Are You Paying Too Much for Financial Planning and Advice? by Jane Bryant Quinn

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Are You Paying Too Much for Financial Planning and Advice?
By Jane Bryant Quinn | Sep 21, 2010 | 5 Comments

How much are you paying for the financial-planning advice you get? Some investors don’t know. Others think they know but don’t. “Fee-only” planners and registered investment advisors state their fees up front. “Fee-based” advisors appear to do the same but might be charging you in other ways. Brokerage house advisory accounts charge the most and can entangle you in costs you didn’t expect.

In short, a stated fee isn’t always what it seems. For that matter, neither is an advisor. I recommend fee-only planners but I’ve found some who are so new to the business or so limited in their skills that I wouldn’t go near them.

So how do you go about assessing what you’re paying for advice and what the potential conflicts or trouble spots might be? Here’s a rundown:

Fee-only advice. This is my choice, always. These advisors give you a price list up front, for work by the hour, by the task, or for ongoing management of your money. They don’t take sales commissions, so they’re not primed to push products. They sell only their planning and investment expertise.

Within this world, however, there’s a lot of variation.

A fee-only planner, with a CFP designation (for Certified Financial Planner) helps you establish your priorities and goals, create budgets, set savings targets, test your insurance safety net, establish retirement savings accounts, project future retirement income, plan for taxes, and make basic investment decisions. By “basic,” I mean simple asset allocation and picking no-load (no sales charge) mutual funds. That’s all that most families need. You can find some of these fee-only planners through the Garrett Planning Network, the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors, or the Financial Planning Association (when you search the FPA site, click on “How Planners Charge” and check the box for “fee-only”).

But some of these advisors — especially people who have been in business for only three or four years — might not have the knowledge or experience to analyze your investments in depth. Those with a brokerage-house background are familiar with securities, but others are still learning. They might be qualified to advise on mutual funds but not individual stocks and bonds. They might be taking clients before they’ve finished their CFP.

On average, you’ll find more experienced planners through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. Some NAPFA members deal only with people of higher wealth. Others take middle-class clients, too (see what their websites say).

Even planners with good paper qualifications might not serve you well if they don’t understand your life experience. For example, young planners who don’t own homes are not the best guide through mortgage decisions. Someone in his or her mid-30s will think more aggressively about investments than someone in late middle age. If you’re approaching retirement, you want a planner who can feel the same, cold wind of uncertainty that you do.

Fee-only planners typically charge 1 percent on accounts up to $1 million or so, and less on larger amounts. But fees have been going up, says Tom Orecchio of Modera Wealth Management and former president of NAPFA. Some firms charge 1.5 percent or more for the first $500,000.

“Advisors say they’re working harder, for less money, than at any time in their career,” Orecchio says. Accounts under management have declined in value, clients need more handholding, and more new products are coming to market that need evaluating. So they’re charging people more.

Normally, a percentage fee applies only to money that the planner has directly under management. A few planners assess the fee on your total net worth, including your 401(k) and home equity. “That’s for comprehensive financial planning,” says John Sestina of John E. Sestina and Co. “We advise on everything, including whether to refinance a mortgage and how to allocate a 401(k).” He charges $5,000 for accounts up to $1 million (that’s 0.05 percent, at the top) and larger fees for larger accounts. For younger clients, he offers “financial planning lite”– $1,000 for full planning and investment services on accounts of any size, but only two or three meetings a year.

Fee-based advice. Here, you have wolves in sheep’s clothing. It sounds as if they also give fee-only advice. In fact, they sell products and earn commissions. You might pay fees for some products and commissions for others. The size of the fees might depend on what else you buy. “Fee offset” means that the fee is deducted from the commission you pay. Commissions aren’t always visible, so it’s easy to pay more than you realize.

Brokerage house advisory accounts. You pay fees here, too. The broker provides an investment plan, developed and monitored by the firm’s advisory team. You get periodic reports. Small investors, with $25,000 to $50,000, might be charged in the area of 2 percent a year. These accounts don’t include packaged products such as variable annuities or unit trusts. Your broker might sell them to you on the side, earning a commission on the trade.

Skip these expensive advisory accounts if you’re a long-term investor who holds mutual funds and a few stocks. You’re much better off in a regular brokerage account that doesn’t charge fees–or, for that matter, with a fee-only planner.

Regarding conflicts of interest, I’m always careful about the commissioned-sales world because of its fondness for selling high-cost products. But the fee-only world has potential conflicts, too. Planners who charge on an hourly basis might stretch out the time it takes to complete your job. Planners who work on retainer might pay less attention to your account, because they’ve got the money anyway. Planners who charge a percentage of assets have an incentive to hold on to your money — for example, by recommending that you keep your mortgage rather than paying it off.

Always evaluate the advice, in terms of your advisor’s interest as well as your own. Advice isn’t always worth what you pay for it. You might do better by paying less.

Your Money Bus is Coming to Colorado Springs

Your Money Bus is coming to Colorado Springs.

