Archives For November 2009

Antique German W48 Phone by Qole Pejorian on Flickr       If you’ve decided to hire a financial planner, you should consider your choices very carefully. You’ll be sharing your financial information with this person, so you want to make sure you can trust him to provide quality advice and look out for your interests first. Unless you meet the financial planner at a seminar or some social event, your first contact is likely to be over the phone. Read on to see what you should expect from this first conversation.

The Greeting

       Your call should be answered promptly and by a friendly, professional person. If you’re calling a small, solo financial planning firm, the person who answers may actually be the financial planner. For larger firms, you’re likely to speak with a secretary or assistant first. Let them know you’re interested in learning more about their financial planning services. Depending on the firm’s procedures, you may be transferred directly to a financial planner, a business development/marketing person, or you may be asked for some basic information first. Understand that the firm operates in this way for a specific reason and be willing to work with their requests unless they’re unreasonable.

The Screening

       Early in this initial phone call, the planner or other representative of the firm should ask you if you have a few minutes so they can describe their services. This description should include a summary of the services they offer, their typical client, and the associated fees.

       If they do not tell you what the fees are up front, don’t be afraid to ask them now. This process helps you get an understanding of what the planner can do for you and whether or not you will need the services they offer.

       Some planners may mention a minimum account size or net worth so that you can screen yourself out of their services. If you are far from reaching their minimums, politely say so and move on to the next planner. Trying to work with a financial planner focused on wealthier clients is likely to cost you much more money and may not provide you with the essential services you need.

       If they do not take the time to discuss their services and fees with you but instead rush to set up your first meeting, be very wary. Anyone who is not willing to take the time initially to teach you about what they can offer you is likely a pure salesman. You should be on your guard when hiring a financial planner as there are many out there who will not put your interests first. But be especially careful when the planner moves quickly to set up your appointment without first taking the time to let you know what they do.

The Question

       After describing the services they offer, the financial planner should ask you if you have any specific needs or services they did not mention. They may also ask you, “Do you feel like these services will be helpful to you?” Be up front and clear. If you are looking for a planner who will manage your investments and do your tax returns, say so. This will avoid any misunderstandings or disappointments and keep you from wasting your time in a meeting to find out the planner will not suit your needs. On the other hand, set your expectations carefully. Though it can be nice to get everything done at a “one-stop shop”, you may be forsaking quality or integrity for convenience.

Setting the First Meeting

       If both you and the planner are in agreement that their services may meet your needs, the next step is to set a date, time, and place for the first meeting. The planner should explain what will happen at this first meeting and let you know if you’ll need to bring any specific documents along. They may also send you a packet of information further describing their services and requesting information from you before the initial meeting. Carefully complete any requested information if you’re comfortable with it and return it promptly so the planner has time to review it prior to your meeting.

       You should go into the first meeting not looking for specific recommendations for your situation but with the understanding that you haven’t yet hired this financial planner. You should prepare a list of questions to ask the planner about what their services entail, how they charge for their services, their qualifications, if they are required to put your interests first (fiduciary duty), and if they meet state and federal regulatory requirements.

How Big of a Mortgage Can I Afford?

Corey —  November 5, 2009

Quaint Cottage by GettysGirl on Flickr

Before you go shopping for a house, it’s important to set a limit for yourself on how much you’ll spend. If you’re paying in cash, it’ll be easy to set that limit. But if, like most people, you’ll be using a mortgage and a down payment to purchase your house, the question becomes how big of a mortgage can you afford.

The Quick Method

The quick way to estimate how much of a mortgage you can afford is to take your gross (before-tax) annual income, subtract your debt payments, and then multiply by 3 (use 2.9 if the mortgage rate is 6%, 2.7 if it’s 7%, or 2.5 if it’s 8%). Here’s an example. Let’s say you earn $50,000/year before taxes and you pay $200/month for student loans (which works out to $2,400/year). Subtract your annual debt payments and you’ll get $47,600. Multiply by 3 (since mortgage rates are currently around 5%) and you’ll find that you can afford a mortgage of roughly $143,000.

