Is Your Financial Advisor Really Working For You? NAPFA Press Release

 

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                Contact:  Benjamin Lewis

                                                                                                                                     Perception, Inc.

                                                                                                                                    (301) 963-7555

 

With a few basic questions, consumers can find out if

their best interests are being protected by their advisor.  

 

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL (April 22, 2009) – As the events of the last several months have made clear, it’s never been more important for consumers to act in their own best interests when working with a financial advisor. Consumers must ask the right questions when selecting an advisor, AND they must keep asking questions on a regular basis.

 

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) has been a vocal advocate for the consumer for more than 25 years and is currently working with other industry organizations, congressional leaders and regulators to encourage increased protection for consumers   However, even if new reforms are put in place, NAPFA encourages consumers to protect themselves by being proactive when establishing or engaging in an ongoing relationship with a financial advisor.

 

Regardless of which advisor is chosen, a consumer needs to ask the following questions:

 

  • Do you work with an independent custodian? Whether your advisor is managing your money or you are the person who signs off on each financial decision, your advisor should not be holding your money. Your money should be held by an independent custodian company. Make sure you know the name of the company; how to contact the company; and your account numbers.  Be sure to open and review your monthly statements and check on the accuracy of any trades and withdrawals in your accounts.

 

  • Will I be able to review all transactions that are made? When you receive your statements, be sure you carefully look at all transactions. Make sure you understand each purchase, sale, deposit and withdrawal and why it was made. If you have a question concerning a transaction, call your advisor immediately. If you aren’t satisfied with the answer you receive, call the custodian directly.

 

  • Will I be able to make checks payable to the custodian?  When making a deposit to your investment account, write the check to the custodian, not to your advisor.  Be careful of advisors who ask that checks to be made out to them.

 

  • Do you require a General Power of Attorney?  The General Power of Attorney document will allow your advisor to remove money from your accounts without your special consent.  Typically a Limited Power of Attorney, which allows the advisor to make trades on your behalf, is preferred.  You may want to discuss your personal situation with an attorney. 

 

  • Can I have copies of statements sent to a family member?  If you don’t understand your statements, tell your advisor to send copies to a family member or another professional who can help you.

 

  • Stay in contact with your advisor. Visit with your advisor at least annually, and stay in contact by e-mail or telephone. If your advisor is vague or evasive, ask for more information. Holding these regular meetings has the added benefit of making sure that you and your advisor are clear about your financial goals, risk tolerance, and investment strategy. In fact, poor communication between client and advisor is a more common source of dissatisfaction than any type of illegal activity.

 

“It is not good enough today to simply judge a financial advisor based on what you read on his or her website or in a brochure. You need to speak with them,” said Diahann W. Lassus, CFP®, CPA/PFS, national chair of NAPFA.  “Advisors who are going to act in your best interests will be forthright and honest about how they operate and will truly act in a fiduciary capacity at all times.”

 

Consumers who are still unsure after talking with an advisor should review the advisor’s Form ADV, which is always available upon request. Additional information about a firm may be found on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Central Registration Depository website at http://www.sec.gov/answers/crd.htm. 

 

To obtain a longer list of questions to ask an advisor, use the Financial Advisor Diagnostic, developed by NAPFA. The Diagnostic is available for free at http://www.napfa.org/tips_tools/index.asp.

 

“Consumers who take the time to ask the right questions and do the necessary research will ultimately become smarter consumers of financial services,” said Ms. Lassus.

 

If you are interested in discussing consumer protection, please contact Benjamin Lewis at (301) 963-7555 or Benjamin.lewis@perceptiononline.com.

 

 

About NAPFA

 

Since 1983, The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) has provided Fee-Only financial planners across the country with some of the strictest guidelines possible for professional competency, comprehensive financial planning, and Fee-Only compensation.  With more than 2,200 members across the country, NAPFA has become the leading professional association in the United States dedicated to the advancement of Fee-Only financial planning.

 

For more information on NAPFA, please visit www.napfa.org.

Ten Things You Can Do Now To Save Taxes in 2009

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Whew!! The 2008 tax season is finally over and we can relax. Well not exactly; this is a great time to prepare for 2009 taxes. A little effort now can help you save in 2009 and will make the process a whole lot smoother. Below are some ideas to help save taxes in 2009.

1. Create a folder for your 2009 tax documents and receipts. Create a file right now, and keep it somewhere convenient, to keep track of all those expenses and donations as they occur.

2. Start going through your old clothes and junk in the garage and donate it to a charity of your choice, if you itemize this can provide a sizable deduction. Remember, keep a log of everything you donate and get a receipt!

3. If you anticipate a substantial change in your 2009 income or if you owed a lot in 2008, now is the time to adjust your withholdings or your estimated payments. There is nothing worse than owing an unexpected $5000 at the end of the year.

