However, you need to make sure you find a good adviser. It's your money they're playing with, after all. Here are five things to look for in a financial adviser.
1. How is your financial adviser paid?
Advisers generally get paid in one of two ways: either they receive a commission on the funds they sell, or they charge a flat fee. The vast majority of advisers make money the first way -- if they sell a mutual fund, for example, the fund company pays them a percentage of the invested assets. That's led to some people saying that advisers have a conflict of interest. They might sell you a fund to get paid even if it's not in your best interest.
Fee-only advisers charge clients like lawyers do, either by the hour or through a fee for services. Lots of advisers are going this route because it allows them to invest anywhere and not be hampered by a perceived conflict. Many also do other things, such as budget or retirement planning.
2. Are they investment advisers or financial planners?
Investment advisers typically deal with just investments. They don't concern themselves with how much your house costs or how much debt you have. Their goal is to get you a decent return, and they'll buy and sell securities to help you get there.
Financial planners, generally, do that and more. They look at your finances holistically, meaning they take into account your savings, debt, real estate holdings and all other assets to come up with a plan that makes sense for your overall financial picture.
3. How is your financial adviser licensed?
Advisers have to be licensed to sell securities, but there are different licenses depending on what they want to sell. Some advisers are only allowed to sell mutual funds -- they can't even give you advice on picking stocks if you ask for it. Others can sell both mutual funds and stocks, and some people prefer these advisers because they have more investments to choose from. Advisers that want to sell insurance need yet another license. Before you decide who to go with, figure out what types of investments you want to buy and make sure the adviser can sell them.
4. How often does your financial adviser communicate?
When times get tough you want to make sure your adviser is there for you. While they may not be able to save your portfolio from plummeting, at least they can talk you through the turmoil. Some advisers have so many clients that they can't meet with people more than once a year. Others will regularly send out letters with updates and news or will make themselves available by phone if you're feeling nervous. One's not necessarily better than the other -- it depends on how much contact you want to have with your adviser.
5. What's your adviser's track record?
Try and find out how well their clients' portfolios are doing. Are they outperforming the market? Did they do worse than everyone else during the recession? If an adviser's clients have generally done well, there's a good chance you will do OK too.
Now that you know what to ask a planner, where should you look? Ask friends and colleagues, but also look through the Financial Planning Standard Council's website and online search results for ideas. Set up a meeting, then ask the candidate as many questions as you can. Don't be shy -- remember, it's your money that's at stake.
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