To translate that into a purchase price for the house, divide by 0.8 (assuming a 20% down payment). Doing so will tell you that you can afford a $179,000 home if you have a $36,000 down payment. Don’t forget that you’ll have to pay some closing costs on the mortgage as well (possibly an extra $2,000-3,000). Set your limit at the number you come up with, and do not go looking at houses above your price range.

The Better Method

If you want a more accurate method with less math on your part, I highly recommend’s Mortgage Qualifier Calculator. By entering all the information it asks for, you can come up with a home price and mortgage amount that will be affordable for your situation. You’ll need to enter your annual income, cash on hand, mortgage interest rate, mortgage term, property tax rate, homeowner’s insurance, closing costs, and your debt payments.

You can estimate your mortgage information by doing a few searches on Google. You can also find information on property tax rates and homeowner’s insurance costs for your area by searching Google. If you can’t find that information, call a real estate agent and ask them for some estimates. They’re very familiar with such costs and can help you guess at those costs.

What You Can Afford May Not Be What You Need

Just because a calculator spits out a number telling you that you can afford a $200,000 house does not necessarily mean you need a $200,000 house. If your actual needs are less than what you can afford, by all means buy a less expensive house and use the money you save for your other needs. Buying more house than you need is unlikely to do you much good in the long run. You’ll pay higher property taxes, insurance rates, and maintenance costs for something you’re not fully using.

If There Are No Homes Available in Your Price Range

Then you likely need to save a larger down payment or move to an area with a lower cost of living (if that’s an option). Stretching yourself to buy a house outside of your affordable range can easily lead to disaster when hard times hit. Beware of exotic mortgages (like interest only and other variations), and be very careful of ARMs (adjustable rate mortgages). The most manageable and safest mortgage is the traditional 30-year or 15-year fixed interest rate mortgage.

Another option is to keep shopping around until you find a house within your price range. Patience is a powerful tool when buying a house. Rushing the biggest purchase in your life is not a wise decision. Don’t let the emotions of searching for a home control your decisions and put you in a financial bind.

If you have any questions, leave a comment. I promise to respond as quickly as possible!

       Last month, I posted several articles about life insurance. Today, I’m going to tell you why my wife and I have decided not to buy life insurance yet.

Our Situation

       We’re a young married couple with no kids (and none on the way). We’re both very healthy and both of us have college degrees. Michelle’s is in nursing and mine is in financial planning. The only debt we have is my student loan, which is very manageable and has a low, fixed interest rate of 4%. We also have an adequate emergency fund and we’re saving for a house.

If One of Us Dies

       In my articles I’ve advised you to only buy life insurance if you actually need it. You must determine if there is a true risk that needs to be insured. Figuring this out means that you need to ask yourself (and your spouse) what life will look like for the survivor. After going through this process, Michelle and I determined we don’t need life insurance.

       If I die, Michelle is fully capable of earning more than enough money to cover her needs. We do not have nor are expecting children, so she would be free to work as much as she needs to. We also do not have a large amount of debt that depends on two incomes. Because of her ability to earn a good income through nursing, Michelle would be able to meet her needs even if I die.

       If Michelle dies, I would also be able to manage. I’m in the process of becoming self-employed, and as it is right now I may not earn much money for quite a while. In the short run, we will be depending on Michelle’s income for our needs. But if Michelle were to pass away, we would have enough savings to cover my needs for a year while I start my business. If the business is not providing enough income for my needs at the end of that time, I’d need to find another way to earn some income. Even though the job market is not very bright for financial planning right now, I am comfortable taking the risk that I would have to do something (possibly anything) to earn money while I continue working on my business.