4. Maximize your contribution to tax deferred retirement plans. Limits on the 401k, Simple and SEP have all increased this year. If you turned 50 this year you can now make catch-up contributions to your retirement plans including your IRA (assuming you are otherwise qualified).

5. Do you anticipate a decrease in income this year? You may be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA or for a conversion from a Roth IRA to a traditional IRA. The recent drop in the stock market has made conversion to a Roth IRA very appealing. You can pay income taxes on your account now, while the balance is low. Then during retirement, when the market has recovered, you can take tax free withdrawals. In 2009 your AGI must be less than $100,000 to be eligible for a conversion.

6. Will you be paying college expenses sometime soon? If you live in Colorado you can invest the money you will be spending on college expenses in a 529 plan and deduct the contribution from your state income tax. If you have a couple kids in college this can be significant. Don’t worry; you can invest the money in something very safe within the 529 if you are worried about market volatility.

7. If you are a first time homeowner you may be eligible for a 10% credit up to $8000 if you buy a home by December 1, 2009. This is really more like an interest free loan because it must be paid back over 15 years. Additionally, it is subject to income limits. The credit begins to phase-out for joint filers with modified adjusted gross income of $150,000 or more.

8. Are you thinking about buying a new car? You may be able to deduct the sales and local tax if you buy the car this year. This is subject to an income phase out if your adjusted gross income exceeds $125,000. I know they take all the good stuff away from middle class wage earners.

9. If you own a business or work as a consultant, be sure to keep accurate and complete records. Don’t forget to track your mileage, the current deduction for business mileage is $.55 per mile. This is frequently overlooked or understated due to poor record keeping. Additionally, if you work in your home and have a dedicated work area you may want to claim a home office deduction.

10. Take advantage of the drop in the stock market to do some tax harvesting. Tax harvesting is taking advantage of a market decline to sell some of the dogs in your investment portfolio while taking a capital loss or reduced capital gain. Prior to the market drop, the sale of a particular security may have been prohibitive due to capital gains. Now you can take advantage of the drop in the market to clean up your portfolio or do some re-balancing of your asset allocation.

10 Ways to Save Money on Food

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

1. When grocery shopping, select items from the lower shelves, the more expensive items are usually placed at eye level.

2. Stock up when durable goods that you always need go on sale. Don’t buy something you wouldn’t otherwise buy just because it’s on sale.

3. Reduce impulse purchases at the grocery store – go less frequently, make a list and eat before you go. I know, I know, those strawberry shortcake cookies, with the cream filling and chocolate swirls looked so good. But a few days later …… what was I thinking??

4. When comparing prices check the unit price not the total price. You may pay less but you are probably getting less for your money.

5. Eat smaller portions of meat – you might even lose a little weight. Meat is very expensive, use more vegetables and less meat in you recipes.

6. When eating out, eat half of your meal at the restaurant and take the rest home with you. Most restaurants serve very large portions.

7. When eating out limit yourself to one glass of wine or drink tap water instead of coffee, tea or soda. Beverages can be very expensive relative to the cost your food.

8. If you are having an entrée avoid ordering appetizers or desert at the restaurant. Have drinks and appetizers at home before you leave or coffee and desert at home after dinner.

9. Eat something at home before you go out to meet friends. Limit your order to an appetizer or a side salad to be sociable.

10. Rather than celebrating at a restaurant, organize a potluck or take turns hosting a dinner party.

Does the Stimulus Make Gold Shine? (part II) – How to Buy Gold

If you decide to buy gold as a hedge against inflation there are several options. One can invest in gold through mutual funds, exchange traded funds (ETF), gold bullion, gold coins, gold mining stock and gold futures. In selecting an investment vehicle keep in mind your reason for purchasing gold – it’s a doomsday investment. If the entire financial world is crumbling around you, your gold needs to be secure. If you buy gold, consider investment in gold coins. Some options include the American Eagle, the Vienna Philharmonic or the Canadian Maple Leaf. With gold coins you have possession, they come in commonly accepted denominations and they are portable.

An exchange traded fund (ETF) may seem like a convenient way to buy gold. However, when you purchase an ETF, you own shares in the ETF, you don’t have physical possession of the gold. If you decide to purchase a gold ETF make sure the company has gold reserves to cover 100% of the investor deposits. Some of the largest ETFs have recently come under scrutiny for this issue. Finally, be cautious with investments in gold mutual funds, gold mining shares and ETFs that may become inaccessible in times of extreme market distress or collapse.

Painless Money Saving Ideas

I am starting a new on-going feature that will provide money saving ideas.   My goal is to contribute something on saving money about once a month. In the current economy we need all the help we can get. If you have any money saving ideas please send them to me and I’ll include them in the blog. I’ll start with a few ideas that have worked for me.

• Start shopping for clothing at consignment stores. I love good quality clothing but hate to pay the price. For years I’ve been meaning to stop by this cute little boutique on the west side of town and I finally did. Three hours later and two hundred dollars poorer, I walked out with what would have cost me at least $1000 in a regular retail store.

