Should I try to find a financial advisor? Will they even talk to non-rich folks like me?

June 3 |
By: Emre AyarogluCC BY 2.0
My brand new husband and I are muddling through figuring out our money and I thought that seeing a financial adviser would be a great idea. I started looking for fee-only financial advisers in Los Angeles and I found that by and large, these folks are for rich people. One even said they won't talk to you if you make less than $200,000 per year.

Now, our financial situations are messy. I work two jobs, a "real" job at a grocery store and a freelance writing gig, which has all kinds of interesting tax… things. We're trying to keep a balanced budget, save money, pay bills on time, and work out taxes. And we have an aging cat.

So, I feel like professional help is in order, but who do I get it from? Should I try to find a financial adviser for poorer folks? Or is there a better option somewhere? -ZZ

  1. Hey it's like you're inside my head! Fellow newlyweds looking for financial advice to help get us on the right track. We have accounts with a local credit union and I emailed them asking if they have any finance programs. They told me they offer completely free financial advice, counseling, budgeting, and preparation for loans for members. If you are a member of a credit union (or even a regular bank perhaps) I'd recommend starting there.

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    • I am in fact, a credit union member! That's a great idea!

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  2. Hmm. When I hear "financial advisor who won't talk to you unless you make over 200k per year" I automatically think "shady fucker who helps rich folks find tax loopholes." I have a regular CPA who advises us on our business and personal taxes, not in a lets form a tax shelter way, but in a Lets Keep Your Broke Asses From Getting Audited sort of way. I got a recommendation from a friend who's also a small business owner. We meet with her about four times a year, just to make sure we're doing what we need to do tax and business wise. It helps when you're someone like me who is terrified of tax problems and has no real understanding of the tax code, to have someone who can reassure you. As for other financial planning, I second trying to get help from a local credit union or bank. Our bank has a financial advisor who helps with things like savings, iras, retirement planning, etc, for free.

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    • Second the recommendation for a CPA. Especially for tax craziness.

      I happen to work in the financial adviser industry and while I can't say whether or not they're all shady fuckers I HAVE noticed that they prefer already wealthy individuals and companies. Mainly because they're managing assets and investments which they might then pull fees off of.

      That said, if your "real" job offers a 401(k) or investment options it's probably using a company like Fidelity or NYL to manage the investments. If that's the case log into the website, make some calls, and make that firm work for your company's business. They'll give you some slanted advice, but can explain terms like defined contribution, 401(k), and explain your investment choices. Cause just like your healthcare's broker and insurer, that's why they're making the big bucks!

      If you're looking for basic advice to get you started your local library should be your first step. Even if you still want to meet with an adviser! There's plenty of books out there with solid information to help you set up your basic finances. The better your base understanding is the more effective you can identify a good adviser to work with. My father gave me this book when I graduated college On My Own Two Feet which I still refer to when I'm in a major life-shift.

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      • Ooh, that's good advice too that I forgot completely about. When I was still working in the "real" world, my company had 401k, and even though it was offered through a national company, our local rep was a real guy, who you could call about any questions you might possibly have relating to your retirement. He was super helpful and nice and accessible Currently, we have our retirement set up with MetLife; it's not tax shelter level money, but it's our whole retirement fund, so I'm not sure if there are lower limits to what you can invest, but I do know that our MetLife advisor is amazing and also accessible (and not limited just to dealing with our actual investments. She in fact devised the budget we use right now, based on "you want to retire in X years, this is what you need to do/save") . And I shouldn't generalize financial advisors as shady fuckers; I'm sure lots of them are and I've dealt with some personally, but just like any other profession there are plenty of good ones. It's just a matter of finding one.

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        • Amen to a lot of that.

          One thing these guys almost never point out though are two things:
          Target Date Funds (TDFs) are really subjective in terms of risk. If you're relying on them to make a judgment on where you should be at age 50 check into their picks and make sure it jives with you. If the rep doesn't broach the topic, do it for them.

          The investment options available to you have fees where once a year a percentage of the money you have invested is collected by the broker/investment firm. Check your options for the fees, ask about why they are set to what they are, and make sure you take them into account with your investing. I mention this because I once got auto-enrolled in a fund where the fees were 6% and most of the time I invest in a fund with only .40%.

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  3. As a previous commenter mentioned, I would check with your bank first to see if they offer financial advisers first. Also, if you have a retirement plan or any sort of stock program through your grocery store job, they also might have financial advisers for employees. My work has a deal with the banking institution that takes care of our 401k program where they have a dedicated financial adviser if we want someone to talk to about saving, tax burdens, etc.

