different products, have different services, charge differently, and work differently. You have to find the best fit for you which might not be the best fit for someone else. In the end, you should always make sure you trust your advisor and poke holes in any good reviews you find. You should not trust a testimonial or one client’s good comments but instead, trust your own experience. There are many questionnaires you can find online that will help you ask potential advisors why you should work with them, which can act as a guide to making your own judgment. You should always look for someone who is a CFP®, fee-only and a fiduciary. Let your own opinions, not the opinions of others, direct who you want to work with. Sources: https://www.sec.gov/divisions/investment/iaregulation/memoia.htm https://www.sec.gov/investment/im-guidance-2014-04.pdf Alicia Butera, CFP® is a Financial Planner for Planning Within Reach, LLC (PWR) located in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA. She is the Director of Financial Planning and Marketing for PWR. Alicia manages the financial planning process from start to finish with her clients, answering their questions and providing them guidance. Alicia has 8 years of experience in wealth management and works virtually with clients all over the US. Planning Within Reach, LLC (PWR) is a fee-only and fiduciary wealth management firm offering one-time comprehensive financial planning, ongoing impact-focused investment management and tax preparation services in San Diego, CA. PWR is a virtual firm that is woman-owned and serves busy families and impact investors. Planning Within Reach, LLC and their advisors never receive any type of commissions for sales and does not have any insurance licenses or brokerage relationships.
You Should be Dreading a Tax Refund
It is tax season and the common misconception is that getting a tax refund is a good thing.As per the New York Times, “Americans generally prefer to have too much withheld … Typically, three-quarters of tax filers receive refunds — including last year , when more than 102 million tax filers got money back.” Here is why you need to rewire your thinking and start dreading a tax refund.
What is a tax refund?A tax refund means that you prepaid more taxes than you owe.
What is a withholding?Withholding means that money is sent directly from your paycheck, or in the form of estimated payments, to the federal and state government to pay a portion of your tax bill. In a perfect world, you want your withholding to be exactly the same as the amount of taxes you owe.
Getting a refund is a bad deal financially.You are giving away your money as a free loan to the government. When you get a refund, the government is essentially giving you back money that you have loaned them. Also, they do not pay you any interest on this loan. When you overpay your taxes, you lose out on the opportunity to keep the money that is yours and grow it throughout the year. Do you really want to be loaning the government your money and get no interest in doing it? They keep your money until you file your taxes. You can not get your money back until you file your taxes, proving you are owed a refund, and they deposit or send you a check. You could be waiting over a year to get your money back. The IRS and states assume that you are sending them the right amount until you let them know with your tax return. You could have used this money all year. We have been wired to think that getting a refund is getting free money, but it is not. The refund you get is your money, and you should have had in your pocket all year to save, spend or invest.
Don’t Expect an Excessive Tax Refund for 2018.This year with the promised “tax cuts” to most of the middle class; many individuals are assuming they will be getting a large refund. What wasn’t publicized is that you most likely have been receiving this “tax benefit” all year long, as paycheck withholding rates were updated to match the new tax brackets. So, you effectively have been receiving your tax benefits all year in the form of more money in each paycheck. Therefore, don’t expect a large refund when you go to file.
Make sure your withholding is correct.Use the IRS Withholding Calculator Follow the easy instructions on the withholding calculator to estimate your tax liability for 2019 and get tips on how to fill out your W-4. (See my example below.) You will need to have a paycheck handy to fill out this calculator. Fill out a new W-4 and send it to your payroll department Based on the results of the calculator, use form W-4 to update your withholdings. In the example I did above, you can see that I should fill out a W-4 as “single” and with “1 allowance”. Have a tax preparer run a projection for you If you feel overwhelmed, confused or your situation is more complicated than what the calculator can handle, contact a tax preparer. A tax preparer (CPA or EA) can run a tax projection for you and help you plan your withholdings and tax strategies to implement for 2019 and beyond.
Why withhold at all?The opposite end of the spectrum has consequences as well. You will be subject to penalties and fees if you do not withhold enough taxes from your pay. You are required to have “paid withholding and estimated tax of at least 90% of the tax for the current year or 100% of the tax shown on the return for the prior year, whichever is smaller” to not get hit with a penalty. The rules are different if you earned a very high income or are in specialty fields of work. You can determine how much you will owe in penalties and fees by using form 2210.
For the average taxpayer, the withholding rates do a good job.
