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- A financial advisor is a professional who gives advice about managing your money to reach financial goals.
- Financial advisors are not regulated, though advisors who provide investment advice and services must register with their state or federal regulatory bodies.
- Financial advisors offer a wide variety of services, such as portfolio building, tax and estate planning, budgets, and more.
Do you plan to retire one day? Maybe get married or go to college? How about paying down some debt? These are all reasonable and attainable financial goals. For many of us, however, it’s not always clear what we have to do to make these dreams come true. And that’s when it might be a good idea to enlist some professional help.
What is a financial advisor?
A financial advisor is a professional who provides clients with guidance pertaining to financial goals, mortgages, insurance, retirement, investing, and general financial management. While some financial advisors offer a variety of services, many specialize only in making and managing investments.
“I became a financial advisor to mentor my clients through all financial aspects of their lives,” says John Stoj, founder of Verbatim Financial. “This can include investments, but also questions surrounding careers, business ownership, estate planning, insurance, and taxes … essentially anything that can benefit from planning.”
A financial advisor can be a valuable asset if you have financial goals you want to reach, but aren’t sure how to make that happen. They can also educate you about financial products, tax advantages, and insurance options you may not have known could help you build and protect wealth.
John Hagensen, partner and managing director of Creative Planning, explains that “many financial professionals who will claim to be financial advisors are contracted by insurance companies and/or broker-dealers and thus be compensated to sell products of those companies.” This type of compensation can influence the kinds of products such advisors recommend and the actions they suggest taking.
There are no specific licenses or certifications that make one a financial advisor. They will usually have some kind of background related to finance, such as a degree in business, economics, or accounting. To trade or advise on investments, financial advisors are required to take and pass the NASAA Investment Adviser Law Examination — also known as the Series 65 exam — and register with state and/or federal regulators.
Types of financial advisors
There are multiple types of financial advisors to choose from. Some of the most common include:
- Robo-advisor: A robo-advisor is an automated platform that makes investment recommendations based on the information you input into the system. It uses algorithms and often artificial intelligence to determine your risk tolerance and what investments may be good to make. These kinds of services are generally low-cost but may be limited in what they can offer. Here are Insider’s picks for the best robo-advisors.
- Online financial-planning services: These services go a step further than robo-advisors, often offering a broader scope of options. The best online financial advisors are usually automated and can help you build financial plans and budgets, in addition to portfolio building, goal setting, and reporting.
- Traditional financial advisors: These include Certified Financial Planners (CFPs), brokers, Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs), and wealth managers. Traditional financial advisors usually provide comprehensive, personalized advice regarding your financial life. They can provide product recommendations based on your specific situation and goals, make investments on your behalf, and help ensure you stay on track.
- Fiduciary financial advisors: These financial advisors are legally obligated to act in their client’s best interest in mind, rather than their own. The fiduciary duty was established in 1940 by the Investment Advisor Act, which requires fiduciaries to uphold duties of loyalty and care.
What does a financial advisor do?
Financial advisors can offer a wide array of services. Some focus only on investments and portfolio building/management. Others provide comprehensive services for everything from saving for college and retirement to tax strategies and budgeting.
“In an ideal world, a financial advisor should look at your overall financial picture and help you build a plan to get to and through retirement,” says Mary Lyons, financial advisor and founder of Benchmark Income Group. “That includes investment portfolio management, but it also includes reviewing your insurance coverage, working with your estate attorney, communicating with your CPA, helping you determine the structure of your mortgage, and budgeting. A good financial advisor should be able to answer any questions you have about your finances.”
Just about anyone can benefit from working with a financial advisor. Some of the more common services they offer include the following:
Portfolio building is all about ensuring you have a balance of investment assets that are growing efficiently with minimal risk. Financial advisors can help you understand what you already own in assets, what your options may be for making further investments, and what kinds of risks you may face with your investment choices.
“A financial advisor should help you determine how much fluctuation you can tolerate in your daily balances as well as during outlying events like 2008 or even the first part of 2020,” Lyons explains. “They should address concepts like maximum drawdown and the amount of return you can expect for the risk you are taking.”
Many financial advisors provide tax-planning services. This doesn’t mean they’ll help you file your tax returns or are fully trained in tax law like a certified public accountant (CPA) is. Instead, they can help you manage tax liability that results from your investment strategies and help you build wealth by taking advantage of rules that can lower your tax liability.
Not every financial advisor offers or is qualified to offer these kinds of services, but some are also CPAs. At the very least, a financial advisor should be willing to work with your accountant or tax attorney to ensure your financial plan is keeping your tax liability at a minimum and not creating new issues.
A financial advisor can help you plan for what you want to pass on to your heirs when you die. They may be trained in estate planning or be willing to work with you estate attorney to determine what kind of insurance you need, what kinds of financial products you might want to set up to pass on (such as a trust or giving fund), what should be done with your investments, etc.
“It’s critical that all of your team – CPA, attorney, banker, advisor — is communicating at least annually,” Lyons says. “If not, they could be working against each other instead of all pulling in the right direction.”
Long and short-term financial planning
Financial advisors work with clients to create and execute plans designed to achieve goals both in the short term and over a long period of time. For example, you might work with a financial advisor to review your debt and create a plan to reduce the amount you owe this year.