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  4. Your bank or credit union may offer financial advising services FOR FREE(!) so please talk to your banker the next time you stop in. If they do not offer one on-site, they may be able to make a recommendation of the kinds of companies that offer advising.
    Alternatively, see if you know anyone who is interning at one of the major advising companies – they would love to help you, no matter how little you have to start with.
    And a third suggestion, if you have any sort of life insurance and are friendly with your insurance agent, ask if they offer financial advising too. My life insurance agent also offers financial advising and has some products to help, but is OK with recommending third-party investments too. And I believe this advice is free because I already have insurance through their company.

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    • I was going to add a recommendation to talk with your insurance agent. Ours (for all of our policies) is a real local guy who's super nice and accessible. Insurance should definitely be part of your financial planning, in terms of ensuring you are covered in an emergency and that you're not paying for things you don't need. A good agent should help with both aspects and be able to lay out the pros and cons of various options. They probably aren't much help with tax issues but they can fill in their piece of your financial picture.

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  5. Has anyone used the LearnVest website? What did you think? (I have not.)

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    • I just checked it out 'cause we're looking for a financial planner, too, and it looks more like Mint.com (which is a totally awesome free budget website) than a planning tool.

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    • Just my .02 on LearnVest– I use it religiously. They do have a visualization tool that is a lot like Mint (though I will say it works better for me, having tried both), but they also have an option to have checkins with their CPAs. I did one earlier this year to kick off a budget on a new income and I really feel like both that conversation, feeling accountable to someone other than myself about my budget, and the visualization of what it looks like to have saved money have all been really helpful for me. Can't remember what they charge for those conversations but I found a coupon for mine that made it a reasonable expense.

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  6. Frontline ran a piece on retirement that has some valuable info, in my opinion, on what to look for in long-term savings and financial planners. Specifically, they touch on finding out who your financial planner works for and how they make their money to make sure there's no conflict of interest, and how to calculate the amount of money you might lose over time on investments in fees and such. They have the video and transcripts here on their website

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  7. YES. Dealing with money is NOT something that is necessarily intuitive and it's not something a lot of us are taught. There are advisors at most large banks like previous commenters have said, and I'm sure you can find someone who deals with small, independent business owners. Good luck!

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  8. One of the BEST decisions my partner and I ever made was finding a financial adviser. Because we don't have a lot of money we don't get charged that much (she has a sliding fee), but what we get in return from her is truly invaluable. How much should we try and save each month? Which debts should we pay down and when? Should we open an IRA? How can I make the transition from a "real (office) job" to a sole proprietorship? How can we plan to support a baby during said transition? Is there a more efficient way to pay bills and regular joint expenses? Our amazing financial adviser answered all these questions and we are in a much more stable financial position today than a year ago. My advice is to make sure you "click" with your financial adviser. It might take a few interviews with different advisers until you find one who respects your lifestyle and priorities, but you want an advocate who helps you attain YOUR goals.

    Also, in our case, our financial adviser is separate from our tax stuff. We do our own taxes (for now, that will likely change with transition to working for myself) and our financial adviser is exactly that: someone who gives us advice about how to manage our finances. Good luck!

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    • I was going to reply, but saw that feistyAli said pretty much exactly what I would have.
      We don't make much money, but we have some investments and a 401K and we would like to do the right things with those. We got a referral to a *fantastic* advisor at Ameriprise here in Seattle. I can't even tell you how much we've loved this process, and how much relief it has brought me. We still struggle to keep ends met each month, but I have a better picture of the whole situation, so I don't have this constant sense of helplessness that I did before.
      He has been totally hands off about where we take our money for management – they do offer it at his firm, but he has also encouraged us to consider keeping it at Fidelity or another group. No pressure, lots of honest, understandable advice.

      We paid $900 for a year, which includes 4-5 in-person meetings and however many (within reason!) phone calls and emails we may send with questions for clarification. This was the lower end of their annual fee, since we don't have much money and aren't very complicated. It feels like a lot to pay, but I'd say it has been worth every dime so far.

      I wish I had referrals for you – but do keep looking! They aren't just for rich people!!

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  9. If you live in the State of Florida, there is a free financial advice service through your county's cooperative extension office call master money mentors. You just look it up through the cooperative extension office.

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    • A similar thing in Michigan, but for older people who aren't sure about their rights regarding their retirement entitlements (so maybe our parents? I'm not sure how many 60+ in Michigan readers OBH has…) they can use the free elder law hotline. http://www.elderlawofmi.org/index.html
      This includes things like signing up for Medicaid and SSI, pensions, and avoiding financial abuse.