- If you have a second job, get untaxed bonuses, are self-employed, have large deductions, etc. your actual tax bill could differ significantly from the standard withholding tables.
- When life changes your W-4 should change. Don’t forget that when you get married or have children, you should also review and update your W-4.
Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/27/us/politics/tax-refund-code-shutdown.html https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tax-withholding-calculator_n_5a999cfee4b0479c0252390bAlicia Butera, CFP® is a Financial Planner for Planning Within Reach, LLC (PWR) located in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA. She is the Director of Financial Planning and Marketing for PWR. Alicia manages the financial planning process from start to finish with her clients, answering their questions and providing them guidance. Alicia has 8 years of experience in wealth management and works virtually with clients all over the US. Planning Within Reach, LLC (PWR) is a fee-only and fiduciary wealth management firm offering one-time comprehensive financial planning, ongoing impact-focused investment management and tax preparation services in San Diego, CA. PWR is a virtual firm that is woman-owned and serves busy families and impact investors. Planning Within Reach, LLC and their advisors never receive any type of commissions for sales and does not have any insurance licenses or brokerage relationships.
The Financial Planning Process
Are you wondering what it looks like to do financial planning with a fee-only and fiduciary financial planner?While each planning firm does things differently, here is how we at Planning Within Reach walk our clients through creating and developing a financial plan.
An Initial CallWe start by understanding your desire to have planning done now and what questions you need answers to. Here we can determine if we are a good fit for each other and if we would work well together. We give you a quote for the cost of your plan on the call.
Financial Goal DiscoveryOnce you move forward, the planning process starts with a discussion about your financial goals. Everyone’s goals are different and that’s why each plan is customized to the client’s particular situation. Examples of goals are; home purchases, planning for babies, saving for retirement, saving money on taxes or even taking a less stressful, but lower paying job, to name a few. We want to know your goals so we make sure your plan incorporates guidance on how to reach them.
Gathering DataWe send a checklist of financial information to collect, that helps us build your comprehensive plan. Things like; insurance declarations, pay-stubs, expenses, estate planning documents, beneficiary designations and more help us to review your entire financial life as a whole and build a plan that encompasses it all.
Creating the Plan RecommendationsPWR does the heavy lifting to crunch numbers and organize your financial data to come up with plan recommendations for you. When we present your plan, we discuss the multiple options you have for achieving your goals and let you decide what feels like the best route to take. Once that route has been set, we give you a one-page prioritized action list of items for you to tackle.
Implementing the PlanOur clients are responsible for implementing the recommendations we give them. We give help and encouragement along the way to keep you accountable and on track with the plan’s action steps. We check in with our clients every four months and throughout the year we are available for any clarifying questions on the advice given in the plan.
Revisiting the PlanLife is constantly changing, so you need your plan to change with you. We recommend reviewing your plan every year or sooner if there is a large life event or change such as an inheritance, job change, or an unexpected bonus. While all of our financial plans follow the same process, no one plan is exactly the same. Financial planning is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach and your financial planner should plan for your specific situation. The best plan is one that you are committed to sticking with, which is why we recommend you work with a fee-only and fiduciary professional to create a custom plan for you. Take action today and contact a planner to help you go through the process of documenting your financial goals and how to achieve them. Alicia Butera, CFP® is a Financial Planner for Planning Within Reach, LLC (PWR) located in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, CA. She is the Director of Financial Planning and Marketing for PWR. Alicia manages the financial planning process from start to finish with her clients, answering their questions and providing them guidance. Alicia has 8 years of experience in wealth management and works virtually with clients all over the US. Planning Within Reach, LLC (PWR) is a fee-only and fiduciary wealth management firm offering one-time comprehensive financial planning, ongoing impact-focused investment management and tax preparation services in San Diego, CA. PWR is a virtual firm that is woman-owned and serves busy families and impact investors. Planning Within Reach, LLC and their advisors never receive any type of commissions for sales and does not have any insurance licenses or brokerage relationships.
Are You Overpaying for Bad Investment Management?
The shortcomings of active management are well-documented, with mounds of evidence that should leave you drawing the conclusion that active investment managers aren’t the secret to financial success.
Seriously. Just pick your source:
- From Financial Times, read how 99 percent of active managers fail to outperform.
- Prefer CNBC? Here’s an article that explains how almost no active manager has beaten the market in the last 15 years.
- Or take this report from Fortune, which points out that the S&P 500, one of your basic index funds, outperformed more than 92% of actively-managed large-cap funds over the last 15 years.
