[Editor’s note: This story was previously published in Nov. 2013. It has since been updated and republished.]
Financial matters can get complicated, and the busier you are, the less time you have to sort them out. Sometimes you need professional advice on a specific issue, or maybe you’d like someone to consult with from time to time about long-term goals, like retirement. No matter what your needs, keep these tips in mind when hiring a money manager:
1 – Look for an Accredited Professional
There are all sorts of financial advisors, but you should pick one who is accredited as a CFP, CFA or CPA. At the least, you should go with a certified financial planner (CFP), who can help you plan for retirement and short-term savings, customize an investment portfolio and provide strategies for other important goals, like college savings. You don’t need a financial advisor for help with debt consolidation. Instead, you can get free advice through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or search a list of approved credit counseling agencies in your state.
2 – Choose Hourly Over Commission
Find out if your financial advisor is paid by commission, or charges a percentage or an hourly rate. Typically, an advisor who charges a flat hourly rate is better and will focus on your financial situation. Advisors who make money on commission are under pressure to sell financial products that might have nothing to do with what you need. In general, most people are better off scheduling consultations with an advisor as needed. That’s cheaper than paying a percentage over time.
3 – Choose Fiduciary Over Suitability
Ask your financial advisor if he’s bound to a fiduciary standard. If so, he’s monitored by state securities regulators or the SEC to make sure that he puts your best interests first. This means that he’ll suggest the financial products that best meet your needs – not just ones that are suitable, but more expensive.
4 – Check for Experience and Good References
Your financial advisor should have excellent references and at least ten years of experience. Find out how long the advisor’s been certified and the kind of clients he’s advised previously. It’s also perfectly OK to contact your advisor’s references. Finally, you can cross-reference any information your advisor provides with his personal LinkedIn account or professional website.
5 – Ask for an SEC Advisor Form
Before making a final decision, learn about your advisor’s background by asking to see a Form ADV. This form is issued by the SEC and provides career and disciplinary information on the advisor. It also shows how the advisor is reimbursed, and whether he has any financial affiliations.
The Bottom Line
Always ask lots of questions during an initial consultation and thoroughly check your prospective advisor’s record. Even if you decide to seek help, you can and should do research, and be proactively involved with making your financial decisions. Take advantage of online planning tools and get advice from several sources before making any significant changes to your investments.
If you also don’t think that you can afford to hire a financial advisor to personally help you with your investments, a lot of brokerages like E-trade and TD Ameritrade, which offer physical locations and 24/7 support to assist you if you need to talk to a person for questions.
Written by Lisa McDougald