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  10. Hey, I've actually been in your shoes, and have had my own experience with some bank financial advisers. I will be honest just from my own experience, normally.. they act pushy for you to invest in THEIR programs and make it sound like you can have everything fixed if you let them do this this and that. The don't sit there and help create a budget or figure out what your goals are. However, I have found some help in THE most unlikely place. A mutual friend of mine went some some financial class that has been picking up popularity. Please..please don't turn your nose up at this, because this program has actually helped me and my husband get on track on where our spending is going, made a budget, taking down debt, and even putting money away for SPECIFIC plans in the future. It has seriously made us feel WAY more in control of our finances. We're only in our early 20's and already starting a retirement fund.

    Now here's a link to them : http://www.daveramsey.com/home/
    First thing you'll notice, yes this IS a christian-based financial help program. I will be honest, I was turned off by the idea nearly automatically, but with my friend egging me on to at least go to one class, I figured we would try it.
    I was surprised to say the least. No one has to reveal their incomes, everyone works together to encourage each other to save and stay on track with their goals, and there is actually HELPFUL advice that is given to people like me who do NOT speak financial lingo whatsoever, explained many different options for many different stations in life. It made me feel welcome to know that there were options for all statuses in life. And even more of surprise, they actually didn't shove religion down your throat..SHOCKER!! They throw in a few things about tithing but thats about it.
    Classes are like 89$ but you can speak with the head of the class to get a discount, and it covers both you and your spouse, not only that..it is a one time fee where you can attend any classes held anywhere else for free forever!
    Now for you specifically, they DO offer FREE financial advisers for people of all backgrounds and situations. Even real estate advisers, lawyers, tax guys,etc.
    They are truly there to actually help you save money, not sit there and shove you into a corner to see things THEIR way. They just let you know it will take time and patience and a LOOOOT of dedication into saving.

    So there that is just ONE option that I personally prefer, but please understand there may be a lot more out there. I just know that my own personal experience can be completely different from those out there, I'm just hoping this one outlet may help ya in some way. =) Here's to hoping I won't get flagged for suggesting this program. And good luck on your search!

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    • A lot of churches offer finance courses for their members and the community, so it's definitely an option to explore for folks comfortable with that.

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    • I believe he also has a radio show. In the area where I listen to the show, it's on Sunday mornings on the local AM station. It's mostly a lot of sensible money advice. But I would stay away from investing in any stocks recommended – they're so volatile and no one can predict the stock market.

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    • I am an atheist, but was raised mormon. One of the interesting things about my church was they actually did teach finance stuff, like what exactly a credit card was and how interest worked and all that stuff. Nobody else taught me that and I wouldn't have learned otherwise.
      I'll look into that. A class seems like a really good idea.

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  11. We have worked with two different financial advisers and I highly recommend it. They aren't just helping you with retirement funds, a good advisor will help you figure out life insurance, how much to save in an emergency fund, and can help you figure out how to get out of debt. Finding a rep that you click with is key as you are likely going to be working with them for a while. You want to make sure that they are respectful of your goals and not trying to push you into something that you don't really want.

    We met our first advisor at a bridal show and he pointed out some very large holes in our finances (like no life insurance). However, he pushed whole life insurance – HARD – and gave me a panic attack because he didn't full explain the fees and how things would work.

    The second advisor we found through my husband's work. They manage the company's 401K and were happy to help us with our personal finances. In our first phone meeting, Neil, our rep was great and didn't try to push us into anything. He set up a plan and told us that his immediate goal was to increase our life insurance amount and to get a couple thousand in savings. That was it. He said we could tackle all the other things later.

    Be prepared to dig really deep in to your finances and answer some tough questions about how much debt you have and what you are working with. They ask about everything. We've been lucky in that both advisors didn't turn their nose at us because we made under $100k a year. Definitely check out http://www.daveramsey.com to find someone near you and ask for a phone consultation to see if you like them. Good luck!

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  12. My husband is a certified financial planner, so I hope this is helpful. It really depends on what kind of "planning" you want. If you don't have two nickles to rub together (which might be where you're at) what you really want is a debt counselor – someone who will help you figure out how to trim your expenses, where you can save, etc.