Or skip the news and go straight to mutual fund companies themselves. This report from Vanguard shows that only 18% of the funds that have been around for the last 15 years outperformed their benchmark.
The question may not be so much about whether active managers can outperform the market. The data answers that with a resounding no.
But you still might wonder why this is the case. The answer depends from firm to firm, but by and large active managers go wrong by thinking they know something the rest of the market doesn’t.
Why Active Management So Often Fails
Thinking you have secret or special information that no one else knows about flies in the face of the Efficient Market Hypothesis. That’s the theory that financial markets are efficient ones in which securities are almost always priced correctly according to their value.
That doesn’t mean prices can’t be wrong. It just means that they reflect how the market currently values those securities.
Any time a new piece of information enters the market, prices (on things like stocks and bonds) change to reflect that bit of data. And information flies into the market constantly.
Not only that, but there are millions of market participants just like you out there. There are even some who are much more sophisticated than you are. Don’t take that personally! In this case, it just means that they are professional traders who do this all day long.
They use complicated tech and algorithms to seek out information about the market. When you multiply this by the number of people participating in financial markets, the result is that it’s almost impossible for a single, random individual to know more than the wisdom of the crowds.
Understanding the Wisdom of the Crowds
In fact, there are a few experiments that demonstrate just how powerful our collective, average knowledge is.
One was done by NPR with Penelope the cow (yes, you read that right). Planet Money team members had people guess the weight of a cow at a state fair. Even though there were some outliers in the guesses, with some people guessing really far under the cow’s weight and others guessing incredibly far over…
The average guess, out of over 17,000 people submitting their best estimate, was 1,287 pounds. Penelope’s actual weight was 1,355. That’s just 68 pounds of the exact right answer.
This experiment has been repeated over and over again with jars of jelly beans — and you can do this yourself if you’re curious. Grab a bowl, fill it with tiny candy pieces, and then ask everyone in your office to guess how many candies are in the bowl.
You’ll find that while there are some extreme answers at either end, the average will likely come in very close to the actual number of candies in the jar.
That’s the wisdom of the crowds. It works with cows, it works with jellybeans — and it works with assets in a financial market.
Millions of market participants are all “guessing” the “correct” price of a stock. The stock’s price represents an average of all those assertions, and as it turns out, the average is almost always incredibly close to being spot on.
This is what active managers are up against. They base their actions on the (often incorrect) idea that they know more than the market and all its participants do. This is why a passive investment strategy probably makes far more sense for you and your financial life.
The Advantage of Passive Investment Philosophies
Passive investing is simple and it’s something I regularly preach on my rapidly growing retirement podcast called Stay Wealthy.
Where active managers try to find mispriced securities, passive investment managers build out well-diversified portfolios that represent broad segments of the market.
Passive investment managers don’t believe they have special information that allows them to beat every other market participant to the punch. That means they don’t pick individual stocks nor do they think they know when the next big market fluctuation is going to happen.
The truth is that no one knows when the next big market downturn will happen. We don’t know when the market will hit its peak. People can make predictions and forecasts all they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that no one knows with certainty when these things will happen.
Passive managers don’t try to forecast or guess. They invest for the long term, knowing that historically, the market has always gone up over decades of time (although past performance is never an indicator of future results, no matter what you invest in).
They also know that selling out of the market when things get volatile often leads to worse results than simply riding out the month to month fluctuations and continuing to buy in with dollar cost averaging.
What Does Your Financial Advisor Believe?
One of the questions you need to ask a financial advisor before you work with them is, “what’s your investment philosophy?”
If you run into someone who thinks they know more than the market, you may want to keep looking. Not only are they highly unlikely to underperform, which costs you in potential returns, but they’ll likely charge you a premium for doing so!
Active managers may charge 1 to 2 percent of the assets you have under their management as their fee. That’s on top of the fees and expenses included in the funds they invest your money within, which can bring your total fees up to 2 to 4 percent.
And if they’re not a fiduciary and sell you into investment products loaded with commissions, you could be paying even more.
That’s another advantage of financial advisors who help their clients with investments through passive strategies. Not only do they provide a better return for their clients, but they charge less for their service.
Thanks to innovations in technology — and the fact that index funds are much lower-cost than actively managed mutual funds — a passive investment manager can provide an investment management service for a much lower fee.
That’s critical because even small differences in fees can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars you don’t get in your net return over your investing lifetime.