At the same time, you may also want to create a college savings account for your new baby. A financial advisor could work with you to create a month-to-month budget that targets reducing your debt while funneling deposits to a 529 college savings plan.
7 questions to ask a financial advisor before you hire them
If you’re in the market for a financial advisor, it’s a good idea to shop around to find someone who offers services that are the right fit for your situation. Also take note of how they make money. Working with a fiduciary, such as a CFP or RIA, is often preferred. These financial advisors usually have a fee-only business model, which means they charge clients directly for their services and don’t receive any kind of commission.
Below are a few of the most important questions to ask a financial advisor you’re considering hiring.
1. Are you a fiduciary?
First and foremost, you want to ensure your financial planner or investment advisor is a fiduciary. A fiduciary is legally bound to put their client’s interests first.
If they’re not a registered fiduciary, they may follow a loosely monitored “suitability” standard, which allows them to make recommendations for investments and services so long as it’s suitable for their client’s goals, risk tolerance, and financial situation. Usually, this translates to recommendations that will also earn them money.
2. How much do you charge?
There are generally two types of financial advisors: fee-based and fee-only.
To visit with a fee-only financial advisor, you will pay a flat fee, hourly fee, or if they’re handling your investments, an asset under management fee equal to between 1% and 3% of your total assets.
If you’re meeting once or twice to create a financial plan or get advice, you can expect to pay anywhere between $100 and $300 an hour. If you’re looking for access to an advisor on a rolling basis (i.e. you want help implementing and maintaining your financial plan) you may pay a fixed fee, usually between $1,000 and $3,000.
3. Do you earn commission?
If they answer “yes,” they’re considered a fee-based financial advisor. Fee-based financial advisors earn commissions based on where you put your money and also may charge a fee for their time or an asset under management fee.
By contrast, fee-only advisors do not receive an additional commission when a client invests in a certain fund or financial product. Their only objective is to provide sound financial advice.
This doesn’t mean a fee-based financial advisor will necessarily work against your best interests. It only means that they may be more inclined to recommend products and services for which they get a commission, which may or may not be the best option for your financial planning needs.
4. What services are included?
A good financial planner should be able to offer guidance on every aspect of your financial situation, though they may specialize in a certain area, like retirement planning or wealth management. Make sure it’s clear from the get-go what the cost includes and whether they’ll spend more time focusing on any one area.
An investment advisor is usually focused only on managing investments, but they may also provide guidance on other aspects of your financials. Again, make sure you know what exactly is included in their menu of services.
5. How often will we communicate?
If you want more than a one-time meeting, you’ll probably pay your financial advisor a retainer fee. Find out exactly what this fee gets you — for example, maybe it’s one face-to-face meeting and one phone call a month — and ask if there are any additional fees that apply for overtime.
It can be scary putting your money in someone else’s hands, so an open line of communication is essential. Ask the financial advisor how they’re best reached — by text, email, or phone — for both urgent and non-urgent matters.
6. Can you describe your typical client?
Asking an advisor about their typical client can help you decide whether they’re a good fit for you. Some financial planners specialize in helping high-net-worth families or business owners or first-time investors in their 20s and 30s.
If you identify with their typical client, chances are they have the tools and expertise to help you, too.
7. What is your investment approach?
If you’re handing over control of your investments, make sure the advisor’s approach to investing is aligned with your risk tolerance. For example, an advisor may prefer aggressive growth strategies to preservation. That usually means they’ll risk more of your money in order to (hopefully) score a bigger return.
Ultimately, a good financial advisor should be as mindful of your investments as they are with their own, taking care to avoid excessive fees, save money on taxes, and be as transparent as possible about your gains and losses.
If you’re hiring a fee-based advisor, know that their strategy for your investments may include products or services for which they receive a kickback. If this is the case, ask to read over any disclosures.
FAQs about financial advisors
How much a financial advisor costs varies from advisor to advisor, and can look different depending on how they charge you. Some advisors charge by the hour, while others may charge per session or an annual fee. How much a financial advisor costs also depends on their credentials and certification.
Financial advisors offer investment and money planning, as well as other services like tax advice, investment management, and insurance advice. Financial planners solely focus on creating long-term and short-term saving and investing strategies for clients to meet their goals. They also offer beneficial advice and assist with budget planning and analysis.
If you’re in need of financial advice, talking with a financial advisor can make a big difference. It’s worth paying for a financial advisor when making big life decisions that affect your finances, such as planning for retirement, getting married, or managing an investment portfolio. Financial advisors provide expert insight that can help you reach your wealth-building goals in a faster more secure manner.
You can talk to a financial advisor anytime for any reason, regardless of how much money is in your account. It doesn’t matter if you’re young and saving for future tuition expenses, just got married, are employed at a new job, or saving for retirement — a financial advisor can help you.
Should you hire a financial advisor?
Consulting with a financial advisor is a smart way to make headway in achieving both short-term and long-term financial goals. You should always research what options are available to you and ask questions about what services are offered and how they are compensated.
Since there is no education or experience requirement for someone to be a financial advisor, it’s also a good idea to look into the background of anyone you’re considering working with regarding your money.
Some advisors will focus only on a handful of services, while others offer more comprehensive planning and management options. New technology has also given way to automated financial tools. It’s up to you to investigate and determine what’s the right fit for your situation.