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How to Find a Financial Advisor If You’re Not Rich

If you think about it, the people who need a financial advisor are the ones who can’t afford one. If you’re impoverished or firmly in the middle class and can’t seem to make it to the next level, you’re the one who could really use financial advice. If you’re wealthy, you know what you’re doing.

Yet many financial advisors simply aren’t interested in working with the middle class. Many firms in recent years have stopped paying commissions to brokers for accounts that are considered small, including accounts ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 in assets. Firms that do take less than those minimums sometimes charge as much as 2 percent in annual fees, though 1 percent is more typical.

So what should a middle-class investor do to find a good financial advisor? Experts recommend following these tactics.

[See: 8 Times to Talk to a Financial Advisor.]

Know Where to Look

At the beginning of the process, you should think about what type of financial advisor you want to meet with: fee-based or commission-based. Think about what you’re looking for. Are you seeking help with investments and retirement planning, or simply someone to go to when you have questions? Some advisors include financial planning in their fees for managing your investments, while others charge a separate fee or hourly rate for advice.

As for where to find a financial advisor, there are several places, from the obvious to the unexpected:

Ask friends, family or colleagues for recommendations. Obviously, you’ll be more likely to find somebody who will work with you if your friends, family members or colleagues are in a similar tax bracket as you are.

The Garrett Planning Network. GarrettPlanningNetwork.com offers a map of the United States where users can click on a state and find a listing of financial advisors who cater to the middle class.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. The association’s website, NAPFA.org, allows you to find a financial advisor near you. It isn’t for financial advisors who generally cater to the middle class, however. Still, you may want to take a look and see who shows up near your home.

Robo advisors. You may want to consider an automated portfolio management service as a cost-effective option. For example, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios does not require advisory fees, account service fees or commissions, though you will need $5,000 to get started with them. Meanwhile, Wealthfront, another popular robo advisor, has a $500 minimum account requirement, and only charges an annual advisory fee of 0.25 percent on all assets under management deducted monthly.

The Accredited Financial Counselor website. “I would strongly encourage true middle-income people to look [at Afcpe.org] for an accredited financial counselor,” says Justin Chidester, who is both an accredited financial counselor and a certified financial planner — as well as the owner of Wealth Mode Financial Planning in Logan, Utah.

You’ve probably heard of certified financial planners, but accredited financial counselors have been around for a while too, according to Chidester. “They often have a focus on helping low- and middle-income people, at affordable prices, with topics relevant to everyone — saving, budgeting, paying debt, improving credit, preparing to buy a home and working through poor habits with money,” Chidester says. He adds that they can’t legally provide investment or insurance advice, but they can provide great education about any financial topic and point you in the right direction for those things.

[Read: 10 Questions Financial Planners Wish You’d Ask.]

Know What Questions to Ask

Are you looking for help with investments and retirement planning, or simply for someone to go to when you have questions? Some advisors include financial planning in their fees for managing your investments, while others charge a separate fee for advice. As for how much you’ll pay, it will vary depending on where you live and the scope of the work you’re asking for. Some advisors may charge a couple thousand dollars for a comprehensive plan; others may charge around $200 to $400 an hour to dispense financial advice.

Stephanie Genkin, a certified financial planner in Brooklyn, New York, charges hourly — as opposed to what’s known as “assets under management.” Most fee-only advisors charge according to assets and therefore have minimum thresholds an individual needs to have in their bank account before they’ll even consider the person as a client. How much is the minimum? It varies, of course, but often you’ll need at least $50,000 before many advisors will consider working with you.

“That means most middle-class people are automatically excluded from service as they don’t have enough in investments to manage,” Genkin says. Genkin, who charges $200 an hour for her services, is also a fiduciary. That’s important to know because there are two standards that financial advisors adhere to. If you’re working with a fiduciary financial advisor, they are legally bound to put your needs before their own. A financial professional who has a suitability requirement is legally bound to provide products that are suitable for your needs, but which may not be the very best for you. That doesn’t mean somebody who upholds the suitability standard isn’t going to look out for you — but it does mean that the rules for those advisors are less stringent.

Registered investment advisors, investment advisor representatives and certified financial planners all carry fiduciary-level responsibility. You can easily spot these titles on business cards, websites and email signatures, if you look after the person’s name. Chartered retirement planning counselor and accredited investment fiduciary are other designations that indicate a fiduciary responsibility. Keep in mind, your financial advisor will likely carry a Series 65 license or a Series 7.

As for what you might discuss with a financial advisor, it can run the gamut. In Genkin’s case, she says, “I work with students to help them create realistic debt repayment plans, self-employed individuals who need help figuring out what they can do to save for retirement and new families who have limited resources and would like to save for a down payment on a home and start a college savings plan for their baby at the same time.”

She also points out that you may not need many hours, at first, with a financial advisor. If you’re just starting this journey, you probably have fewer assets, and you just need that initial guidance. By the time you need more help to manage your assets, well, you’ll presumably have more money, and paying for more financial advice won’t be as challenging.

Stick Up for Yourself

To avoid getting scammed, make sure to get references and check out everything you can find on the financial advisor online first. And keep in mind, everyone pays something when they hire a financial advisor — and not everyone is out to get you.

But after you find a financial advisor, you do want to make sure you’re in sync. You’ll want to get a sense of whether your advisor has a financial philosophy that lines up with yours. And the most important question of all? “Ask how can they help you reach your goals,” says Brett Anderson, a certified financial planner and president of St. Croix Advisors, LLC, an investment advisory firm in Hudson, Wisconsin.

[See: Decode These 10 Vexing Financial Terms.]

And if you’re anxious that you don’t make enough money for a financial advisor to work with you, just tell the advisor upfront what you earn, Anderson says. “Established advisors will want to have a dialogue even before they schedule an initial meeting with you,” he says. “Be honest. Just lay it all out. You’ll save everyone time.”

And the more time you save in looking for a financial advisor, the faster you can get started making your money work for you.

More from U.S. News

6 Ways Retiring Can Be More Affordable

How to Choose a Financial Advisor

7 Things Your Financial Advisor Should Not Tell You

How to Find a Financial Advisor If You’re Not Rich originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 10/09/18: This story was originally published on Feb. 6, 2014, and has been updated with new information.



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