Before you hire any financial advisor, make sure they are willing to work as your fiduciary 100 percent of the time. They should also be fee-only, meaning they don’t receive any kind of commissions or kickbacks.
You are the only person who pays your advisor, which eliminates conflicts of interest that would exist if they also got paid by mutual fund companies for investing their clients in certain products.
Finally, an advisor should be able to explain their investment philosophy to you. If you don’t feel comfortable with their approach, keep looking.
The One Question to Ask a Financial Advisor
“How do you make money?”
That’s what you should ask a financial advisor before that advisor ever opens their mouth. And if the answer isn’t:
“I’m paid directly by my clients.”
Then you need to run far away, and run screaming the entire time.
In case you think this is a dramatic response, think again. Working with a financial advisor who is compensated by any way that isn’t directly by their clients is a recipe for some very bad financial advice.
Why is an advisor being compensated directly from their client so important? It all boils down to incentives. If a financial advisor isn’t paid directly by their client, then that advisor is paid somehow. Usually, that somehow is via a commission from an insurance company or a big bank pushing a financial product (like an annuity). And, you likely don’t need that financial product.
The problem is that the advisor is working to get paid. That can mean doing a disservice to the person asking for help, for the person seeking genuine financial planning advice.
Would You Take Automobile Maintenance Advice from a Car Salesman?
Don’t believe me? Let’s consider an example: buying and maintaining a car.
Would you take auto maintenance advice from a car salesman? Of course not! Why not? Because the car salesmen’s advice would likely be:
“Buy a new car.”
No matter what question you ask, it’ll be suggested that you buy a new car. That’s because selling cars is how the car salesmen gets paid. The car salesmen doesn’t get paid for giving automobile maintenance advice. In fact, the car salesmen may even give you bad automobile maintenance tips. That’s because the salesman wants you to buy a new car sooner. If the car salesman gives you auto maintenance advice that ends up in your car getting destroyed, then the car salesman has the chance to sell you a car! Giving advice that ends with you buying a new car is good business for the car salesman.
It’s the same for the financial advisor. If the financial advisor only makes money when that advisor sells you a whole life insurance policy, then you buying a whole life insurance is going to be the financial silver bullet that solves all of your money problems. (Of course, you may already know that buying a whole life insurance is not the panacea to solve all your financial problems. In fact, buying an overpriced whole life insurance policy will likely increase your financial problems.)
Free Financial Advice
Perhaps you’re not convinced. After all, financial planning advice can be expensive. And there are a lot of financial advisors out there that are willing to help you for free. So, why not get some free financial advice? Here’s why:
Yes, getting stuff for free is always awesome. But, getting free stuff only really counts if what you’re getting is any good.
- Coupon for free chicken nuggets from Chik-Fil-A? That’s awesome.
- Free lift ticket on your birthday at Big Bear? Completely awesome.
- Free credit score from CreditKarma? Super awesome.
And while there may be such a thing as “free financial advice,” there certainly is not a thing as free financial advice that you actually want to use. If a financial advisor offers advice for free, it’s time to turn around, start screaming, and start running. That’s because free financial advice is usually just a sales pitch for a terrible financial product – be it a whole life insurance policy, over-priced mutual fund, or anything else.
Free “financial advice” is akin to watching an informal. One could make the argument that there are no commercials during an infomercial. But, that would be missing the point. In an infomercial, the entire segment is one big long commercial. And just like in an infomercial, if the products were any good, those products probably wouldn’t need an infomercial to sell. The best products truly speak for themselves.
The Wrong Way for Financial Advisors to Make Money
So, now we know that free financial advice is bogus. If you want to get real financial planning advice, you are going to have to pay for it. If you’ve decided that it does make sense to pay for financial planning, know that there are several ways that a financial advisor can get paid.
Commission for a Selling Something You Probably Don’t Need
The first way an advisor can get paid we’ve already covered. It’s for selling a bad financial product that you probably don’t want. And at the risk of subjecting you to industry jargon, the financial advisor who gets paid for selling stuff is known as a commissioned salesperson. Commissioned salespersons are the folks that you must absolutely run screaming from.
If a financial advisor says they are “fee-based,” it’s also time for running and screaming. Fee-based is a term created by commissioned salespeople to further confuse hard-working Americans. If you hear “fee-based” from a financial advisor, run away. Oh, and while you’re at it, remember to scream.
