Financial Literacy

Do I Need a Financial Advisor? How to Know If You Should Hire One

It’s tempting to believe you need a financial advisor. After all, many people hire others to repair their car, deliver food, or mow their lawns.

But a financial advisor is unique because most people do not need an advisor, and some financial advisors hide their fees. 

Who should use a financial advisor

If you don’t fit these criteria, you probably don’t need an advisor! Money can seem intimidating, which is why I wrote my book. Here’s an excerpt:

Some of you might say, “But, Ramit, I don’t have time to invest! Why can’t I just use a financial advisor?” Ah, yes, the old outsourcing argument. We outsource our car cleaning, laundry, and housekeeping. So why not the management of our money?

Most people don’t need a financial advisor. We have such simple needs that with a little bit of time (a few hours a week over the course of, say, six weeks) we can get an automatic personal finance infrastructure working for us.

Plus, many financial advisors don’t always look out for your interests. They’re supposed to help you make the right decisions about your money, but keep in mind that they’re actually not obligated to do what’s best for you. Some of them will give you very good advice, but many of them are pretty useless. If they’re paid on commission, they usually will direct you to expensive, bloated funds to earn their commissions.

But there are a few key reasons why you might want a financial advisor:

  • Advisors can be helpful if you have a large portfolio or an especially complex situation. Sometimes, you might simply want a second set of eyes on your plan (I recently hired an advisor for this reason).
  • You want a temporary second set of eyes on a time-sensitive situation like paying for kids’ college tuition, social security withdrawals, or ensuring you can afford a house.
  • You want a behavioral coach because you’ve found that you’re too nervous when the market drops or scared to invest. 

Types of financial advisors

To simplify, there are two:

  • Commission-based advisors. These are salespeople. Avoid them. They will use terms like “AUM” (assets under management, which is a percentage of your assets). There is no reason to pay a percentage of your assets to someone for advice. You will get no performance increase from paying a percentage of your assets, as I outline in Chapter 6 of my book.
  • Fee-only advisors. These advisors charge an hourly or project-based fee. You can find them through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (napfa.org).

Remember that you should ask them if they are a fiduciary, meaning they are legally required to put your best interests first (crazy you even have to ask this). Also remember to beware of the human tendency to be happier paying tons of invisible fees instead of a transparent, up front fee.

How to choose a financial advisor

If you really want to look into hiring a financial advisor, start by searching http://www.napfa.org. You’re looking for a fee-only financial advisor (not one who charges AUM).

Here’s an introductory email you can adapt and send:

Hi Mike,

I’m looking for a fee-only financial planner, and I found you on napfa.org. A little bit about me: I have about $10,000 in total assets—$3,000 in a Roth IRA (uninvested), $3,000 in a 401(k), and $4,000 in cash. I’m looking for investments that will maximize long-term returns while minimizing costs.

If you think you can help me, I’d like to meet for half an hour and ask you some specific questions. I’d also like to hear how you’ve worked with similar people with similar goals. Would next Friday, 2/6, at 2 p.m. work? Alternatively, Monday, 2/9, is wide open for me.

Thanks!

Remember — get a “fee-only” advisor. This means you’ll pay them an hourly or project rate, NOT a percentage of your assets. 

You should reach out to at least 10 and set up calls with 5. You’ll quickly be able to tell who is a good match for you. I’ve found that about 30% don’t respond to inquiries, 50% just aren’t a fit (haven’t worked with people in my situation, are too technical, or are condescending), and about 10-20% are possible fits. By speaking to at least 5, it becomes very obvious who is a good fit.

Be sure to interview them using the questions in my book on page 201.

Why commission-based financial advisors are not worth it

Impact of fees:

If you’re investing $10,000 per year for 40 years, a commission-based financial advisor could cost you $439,386.20.

If you’re investing $25,000 per year for 40 years, a commission-based financial advisor could cost you over $1 million.

A 1% fee can reduce your returns by 28% — and that money goes straight into a commission-based advisor’s pocket!

I have no problem paying premium prices for great value. But there is no reason to pay a percentage of your assets to an advisor. Ever.

Why you probably don’t need a financial advisor

Remember, the IWT philosophy is to take control of your money. This isn’t the same as hiring someone to mow your lawn or change your oil.

The key takeaway is that most people don’t actually need a financial advisor — you can do it all on your own and come out ahead. But if your choice is between hiring a financial advisor or not investing at all, then sure, hire one. People with really complex financial situations, those who have inherited or accumulated substantial amounts of money (i.e., over $1 million), and those who are truly too busy to learn about investing for themselves also should consider seeking an advisor’s help. It’s better to pay a little and get started investing than to not start at all.

But remember, many people use financial advisors as a crutch and end up paying tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetime, simply because they didn’t spend a few hours learning about investing. If you don’t learn to manage your money in your twenties, you’ll cost yourself a ton one way or another — whether you do nothing or pay someone exorbitant fees to “manage” your money.

Money is a small but important part of a Rich Life. Most of us don’t need to delegate the critical things in life.

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