       So for us, there’s no financial risk if either one of us passes away prematurely at this time in our life together. That could easily change though if one of these three situations occurred:

We Have Children

       Once children are on the way or in the picture, we’ll be looking at this question again. Michelle will likely be at home more to take care of the children, and I’ll be the primary earner. At that point, if either of us were to die the survivor would need some financial help to make things work well. We’ll both get life insurance then.

One of Us Becomes Disabled

       If one of us were to become disabled, we’d need life insurance on the non-disabled person to help cover the cost of care in the event of a death. If the disabled person were to die, it would likely improve our financial situation. But if the non-disabled person were to die, the disabled person could need quite a bit of help.

We Take on Debt That Requires Two Incomes

       The only way this is likely to happen is through a mortgage, but even then it’s highly unlikely. We’re not going to push ourselves to purchase a house that requires a mortgage payment dependent on two incomes. Our plan is to save up a large enough down payment so we won’t need to take on too large of a mortgage. My ideal is actually to build my own house for cash, but we’re not sure if that’s what we’ll end up doing.

What Should You Do?

       My point in sharing our decision is not to tell you that this should be your decision as well if you’re in the same situation as us. The lesson here is that you must look at your own circumstances, ask the right questions, and then determine what you should do. Don’t go buying life insurance just because someone tells you to. Make sure you need it first!

Who or What Is Mammon?

Corey —  November 3, 2009

       19 Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.

Matthew 6:19-24 (WEB)

       Many times “Mammon” is translated simply as money in verse 24. While the idea of serving “money” can help us get the gist of what Jesus was saying here, we can gain a better understanding by looking carefully at the meaning of “Mammon” and its context in these verses.

       The word “Mammon” originally came from the ancient Chaldeans. It has its roots in the word “confidence” but it also signifies wealth. The way Jesus used it here seems to mean the personification of wealth, as if it were a person, thing, or god that can be served. We can gain even more understanding from the fact that it is rooted in the same word for confidence. If we think of it as confidence in wealth, it flows very well to the next passage where Jesus tells us not to worry about food or clothing because God will provide. Our confidence should be in God and our priority should be to serve Him and Him alone.

       The idea of “Mammon” representing wealth also makes sense in the context of the preceding verses. Jesus tells us not to lay up treasures on earth but instead to lay up treasures in Heaven. We’re not to focus our lives on amassing treasure, or wealth, for our own use while we’re here on earth. Making that a priority in our lives is the same as serving wealth. It means that we make becoming rich more important than becoming like Christ – so that we are not serving God.

       This should be an area of extreme concern for all Christians because of the statement Jesus makes here. He says we cannot serve both God and Mammon. We must make a choice. And we must live out that choice. There is no middle ground. We cannot choose to amass wealth and claim to be following Christ at the same time.

       It’s clear why Jesus makes this statement. Mammon’s goals are directly opposed to God’s.

  • God says, “Give me your heart.” Mammon says, “No, give it to me.”

  • God says, “Learn to be content.” Mammon says, “Get as much as you can – anything you want.”

  • God says, “Never lie or rip others off. Be honest and fair in everything you do.” Mammon says, “Cheat anyone you can if you’ll gain something from it.”

  • God says, “Be generous and give to the needy.” Mammon says, “Keep everything for yourself. You deserve it, and you worked for it.”

       In every way the commands of Mammon are inconsistent with the commands of God – to the point where you cannot serve both at the same time. You must choose one or the other.

What Is Wealth?

       Some people have taken these teachings of Jesus to mean that we should not save any money at all for the future. The claim is that saving money, even for needs (not wants, or unnecessary things), demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s provision.

       But what, exactly, is Jesus attacking here? Is he telling us that prudent saving and wise management of our affairs is against God’s will? If so, how does that idea support the numerous Proverbs that encourage saving, wisdom, and preparing for danger and the future? Or how would Paul’s command that Christians should provide for the needs of their own family be following Christ’s instructions?