Here’s one dead giveaway for a financial advisor that you do not to work with: if that financial advisor has an insurance license number. You’ll find this insurance license number on their business card and their e-mail signature, just like the below:
If you see an insurance license number, it’s time to lace up your running shoes and clear your throat. Because you’re about to start running and screaming. On that same note, you can look up an advisor to see if they have licenses to sell investment products. If you see either the:
- Series 63
- Series 66
- Series 6, or
- Series 7
then you know that it’s time to break out your running shoes.
Unfortunately, this area can get complicated. You want an advisor to hold a Series 65. But, you don’t want a 63 or 66. Confusing, right? A series 65 isn’t a license to sell products. It’s a license to give investment advice.
The Right Way for Financial Advisors to Get Paid
While “fee-based” is bad, “fee-only” is great. Fee-only means the advisor only gets paid by their client directly – and not indirectly from a company selling expensive financial products, like an annuity or whole life insurance. The term commission-free can be used interchangeably with the term fee-only.
This brings us full circle to the beginning of this post, when you ask the financial advisor:
“How do you make money?”
A fee-only financial advisor can be paid in several ways.
Hourly Fee-Only Financial Planning
Financial advisors who charge an hourly rate are one type of fee-only financial advisor. This is the same way other professionals operate – such as attorneys.
One great resource for finding fee-only advisors is via the Garrett Planning Network. Hourly financial planning can start at $150/hour. If a financial advisor is a member of the Garrett Planning Network, you know that the financial advisor is getting paid the right way: directly by the client.
Fee-Only Financial Planning via a One-Time Fee
When you pay a one-time financial planning fee (which can start at $1,000 and go up to $10,000 or more), you’re likely working with a fee-only financial advisor. Given the high price, you should be getting a robust financial plan and unbiased financial planning advice. You can find fee-only financial planners who charge a one-time planning fee at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).
Fee-Only Financial Planning for an Ongoing Retainer
The ongoing retainer is my favorite billing model for fee-only financial planners. This is because you get a financial planning professional to maintain your financial plan. This gives you the best chance of achieving your financial goals. The ongoing retainer model works so well because clients aren’t disincentivized to reach out to a financial planner for fear of incurring an additional charge for each question they ask. (This is one challenge of using the hourly model). Moreover, the fee-only financial planner billing on the retainer model stays in the client’s life ideally forever. This means the advisor is able to help the client to accomplish all of their financial To-Do’s. That is not the case with the one-time fee model.) With the other two fee-only models, the advisor gives advice to the client, with the adviser crossing their fingers that the client will actually follow through on their prescribed financial planning
That is not the case with the one-time fee model. With the other two fee-only models, the advisor gives advice to the client. After that, the adviser simply hopes that the client will actually follow through on their prescribed financial planning To-Do’s.
Ongoing retainers can start as low as $99/month. But, the price can go up to several thousand dollars a year. You can find fee-only financial planners working on the retainer model at the XY Planning Network.
Assets Under Management (AUM) Billing
When an advisor charges a percentage of your investment account being managed, that advisor is also a fee-only advisor. However, AUM billing is my least favorite fee-only billing model. This is because AUM billing model still leaves a rather undeniable conflict of interest. This is the incentive to keep your investment portfolio as big as possible, and to grow your portfolio as fast as possible. Fortunately, some savvy consumers are starting to figure this out.
In my days as a fee-only financial planner, I’ve witnessed rather inappropriate strategies in the quest for keeping AUM fees rolling in. This has included taking out loans against an investment portfolio. And you may not need me to tell you that’s a bad idea.
However, for some people, the AUM billing model may be the only option. This may be the case if your budget is simply too tight to make any of the other fee-only billing options possible. Some advisors at NAPFA, Garrett and XY can offer AUM billing.
How is a Financial Advisor Paid?
So, remember, the first thing that you want to ask a financial advisor is:
“How do you make money?”
Now you know that you want a financial advisor to be paid by you directly. And, you’ve got several options for how you can pay that fee-only financial advisor directly:
- For a flat project fee
- For an ongoing retainer
- AUM billing
So, if you ask a fee-only advisor how they are compensated, you can rest assured you’ve found a better advisor when they answer:
“I’m paid by my clients directly.”
One More Question to Ask a Financial Advisor
“Are you a fuduciary?”
OK. I know I titled this blog post, “The One Question to Ask a Financial Advisor,” but there are actually two questions. However, “Two Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor” just isn’t a catchy blog post title.
