Choosing a Financial Planner Takes Some Research

Investors of all ages believe they need professional help to manage their money, leading them to question the best way to find a skilled financial planner they can trust.

A new survey shows half of “GenX” investors (26 to 40 years old), 46 percent of “Boomers” (41 to 59) and 45 percent of “Matures” (60 to 82) say they “need the help of professionals” in managing their investments. The MainStay Investments division of New York Life Investment Management LLC, said in its Fifth Annual Across Generations survey that the numbers reveal a 10 percent increase from 2004.

“While nearly half of all investors recognize that they need help from investment professionals, a significant number of GenX and Boomer investors have not yet sought out that advice," said Beverly Moore, Managing Director of Wealth Strategies at MainStay Investments. The survey polled 1,537 individuals aged 26 to 82 with a net worth of $100,000 or more.

Where to turn? In investigating potential financial planners, investors must get clear information about the kinds of services offered and fee structures used. Some planners charge a flat fee; others charge a commission for every product; others offer a combination approach.

One way to learn about financial planners is find out whether they are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a must if they manage more than $25 million in assets. Ask for a copy of parts one and two of their ADV form, which lists information on disciplinary actions and adviser qualifications and fees, USA Today advises.

Also, find out how the financial planner is paid. James Barnash, president of the Financial Planning Association in Denver, told the newspaper that the fee structure you choose will depend on the level of advice you're seeking. Commissions or hourly fees might work for an investor who wants help in a specific area and already has some investment knowledge. The danger is that investors could be steered toward products that pay big commissions to the planner.

An investor looking for help in meeting long-range financial goals could consider an adviser who charges a flat fee, or a mix of commissions and fees. Some also charge a percentage of assets they manage, so they get more money when the value of your portfolio rises.

Other considerations: If you're in a fee-based brokerage account, the advice you receive is “suitable” under securities laws – not necessarily the best for you. In a fee-based advisory account, the adviser must act in the investor's best interest. Both accounts could charge a flat fee or annual percentage of assets managed.

More information can be found at the Financial Planning Association's website at www.fpanet.org, and at the National Association of Securities Dealers site at www.nasd.com. Find a fee-only planner in your area, meaning one who does not earn commissions on products, at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors' site.

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