Are Financial Advisers Only for the Wealthy?

Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 18.

Facing an uncertain future, Americans are re-evaluating their financial profile and trying to determine how best to position their assets for what could be the ride of their life.

Tax codes, health care and regulations are expected to change with the incoming presidential administration leaving investors and savers wondering if a financial advisor or planner would be the smartest way to maximize their position.

"The best time to contact a financial professional is when you've done all the homework you can to try to research a problem, perhaps one that is legally or technically complicated and you finally need some help," suggests Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.

"It could also be that one is overwhelmed, either by debt or financial terms or transactions that seem foreign," Hamrick adds. "One thing that has become different in the age of the Internet is access to information. There's a treasure trove of data, research and technology at one's fingertips providing possible solutions and courses of action."

While the internet provides a bevy of information, finding customizable solutions for the individual's needs is challenging through a Google search, says Dave Grant, CFP, founder and financial planner for Retirement Matters, Inc.

"While this may work, many solutions are generic and don't take into consideration personal situations that only an advisor can design around. There's also the cost and accessibility of using an advisor," he says.

Aren't Financial Professionals Expensive?

The biggest question from average Americans is whether they can afford to hire a financial professional.

"One shouldn't stop short of seeking good financial advice based on a certain level of income," Hamrick says. "History is full of the proverbial rags-to-riches stories where people have been aggressive savers who converted modest means into what others might consider a fortune."

The key is to avoid spending too much on advice where it limits the ability to get an adequate or appropriate return on investment. "Income, including salary, is a means toward acquiring assets or even wealth over time," Hamrick says. "Those things, along with expenses and debts, go into the mix of determining our longer-term financial well-being. Another thing to monitor: Does this person have an incentive to sell me something that I might not need or want? If so, be extremely careful or consider looking for someone else. A potential conflict of interest can stand in the way of achieving your own objectives."

The traditional fee structure for financial advice has also evolved to accommodate those of modest means and young workers trying to build assets.

"A niche financial planning service, designed to serve millennials has emerged where the customer is charged a monthly retainer which resembles more of a subscription fee," says Shannon Pike, vice president at Tanglewood Legacy Advisors, LLC . "The financial service may not be as advanced and covers aspects like investments, but is a great start for someone starting out because it prepares you for life."

People who wait until their 40s or 50s to consider financial planning or advice miss a number of opportunities or can make impactful financial errors, Pike adds. "Planning early in life will help you to avoid errors that can be avoided later down the road," Pike says. "With more options, you can obtain financial planning advice early instead of waiting until its too late."

How to Choose a Financial Professional

Before asking about expense, understand the kind of assistance you need. "One, among many questions, is whether a candidate for your work has certification such as a chartered financial analyst (CFA) or certified financial planner (CFP)," Hamrick says.

When seeking financial advice of any kind, consumers should ask about qualifications, certifications degrees or other training that might help to decide whether to forge forward with a working relationship, Hamrick adds.

"Asking friends and family for personal recommendations can be one way to proceed," Hamrick says. "It could well be someone without these certifications can provide good advice as well, but you want to avoid putting your funds and your financial standing at risk. These individuals could also be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney or an investment adviser. Of course, costs or fees is another huge consideration. Like anything else in life, you don't always get what you pay for. So do your homework."

The relationship you forge with your financial professional should be approached the same way you make a new friend Grant says.

"Working with an advisor who you don't feel comfortable talking with or sharing your life goals will not result in an impactful financial plan," he offers. "Having an advisor who you can openly talk to, without fear of judgment, will help immensely."

Also, when working with any financial professional, look for any red flags, Grant advises. "There are plenty of advisors who work for 'captive' companies, meaning they can only sell what their company offers," he says. "Stay away from them. There are also brokers who'll mange your investments but not give you much insight into anything else in your life. If you're looking for a long-term financial partner, you'll want to find someone who'll spend the time sitting with you to find out about you, your family, and ensure your investments and every day decisions are aligned with where you want to go. If a financial advisor starts selling your products, walk away. There are plenty of fee-only, independent advisors who can work with you, and if that product is needed, can find the best one for you - not just the one that the other advisor is trying to sell."

Apply the same factors that go into choosing any professional such as a physician, an attorney, a realtor or even a mental health professional, Hamrick adds.

"Not all personalities and/or qualifications are going to be a perfect fit for everyone," he says. "What kind of qualifications are you looking for? What are your objectives? How much are you prepared to pay? Do you want a fee-only advisor where you keep your expenses down while striving for a specific goal? Do you prefer someone who is more outgoing or want someone who is all business? Does a member of your family or a close friend have an established relationship with this person, so that you can begin with a certain level or trust."

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