You want your financial advisor to be a fiduciary. Fiduciary means that the financial advisor is legally required to put you first. A fiduciary acts in your best interest, over their own. Usually, a fee-only financial advisor is also a fiduciary. But, it never hurts to ask the fiduciary question. Of course, if the advisor answers “no” to the fiduciary question, don’t fret. At least, you’ll be getting some good exercise as your run as away from that financial advisor as quickly as possible.
How Much Does a Financial Planner (Advisor) Cost?
So you are ready to get your financial life in order. Great! But one major question looms overhead: how much should you pay for comprehensive planning?
It amazes me how difficult the answer to this question is to find. Most financial advisors don’t list their pricing on their website.
I think the main reason most advisors don’t put prices on their websites is because they want to explain their value first. Another is that every client is different and they don’t know exactly what they will charge until they understand your needs.
Fair enough. But I think you should be able to know roughly what you can expect to pay. Let’s try to get you in the ballpark.
So how much does a financial planner/advisor cost?
Well… It depends. How much help you are looking for?
In order to know what is a reasonable price to pay for financial advice, you need to decide how much advice you are looking for and who you want to implement the recommendations. The range of services offered by a financial adviser can range from a one-time meeting to all-inclusive ongoing planning and investment management. The more advice you are looking for the greater the cost. Additionally, the more service you are looking for, the greater the cost.
When is this a good option?
A one-time meeting works well when you want to address one or two financial questions. Perhaps you want to have your portfolio validated by a professional, discuss cash flow issues, evaluate your student loan repayment options, or make sure you are optimizing your employee benefits. A one-time meeting will give you access to a certified financial planner who can provide you with objective advice.
This can also be a great option if you haven’t worked with a financial advisor before and you want to dip your toe in the water rather than diving in headfirst.
The cost tends to range from $400-$1,000. This typically includes a one to three hour meeting with the advisor as well as follow up with recommendations and actions items for you to complete.
When is this a good option?
Hourly projects or flat fee plans can be a good option when you have more than one or two questions and you are comfortable implementing the recommendations on your own. The planner does the analysis, presents recommendations, and you take it from there.
One caveat here that is really important! Taking a plan home and putting in your nightstand drawer or file cabinet does not count as taking action. If you find that you don’t act, you should increase your engagement with a planner so they are implementing the plan on your behalf. Information does not equal transformation. The whole point of financial planning at its core is to align your money with your life. If you get the plan and don’t execute you have done nothing but make yourself feel like you have done something.
Most certified financial planners will charge based on the project. They typically charge around $150-$300 per hour. Rates will vary depending on the advisors experience, expertise, and competition. The cost of the plan will depend on the scope of the engagement. From what I have seen, comprehensive financial plans range from $1,800-$7,500. Keep in mind if your financial situation is complex, you may pay more than the normal range.
Ongoing Comprehensive Financial Planning
When is this the best option?
Ongoing comprehensive financial planning works well for people who don’t have the time, knowledge, or desire to manage their finances. With this service, your financial planner will guide and coach you through your financial life. Have a financial question, give your adviser a call or email, have them recommend the best course of action, and have them help you implement the recommendations. This option works well for people who want to have ongoing access to a financial planner at a reasonable price.
With ongoing planning, the advisor often takes on the role of your financial guide and provides advice, coaching and accountability. This is truly full service and typically covers most facets of your financial life such as: estate planning, insurance analysis, investment analysis, cash flow/budgeting, employee benefits optimization, tax planning, retirement planning, home affordability analysis, student loan repayment, and college planning.
More and more advisors are offering this type of service with an annual retainer. Some will charge $500-$5,000 upfront for the initial planning phase and then charge the annual fee which is payable monthly or quarterly, fees can range from $2,000 to $25,000 depending on the complexity of your financial needs. Once again, if your financial situation is complex, you may pay more than the normal range.
Some advisors who offer comprehensive planning are including investment management in the annual retainer. This is an interesting shift since it frees the advisor to view your balance sheet as a whole, they aren’t getting paid solely on the investments you placed with them. This may help remove a conflict of interest that exists with fee-only advisers who charge their fee on assets under management is you want to pay down your mortgage or buy a rental property with funds that are currently invested.
Many advisors also offer portfolio management services. For most of the advisors I know, there is a distinction between recommending asset allocations and managing portfolios.
Fees for portfolio management range from 2% to .25% depending on the amount of assets you have managed and how they are managed. There can also be additional fees for trading costs and underlying investments.