       The way Jesus describes serving Mammon does not preclude Christians from saving for their needs or the needs of their families. Jesus preached against unbridled greed and materialism. He taught us that if we value being rich and having things more than serving God then we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

       Let’s look specifically at the idea of treasures, riches, and wealth. These words have never meant “any amount of money or possessions”. Who are the rich and the wealthy? Are they the people who have just enough to meet their needs, or are they the people who have far more money than they could ever possibly need to survive?

       Being wealthy or rich signifies that you have an abundance that goes far beyond what is sufficient for your needs. Having enough money saved to cover small emergencies or saving money for a time when you can no longer work does not necessarily make you rich or wealthy. You only come to the point of wealth or storing up treasures when you have more money than necessary to meet your needs.

       What exactly is Jesus condemning here? Clearly, He condemns putting money before God – service to money before service to God. The whole idea is that if you let money rule your decisions and how you live life, then you cannot let God rule your decisions and how you live life. When you make money your idol, your god, you are violating God’s command to never have any other god before Him and to never worship anything other than Him.

       For Jesus to say that it is wrong for His followers to save money, prepare for the future, and properly care for their families would require that He go against the Word God had already spoken. But Jesus isn’t saying those things in this passage – or even in the passage that follows concerning worry.

       What Jesus said is that those who follow Him must never put pursuing money above pursuing God. Indeed, if we make pursuing and serving God our top priority, we will not even become consumed with getting rich or having more money than we need (to cover our necessities). How can I say that? Because Jesus Himself said you cannot serve both God and Mammon (the greedy pursuit of wealth). So if you choose to serve God, His love will cause you to reject greed, materialism, and amassing wealth beyond your needs.

How Then Should We Live?

       Even though this teaching does not prohibit Christians from saving for the future, it should still convict us when it comes to materialism. When we choose to spend our money on things we don’t need we are deciding that our wants are more important than our poor brother’s needs. That is why John says:

       16 By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love of God remain in him? 18 My little children, let’s not love in word only, neither with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. 19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and persuade our hearts before him, 20 because if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have boldness toward God; 22 and whatever we ask, we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. 23 This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he commanded. 24 He who keeps his commandments remains in him, and he in him. By this we know that he remains in us, by the Spirit which he gave us.

1 John 3:16-24 (WEB)
(emphasis mine)

       When we selfishly use the abundance God has blessed us with and close our hearts against the needs of the poor, we do not have God’s love in us. God’s love teaches us to lay down our lives for the needs of others. If we have some extra that we don’t really need and we see a brother in need, God’s love compels us to give generously to that brother – despite any claim or right we have to spend that money on our own wants. By choosing to follow Christ, we are saying we will lay down our rights just as He did so that others might be helped. If we do not follow God’s leading in that situation, then God’s love does not dwell within us. We must not only say we love our neighbors – we must prove it in our actions.

       Brothers and sisters, if you’re reading this right now and your heart is condemning you because you have chosen to place your wants above the needs of the poor, know this: God is bigger than the feeling of condemnation you have right now. He knows all things, and He knows that you want to do the things that please Him. His love can persuade your heart and give you compassion, so that you can testify to His power and love by laying down your life (setting aside your wants) for your brothers. Repent and pray to God for a change in your heart, that you might start serving Him and stop serving Mammon.

       Choose this day whom you will serve – God or Mammon. You must choose!

The Best of Money Carnival #23

Corey —  November 2, 2009

       Welcome to the 23rd edition of the Best of Money Carnival! I’d like to thank Free Money Finance for letting me host the carnival for this week. I couldn’t come up with a good theme, so I just found pictures of numbers to show how I ranked the articles. Here are the 10 best posts from this past week’s submissions:

Nailed it! My picture is a perfect 10! by woodlywonderworks on Flickr
       Bob presents 4 methods to pay off your mortgage early posted at Christian Personal Finance.