    If things are tight but a little more manageable, you could go to any number of companies – met life, Northwestern Mutual, ameriprise, etc and the folks they'll put you in touch with there likely work on commission. What that means is that yes, they are trying to sell you products, but products that make sense for your financial future – life insurance, disability insurance, etc. Anyone at any of those places has an ethical obligation to not oversell you, and to explain what those products to for your financial future (just an aside as a plug for disability insurance – get it. Nothing will sink you so fast as a long term medical condition. It's absolutely as vital as health insurance). These people are likely not going to be thinking about your immediate decisions – how much per month to spend on the cat, for example, but really thinking more long term about your financial health. As things get less tight, you can work with that same person to figure out college savings (if you need that), retirement savings, investments, etc.

    What the fee-for-service financial planners do is basically the same thing, but they're working with people who have more money to "plan" with. If you've got $200,000 sitting in the bank, how can you best maximize that investment for retirement, college, career change, inheritance, etc.

    I hope this was helpful. It is really important that you get a "good vibe" from whoever you work with, as they are really supposed to be there for you. And don't hesitate to ask questions either – they can't help you if they don't know you're confused.

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  13. The company that runs my work retirement program offers quarterly meetings with their financial planners. Although they are trying to sell you additionally products, the sell is "soft" and they are happy to talk to you about the type of product, even if you buy it from someone else. If you have a retirement plan through work, check with your HR rep to see if they offer this type of counseling. I've found it very helpful.

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  14. YES!!!! We are newlyweds, 24 yrs old, in our first "adult" jobs and we met up with a financial adviser. he got us on track, helped us to effectively and non-emotionally talk about money, budgets, etc and now we are on track to pay off our $43K student loans by August 2014! Just keep searching you will find someone. Otherwise, shoot me an email or visit my blog – and I can direct you to the guy we used (he's in MN but does mtgs via skype)

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    • Who is he? I actually live in MN and am now curious because I could use a little help.

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  15. It's probably different in your country, but although there are financial advisors in Germany for all kinds of income, I'd run from them. My BF brought one into the relationship, and I have been trying to get rid of him (the advisor!) ever since.

    "Are you sure you don't need private health insurance?" –
    "Yes, I am sure. With private health insurance we would have to pay for all our children separately."
    – "You don't have children yet."
    – "But we plan to, and the BF would not be able to simply switch back to a better plan."
    – "But…"
    – "Have you heard me say NO?"
    – "Ooookay. So what about an additional dental insurance?" – "GO."

    I swear, one day he will go missing.

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  16. My credit union sends me notices about "financial checkup" meetings they offer to help you get on track with saving, get spending under control, etc.

    I also have a financial advisor, but its the same person who advises my mother, and that's how I found them. She's got me listed on all her beneficiary things (only child) and everything is set up to go into a trust when she dies that goes to me, so I went in to talk to them when she set it up so they could help get it set into a track that will work best for me. That started me with my own connection to them.

    When I started, they told me I should do 3 things right away to put myself in a better position:
    1) refinance my house (dropped a full percent and a half on interest rates),
    2) change my tax deferred 401K to a taxed 401K (by the time it matures, the taxes I pay on taking it out would be way more than now) and
    3) buy life insurance, which is on my to do list with all my other wedding things.

    They're largely hands off on my retirement, but they say once it has more than $30,000, they will take a more proactive hand in it. It's not a bad setup and it's great to have someone to just call and see what's up when I'm confused.

    1 agrees
    • A taxed 401(k)? Do you mean an IRA by any chance?

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  17. I work for a small financial planning firm in Colorado. Yes they do work with poor folks! While we do focus on small business owners we also have a lot of clients through refferals. A big focus is to get clients out of debt so they can start accumulating wealth (and be bigger clients – it's a win-win for us and you).

    1) If your work has a 401k plan I would ask HR (if you don't know already – we do presentations at the companies we have 401ks for so they know who we are) who your rep is and talk to them. Even if they only work on company plans they will have people to direct you to.
    2) If you have a CPA or lawyer you could also ask them for a referral. Most of them have good ties with advisors and won't give you the name of someone who they haven't worked with and know.
    3) Ask your family and friends if they have a financial advisor and what they think of them.

    The big reason why I think you should ask your network who they know is that most advisors will take on smaller clients through referrals. You may not be able to be a big client but your parent's/CPA's/auntie's/good friend's advisor may take you on (even if they have a minimum) because you have a referral instead of walking in off the street. Also, most firms have a junior/younger advisor who can take on smaller clients because they are building their client list. We have a staff member who is assisting our busiest advisor and turning into a junior assistant and even if people just meet with them – they work on all of the case with the senior advisor.

    Most advisors have a complimentary first meeting so you can see if you like each other and fit well also so you could "interview" several of them to find someone who you like.

    1 agrees

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