Some advisors include comprehensive financial planning and asset management under the assets under management (AUM) fee. This is still the most common type of fee I see charged by registered investment advisors (RIAs). Many of which have investable asset minimums of $500,000 or $1,000,000 to get started. A 1% fee on $1,000,000 means you are charged $10,000 per year.
It is important to understand what you paying for so your expectations are aligned with reality. Some RIAs that charge on AUM will hold themselves our as comprehensive planners when they are really investment managers who do light planning such as running a retirement planning projection. Ask them what their planning process entails and you quickly know what they are truly offering.
Where can you find fee-only financial planners?
XY Planning Network is a good place to find certified financial planners who are working with Gen X and Gen Y. As a group of advisors, they are passionate about bringing financial planning, that was historically reserved for millionaires, to Gen X and Gen Y regardless of net-worth or investable assets.
NAPFA’s find an advisor site is another good place to start your search.
Association of Comprehensive Planners is another great place to search. Especially if you would like your planner to have a solid understanding of taxes.
San Diego Financial Advisors Network: If you want to find a local advisor in the San Diego area who is fee-only, this is a great place to start.
How to Make Your Money Make You Happy
Contrary to popular belief, financial peace and happiness is not brought on by the amount of money you earn, but instead by where we allocate the money that we do keep. When it comes to our finances, there’s a battle that we often face: Do we spend our money on possessions or do we spend it on experiences? And in the end, which will make us happiest?
Research done by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, academics and authors of Happy Money shows that though many fantasies of wealth involve fancy homes, expensive cars and designer wardrobes, the satisfaction that comes with these possessions actually wears off pretty quickly and one left with is a feeling of guilt and a pursuit of the next thing or object to being you happiness.
Instead of focusing on the items and possessions you can accumulate (which tend to lose value immediately after you purchase them), turn your attention to experiences when you’re spending your money. Whether you’re looking for a new vacation spot or trip, a dining event to remember or a basic date to an amusement park or winery, think about the memories you can create, who you’d most enjoy having the experiences with and set a goal of making them happen. According to Dunn and Norton, these experiences translate into more happiness because they’re associated with memories – which typically involve those you love and enjoy spending your time with.
If you’re struggling on where to start, here are 6 ways to gear your spending towards your happiness:
Figure out your values and kick FOMO (fear of missing out) to the curb: Decide what is most important to you about life and money. Is it time with family? Flexibility in work? Freedom to do what you want, when you want? Giving back? Security? Once you know where your priorities lie and you set clear-cut goals around them, you’ll be able to tune out the noise and distractions you likely face on a daily basis from social media, advertisements, and more. Knowing your values makes it easier to say “no” to the “shiny objects” and things that don’t matter and instead direct your dollars towards the things / experiences that are important to you.
Spend money on others: Whether it’s buying a latte for the next person in line at Starbucks, donating to a cause dear to your heart, or purchasing a meaningful gift for a friend or family member; the feelings associated with doing something good for someone else can outweigh the satisfaction of spending money on yourself.
Practice delayed gratification: Think about when you book a vacation. If it’s a couple months into the future, chances are you’re pretty excited about the trip and the potential fun you’re going to have right up until you leave. Who knows if the vacation will actually live up to your expectations, but chances are you are pretty happy thinking about it while waiting to embark. Book your trips now (and a few of them throughout the year if possible), but wait a bit until you actually leave. This will translate into extended periods of happiness.
Choose experiences over possessions: Chances are it’s the times spent with friends, family, out to dinners, on European or tropical vacations, hiking, game nights and more that you’ll look back on to make you happy. When spending your money, keep this in mind. If you are spending it on possessions, try to make them a part of experiences such as playing dress up with your daughter in the new clothes you bought, or using your new laptop to launch a side business pursuing your passion. The experiences tied to the possessions can give more happiness than the possession alone.
Focus on the little things. Instead of saving up for one big trip in the summer, why not take three smaller trips throughout the year? Or instead of quitting your latte habit completely – why not indulge once a week to make it a sweeter experience? The pleasant smaller experiences we have on a more consistent basis can translate into a larger happiness effect in the long term.
Invest in yourself: Consider investing your money in your personal growth. Whether it’s taking guitar or cooking lessons, learning a new language, starting kickboxing or taking improve classes at a local theater, spending your money on personal development will allow you to feel more satisfied and happier in your life as you achieve new milestones and gain new skills.
Mid-Year Financial Check-Up
Can you believe it is already the end of June 2017? Where did the first half of the year go?