Number 9 by ian.poley on Flickr
       MLR writes about the Top 15 College Degrees by Starting Salary in 2009 posted at My Life ROI, Getting the Best Return On Life.

departing by hojusaram on Flickr
       Jeff Rose discusses What you need to know about your Medicare and Medicaid Benefits posted at Jeff Rose, Certified Financial Planner.

Seven by Kevin on Flickr
       J.D. Roth tells us How to Get Your Free Credit Report Online: A Step-by-Step Guide posted at Get Rich Slowly.

Hangar 6 by 96dpi on Flickr
       Patrick @ Cash Money Life asks Do You Know How Much Interest You Are Paying Each Month? posted at Cash Money Life.

Five by Moe_ on Flickr
       Craig Ford warns us of the 14 Statements of Financial Losers posted at Money Help For Christians.

Four by boklm on Flickr
       Tyler ponders Is Life Getting in the Way of Your Life? posted at Frugally Green.

Three by CarbonNYC on Flickr
       Brad Chaffee asks Are You Under The Influence Of Debt? posted at Enemy of Debt.

Two by gregoryjameswalsh on Flickr
       Studenomist shares a story about how Poor Financial Planning For College Will Cost You posted at

One by drcornelius on Flickr
       Baker presents Be Your Own Part-Time Boss: The Pros & Cons posted at Man Vs. Debt.

       That’s it! Thanks for reading, and be sure to check in at GenYWealth next Monday for the next edition of the Best of Money Carnival.

       The financial services industry is great at making you feel good while ripping you off. They’re also great at confusing you so much that you can’t even figure out how badly you’re getting ripped off. To make smart financial decisions, you need to realize how your “advisors” are getting paid and how their pay structure may affect the advice they give you.

       These advisors can include stock brokers, bankers, realtors, financial planners, insurance agents, lawyers, and accountants. Different compensation methods can create various conflicts of interest—situations where your best interests are not the same as your advisor’s best interests. This is a long article, but what you’ll read here can save you many problems and oceans of money.

Commission-based Advisors

       These advisors get paid a commission when you buy a product. The products they sell can include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, insurance policies, annuities, real estate, mortgages, other loans, and much more. (When you take out a loan, you’re essentially buying a product and the banker typically gets a commission or bonus.)

Chris Gardener by dbking on Flickr       The problem with this compensation structure is that the advisors are influenced to sell you products that give them a higher commission. This could mean selling you inappropriate or sub par products with high fees, telling you that you need permanent life insurance coverage, convincing you to buy the most house you can afford, or encouraging you to take out the biggest loan the bank will let you. You often don’t realize the cost of these decisions because the commissions are rarely disclosed in an honest, upfront, and easy to understand manner. It may seem like you’re getting cheap or free advice, but you end up paying much more in the end because of the commissions that are built into the products you buy.

       Commission-based advisors are also much more likely to persuade you to make many transactions (buying and selling investments many times) because this increases their pay. There are strict rules against “churning” in investment accounts, so be sure to seek help from the government or a lawyer if you believe your account is being churned.

       While there are some commission-based advisors who are trustworthy and do give their clients good advice, you’re best served by steering clear of commission-based advisors whenever possible. If you must work with someone who earns their fees by commissions, make sure you get full disclosure on their compensation and always get a second or third opinion on their advice. Do your homework, and you can avoid getting ripped off by commission-based advisors—but there are often better ways you can get help with your financial decisions.

Fee-based Percentage of Assets Advisors

       Fee-based percentage of assets advisors are paid a percentage of the assets they manage for you. This business model is also called the assets under management (AUM) model. This is generally seen in the investment world, though it can crop up in other areas. The typical fee is about 1% of your assets, but this can vary wildly between advisors. It’s important to keep in mind that this fee is almost always in addition to the fees in the products you purchase.