                               Get free professional advice, no strings attached

It’s never too late to secure your financial future.

Re: Free Non-profit Financial Education Event – Please share with friends, family and business associates.

All of us have family; friends and colleagues who are struggling to save money, eliminate debt and find jobs. Please share with them the opportunity to meet for a free one-on-one with local independent financial advisors when the national Your Money Bus Tour rolls into Colorado Springs on July 8th and 9th. Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc. is coordinating the Colorado Springs stop of this non-profit tour, visiting more that 25 cities. We will be volunteering at this event along with several other fee-only financial planning firms in town. The Your Money Bus Tour is sponsored by The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) Consumer Education Foundation, TD AMERITRADE, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and FiLife.com.

The Your Money Bus Tour will stop in Colorado Springs at the Penrose Library (downtown) on July 8th from 12:00 – 7:00 and at UCCS, Lot 1 on July 9th from 12:00 – 5:00. At each stop, consumers can sit down with locally-based volunteer financial advisors to ask pressing financial questions. All Money Bus visitors will receive a free financial education kit, including a Kiplinger magazine and a budgetary workbook.

Forty percent of American families spend more than they earn and the average American with a credit file has more than $16,000 in debt, not including mortgages. We encourage people to stop byYour Money Bus to learn how to better save, eliminate debt and develop personal financial sustainability habits that will get them through and beyond these tough times.

The NAPFA Consumer Education Foundation is a 501c (3) organization committed to educating Americans on personal finance. Consumers need easy to understand information without any bias, sales, or conflicts of interest. All volunteer financial advisors are fee-only fiduciaries; nothing is being sold or promoted. This is strictly educational and free information for the public. The public is welcome to just stop by or make an appointment ahead of time.

For more information, visit www.YourMoneyBus.com and for up-to-date schedule information contact Krist Allnutt,krista.allnutt@perceptiononline.com.

Warmest Regards,

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Why Hire a Professional Who Doesn’t Put Your Interests First?

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

When selecting a financial advisor you want someone who will act in your best interest. To ensure this is the case hire an advisor who works to a fiduciary standard. A fiduciary standard requires your advisor to put your interests first even if those interests are not in their best interest. According to the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors over 90% of all investment advisors are paid (fully or partially) on commission therefore they are compensated for selling products. Additionally, many of these advisors are employed by a broker/dealer or an insurance company, where they are held to a lower standard of diligence. They are required, as part of that employment, to act in the best interest of their employers.

How do you find an advisor who will put your interests first?

Here are two ways to be sure you are hiring someone who adheres to a fiduciary standard. All financial advisors who are members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) are required to adhere to a “Fiduciary Oath” as a requirement of membership. Additionally, both Federal and State law require that anyone who is a Registered Investment Advisor be held to a fiduciary standard. You wouldn’t accept less from your doctor or lawyer why accept less from your financial advisor?

Here is a link with more information on the fiduciary standard of care:

Http://www.focusonfiduciary.com

The Possibility of Becoming a Widow Should be Part of Every Married Woman’s Financial Plan

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

I know this is a subject we don’t want to think about but the reality is most wives will out live their husbands. We plot and we plan all kinds of cash flow scenarios for couples to live happily ever after until they fall gently asleep in each others arms at age 100. That would be nice but life isn’t quite so predictable. Therefore as a wife, you should plan to out live your husband. This includes being ready to handle all of the arrangements and paperwork that must be handled upon death as well as long term planning for your financial needs. Below is a list of issues that should be addressed before you become a widow.

 • Select an Estate Planning Attorney who you trust and are comfortable with to draft a will and help you through the process of settling your husband’s estate.
• Draft a will and a Health Power of Attorney.
• Discuss end of life plans with each other.
• Review the beneficiary designations on IRAs, 401ks, and life insurance policies.
• Organize your financial papers so you know what you have, where you have it and who your contact is.
• Take an active role in managing your finances.
• If you are uncomfortable with finances, take some classes and read some books to educate yourself.
• If you choose to work with a Financial Planner take the time to select someone who you trust and feel comfortable with – especially when you are alone. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors provides some good guidelines on selecting a financial planner at www.Napfa.org.
• Run some retirement planning scenarios as a widow – will you have enough money to cover your expenses if you husband predeceases you? Are you still entitled to his pension or will you receive a decreased payout?
• Does your cash flow fall short of what you need? Consider buying some term life insurance? Consider adjusting your work situation to save more money?
• What happens if one of you needs long term care? Can you cover the expense or should you consider long term care insurance?
• What happens to your health insurance when your husband dies? How much time do you have to secure health insurance in your name?   Are you entitled to Cobra?
• Establish credit in your name, get your own credit card.
• Do you have adequate emergency reserves to cover funeral expenses and several months of expenses?

The loss of a spouse is extremely difficult. Most widows feel like they are in fog for the first year. The last thing on your mind will be money but some issues will need to be addressed. Make it easier on yourself and plan ahead.