Summertime is now in the air. Sun, fun and the sand between your toes have you dreaming of strawberry daiquiris and boating (or maybe that’s just me). However, before you get comfortable in that lounge chair and jump straight into the second half of the year let’s stop and take a minute to reflect.
Halfway through the year is a great time to think about what you have and have not accomplished towards your financial goals. Then, re-plan for the next six months to come. Below I have questions to help you get your financials back in tune.
Think back to when we started 2017
- What were your financial goals in January?
- Are you on track? Have you made progress?
- Did you stick to your savings or a debt-payoff goal?
- Do you have more or less discretionary income than you thought? (Building up a balance in your checking account?)
- How do you feel you did these first six months? Positive? Negative?
After writing the answers to these questions down, think about where you are now versus where you thought you would be today.
Now is a great time to readjust. In the last six months, if you haven’t met your goals, review why not. Have things just come up, out of your control, that ate away at your cash? Did you spend more than you budgeted? What can you do differently?
One idea is, try having “FREE” days. At least once a week. What is a free day you ask? As it sounds, it is a day where you spend no money! For me, when I schedule free days, it helps me to limit my unnecessary purchases. Which in turn, helps me realize how many times I buy silly things that I want in the moment but don’t need. Some months I look back at my credit card I have 10 or more $1-20 purchases, and they add up very quickly. We want to eliminate the unnecessary and unfulfilling random splurges. Put that money towards something satisfying that will bring you long-term joy. The goal on free days is to help yourself realize what you need vs. what you want. It is a one day exercise and challenge I highly recommend.
Now that you have written down what happened in the last six months, and have some ideas on how to financially challenge yourself, let’s plan how you will reach your financial goals in the next six months to come.
Adjustments for the next six months
- Can you increase savings towards the goals you had? How will you?
- Do you have a new goal you need to save too? What is it?
- Is there anything causing you financial stress you can look at reducing in some way?
- What would make you feel financially successful by year end?
- Imagine yourself at the end of 2017, what is your mental picture of financial success?
Now, can you commit to making these changes happen? It is essential that you choose small and bite-size goals at first in this process. Make sure that your goals are not too overwhelming as it defeats the purpose. If you are too strict, you will burn yourself out in a few months, and it won’t last the full six.
Building successful financial habits is like being on a diet. When you are trying to eat healthily, it is always a balance of good food and enough indulgence where eating the good food, most of the time isn’t so bad. Then, after a while, you don’t even want the bad food anymore. That is what we want to accomplish. We want to take small strides to create successful financial habits in the next six months that will hopefully last you a lifetime.
The greatest habit of all is always to be mindful of your money. If you are conscious and aware of your financial situation, you will have full control. It is when you don’t want to think about it or when it isn’t top-of-mind that the train will fall off the tracks. Knowing where you are now and what your goals are, and keeping them top-of-mind, will ultimately make you successful. Awareness and will-power are the true keys to success.
Keep Being Aware
Make a note in your calendar to review our goals every month for the rest of the year. Each month review how you are doing. It might sound like a lot of work, but if you want to make significant progress on your goals it is essential to keep them a priority, so you can make quick adjustments if your plan goes awry.
Also, if you share your goals with others or make them known, you are more likely to stay on track. Try this exercise with a friend or significant other. Keep each other accountable for reaching your version of financial success by the end of 2017.
At the end of 2017, look back at the whole year. How much better did you do in the second half of the year planning versus in the first half?
If writing down and visualizing your goals helped you stick to them, make it an annual plan!
The 10 “Must-Dos” After You Say “I Do”
The 10 “Must-Dos” After You Say “I Do”
Start your marriage with a sound financial foundation…
-By Adam Werner, CFP®, April 12, 2017
Congratulations on the nuptials! In the eyes of your family and friends (and the US Government) the two of you are officially a family! New doors have now opened and it’s important to take the time to ensure you’re headed in the right financial direction. Here are some key things to do in order to save money and create a sound financial foundation for your marriage.
1. Medical Insurance – Who has the better plan?
Generally, you have 30 days to add your spouse to your employer’s health coverage. If you miss this window, then you will have to wait until the next Open Enrollment. Make sure you know the ins and outs of your policies so you understand which person has the better plan and/or the cheaper family plan. Remember that cheaper may not always be better.
2. Other Employer Benefits – Can either of you be added for free or for cheap?
Find out whether your employer offers other benefits to your spouse, such as dental or vision insurance…