       The first conflict of interest with fee-based AUM advisors is the fact that they get more money when they manage more of your assets. They’ll often encourage you to transfer more of your assets to them and justify the advice with some compelling reasons. However, it isn’t always best for you to move your assets to an AUM advisor. Additionally, when you take money out of your account the advisor’s fee goes down. If you’re weighing the decision to pay off a loan with money the advisor is managing, how likely do you think it is that he will tell you to pay off the loan? If you pay off the loan, the advisor gets a pay cut.

       The next problem with fee-based AUM advisors is cost. When you pay 1% of your assets in management fees every year, the total cost can really add up. Let’s assume the advisor takes a 1% fee at the beginning of each year and your investment returns are 8%. Over 25 years, you’d pay $62,527 in fees for every $100,000 you had invested at the beginning of the 25 year period. Over a 65 year period, you’d pay $1,104,280 in fees for every $100,000 you initially invested. Most advisors will justify this cost by saying that you wouldn’t have received 8% investment returns if they hadn’t been there to advise you along the way. While this may be true, you can duplicate their results if you educate yourself enough about the long-term history of the markets and learn how to avoid stupid mistakes. You can also look into using an hourly or flat-fee advisor for a better deal without having to learn everything on your own.

       During retirement, these costs can be especially hazardous. Let’s assume a 5% withdrawal rate is probably safe for most people in retirement (assuming 25 years in retirement). If you have to pay an investment advisor a 1% fee to manage your assets, your safe withdrawal rate goes down to 4%. This means a $1,000,000 would only provide you with a $40,000/year income if you’re paying an investment advisor. Alternatively, you could have a $50,000/year income if you didn’t have to pay 1% of your assets to the advisor every year.

       The AUM model also isn’t very fair to the clients. If Bob has $100,000 and Joe has $200,000, Bob only has to pay $1,000/year but Joe has to pay $2,000/year. Why does Joe pay more? It’s only because he has more money. How is this fair for the clients? Having worked in the investment industry, I can personally tell you that not much more work goes into managing Joe’s $200,000 portfolio versus Bob’s $100,000 portfolio. Why should Joe have to pay twice as much for the exact same services? He shouldn’t, and that’s another reason why I am not too fond of the AUM model. Fee-based AUM advisors will try to justify this problem with different arguments, but there’s rarely a legitimate argument that would hold up when viewed by an unbiased party.

       Finally, fee-based AUM advisors are generally restricted to working only with wealthier clients. It’s much more profitable to spend 10 hours working with someone who has $1,000,000 than to spend 10 hours working with someone who has $100,000. This means young people and late starters with little money saved up are going to have a hard time getting a fee-based AUM advisor to work with them.

       Fee-based AUM advisors usually give much more appropriate advice to their clients than commission-based advisors, but there are still many conflicts of interest and problems with this compensation structure. Advisors using the AUM model like to advertise that their compensation structure eliminates many conflicts of interest present in the industry, but you should be aware that it does not eliminate all possible conflicts—no compensation structure can do that.

Fixed-fee Advisors

Good Advice by Gary J. Wood on Flickr       Fixed-fee advisors are paid a flat fee to provide certain services you agree upon. There are few of these advisors around, but their fee structure can eliminate many of the problems with commission-based and fee-based AUM advisors. You may also hear this fee arrangement referred to as a “retainer”.

       You’ll want to ensure that the flat fee you pay fixed-fee advisors is the sole source of their compensation. If the advisor still receives commissions for any products you may buy, then they will still have a conflict of interest in selling you the highest-paying products.

       You’ll also want to make sure you do not pay for more services than you really need with a fixed-fee advisor. Because these advisors are charging a flat fee, you can end up overpaying if you do not fully utilize the services and time included in the package. This is especially true for those who have a simple situation or for those who have the biggest areas of their financial plan implemented already. Since fixed-fee advisors often charge upwards of $1,500 or $2,000/year, it may not make sense to use them if you do not need much help.