• Save your change. Do you have loose change all over your house and car? I started putting all my loose change in a jar and I had over a hundred dollars saved up in no time!

• Identify and focus on one or two problem areas. We all have areas in our lives where we spend too much. Mine is spending too much eating out. I am trying to focus on this area by keeping groceries in the house, taking breakfast and lunch to work, going to restaurants when they have special deals, sharing a meal and going to a nice restaurant and eating at the bar (same chef ).

• Lengthen the time between personal care appointments such as hair-cuts and manicures. I used to get my hair cut every 4-5 weeks. I found I could go about 6-8 weeks without any problem. Do some of your own personal care and limit that professional manicure or pedicure to once a month or to special occasions.

• Take the time to really shop around for airline tickets. We recently saved $400 per ticket by shopping around and checking numerous different possibilities. Take advantage of opportunities to get airline miles on your credit card. I have two cards that give me airline miles and I make a point to put all of my large purchases on a credit card to get the mileage credit.

Does the Stimulus Make Gold Shine? (Part I)

Jane M. Young CFP, EA, CDFA

I have frequently been asked about the wisdom of investing in gold to hedge against inflation. Generally gold is not a great investment, it is commonly thought of as a doomsday investment. Gold is very risky and exceptionally volatile. The value of gold is based on what people are willing to pay. The market value of gold can be highly dependent on irrational emotions. Over long periods of time the return on gold has mirrored that of inflation resulting in a real return close to zero. The current price of gold is exceptionally high; it increased almost 60% over the three years ending in 2008. Additionally, the cost to acquire and sell gold can be prohibitive.

Recent increases in government spending make inflation a greater threat. A threat of inflation makes gold more appealing. Gold usually holds its value at times when other assets are losing their value. The demand for gold generally spikes in times of economic instability and inflation. If the government becomes unable to sell treasuries to cover significant increases in government spending it will resort to printing money. This will result in inflation. Historically, inflation has lead to higher gold prices.

If you decide to reinforce your portfolio with gold to guard against inflation or economic instability it should only represent a small percentage of your portfolio – generally 5% and no more than 15%.

Finding Peace of Mind in Turbulent Times

 Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

                                         

1. Don’t lose sight of your investment timeframe.  You’ve heard it time and time again but stock is a long term investment.  So, don’t let the current drop in the stock market cause you to make drastic changes to money you won’t need for 10, 15 or 20 years.   If you don’t need your money for 5 to 10 years stop worrying about it, the market will recover.   If you are in or approaching retirement, you should have put aside the money you will need in the short term.   Use this for your immediate needs.   Down the road in 5 or 10 years when you need to tap into your stock mutual funds they should be back to reasonable levels.   Don’t lose sleep about the level of your investments 10 years from now.

 

2. Every financial crisis feels like the end of the world while we are in it.  If you were to look at the headlines during any one of the past financial downturns you couldn’t differentiate them from today.   Every time we go through a financial crisis whether it’s the savings and loan crisis in the 80’s or the dot.com crisis the message is the same.  This time it’s different, things will never be the same, the sky is falling and so forth.   Everything isn’t rosy, but we will recover from this.  We need to avoid making decisions based on emotion and fear.  The media is in the business to sell papers or increase viewers.  They are going to sensationalize our economic situation.  Good news does not provide high ratings.    Take a deep breath, hug your kids, walk your dog, live your life and stay the course with your portfolio – this too shall pass.

 

3. Don’t pass up a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in stock at exceptionally low values.  Sure it has been exceptionally painful to watch the stock portion of our portfolios drop by 40% but what a great opportunity we have.   If you have a long time horizon now is a great time to invest in the stock market.  I encourage you to invest a set amount of money into a diversified set of stock mutual funds every month (dollar cost averaging).   Investing in your company 401k or a Roth IRA is a great way to make systematic investments.   Now is the time to invest, not to sit on the sidelines.  It is always darkest before the dawn.  Remember, the stock market is counterintuitive – you feel like selling when you should be buying and you feel like buying when you should be selling.  Therefore, right now we should be buying!!!   When you feel it is safe to buy again it will be too late.

 

4.  Choose your battles and focus on what you can control.  You can’t control the fluctuations in the stock market or where the market is headed.  However, you can better prepare yourself for a weak economy.  Maybe now is the time to cut your personal spending and build up your emergency fund.  Evaluate how to reduce your expenses and pay off debt. Make sure your skills are current and relevant.  Build and strengthen your network now before you really need it.  If you are approaching retirement, and the market has set you back, evaluate alternatives and contingency plans.   Take advantage of opportunities available to you – buy stock mutual funds at low values,  re-finance your home at a low interest rate, convert your traditional IRA to a Roth and sell those especially weak stocks to harvest tax losses.

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