       Since fixed-fee advisors are paid a flat fee, it is to their benefit to spend as little time as possible on any one client as this maximizes their hourly rate. While this is short-sighted, it is still a possible downfall of using fixed-fee advisors. If you feel your fixed-fee advisor is not providing the level of service you agreed upon, you should confront him or her to get an explanation. If you’re not happy with the service, you may want to change advisors.

       The major benefit of fixed-fee advisors is that they will not be tempted to advise that you purchase high-fee products or to put more money under their management. Since their compensation structure is separated from your assets, they are able to focus on your best interests when they provide advice. You’ll still want to make sure you’re not paying for more than you receive, and you should carefully consider any personal finance decision no matter where your advice comes from.

Fee-based Hourly Advisors

Good Advice by rick on Flickr       Fee-based hourly advisors get paid an hourly rate for the time they spend working on your situation. This time could include meetings with you, researching your situation, completing paperwork for you, or meetings with your other advisors. Most accountants and lawyers work under this compensation method, but you will hardly find this fee model in the investment, insurance, banking, or real estate industries. Fee-based hourly advisors eliminate many of the conflicts of interest present in commission-based and fee-based AUM models, but they are not without their issues.

       Because fee-based hourly advisors are paid for their time, they may try to give you complex advice to justify their fees and keep you dependent on meeting with them. If you feel like your fee-based hourly advisor is giving you the runaround, be upfront and let him or her know that you need a better explanation of why the advice is so complicated. If the advisor does not try to educate you, it’s probably time to seek another advisor. Any advisor should be more than willing to educate you about what is going on in your financial situation. If not, they could be hiding something or trying to keep you dependent on their advice.

       You may need to be more involved with your finances if you use a fee-based hourly advisor. Since you are paying the advisor by the hour, your costs will be lower if you can do as much as possible yourself. The fee-based hourly advisor should be willing to provide you with any instructions you need to complete simple tasks on your own. This could include setting up accounts, transferring assets between accounts, placing trades, purchasing products, or meeting with other professionals as needed. If you need help, you can always ask the advisor to assist you but your costs will be much lower if you do most of the grunt work yourself.

       With a fee-based hourly advisor, all clients are treated the same because they all pay the same amount per hour of the advisor’s work. These advisors can work with people who have few assets or people with a high net worth. As long as they only receive their compensation from you, they won’t be tempted to advise that you purchase high fee investments. On the contrary, they are likely to give you the best advice possible for your situation because they know that exceptional advice and education is the only thing that can really keep you coming back for their help.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Good Advice by cornflakegirl on Flickr       You might find an advisor who uses some combination of these fee structures. Proceed with caution! The more complicated the advisor’s compensation the harder it is for you to understand exactly how he is getting paid. With any type of advisor, make sure you get full disclosure of their compensation in writing.

       Never be afraid to get a second opinion on your advisor’s recommendations. You can easily go to a fee-based hourly advisor for a one-time project when you’re making a major decision. For a few hundred dollars, you can get this second opinion and avoid a much more costly mistake. Even better, you could do substantial research on your own so you learn in the process and understand the situation better.

       Always remember that your advisors should be teaching and educating you throughout the process. If the advisor is reluctant to explain his recommendations, I would be very wary of trusting him. By finding an advisor who is a true teacher at heart, you can be more confident that the advisor is honest and trustworthy. The best advisor should be working to make himself completely unnecessary at some point!

       Don’t fall for slick marketing, a round of golf, free dinners, or nice gifts! Advisors who spend a lot of money in these types of “client appreciation” or advertising areas are simply using the money you pay them to give you “free” stuff just to make you feel good about getting ripped off. You should remember that the advisor is not going to give you so much “free” stuff that they don’t make a profit. While it may feel good to get that “free” round of golf or gift card to your favorite restaurant, you should never forget that you’ve already paid for it when you paid the advisor’s fee. Don’t fall for the illusion that it feels good to get ripped off! If you really want those things, pay for them yourself and stop paying through the nose to get it from your advisors.