Financial planning has a lot of confusing jargon. Here is a short course on what some of these things really mean.
Financial planners get paid in three ways: commissions, fees and commissions and fees. Period. Fee-only planners charge retainers, hourly rates or a calculation based on a percentage of net worth or assets that they manage. While some firms use the term fee-based, there is no such thing. These firms collect fees and commissions.
How someone gets paid can create conflicts of interest. Someone who earns commissions receives a benefit through selling you something, someone who manages assets benefits from the more assets they manage, and even those on an hourly have conflicts around how efficiently they perform the tasks at hand. Someone who is a fiduciary is expected to put your interests ahead of their own. Costs may not be different among fee structures because fee-only firms may still help you meet your objectives with products such as life insurance where a commission is earned by someone, just not your planner.
Guarantees are also confusing. Any investment provides up to four things: safety, income, growth and tax advantages. The more you have of one, the less you will have of the others. When something offers guarantees, there has to be a price to pay. The price will be lower returns or your money's accessibility or how complicated the guarantee is.
Here are some things to think about when you are looking for advice.
Understand certainty vs. uncertainty. For example, if you have a portfolio that has had a lot of appreciation but you want to switch advisers, be alert if that adviser wants you to sell everything in order to invest with them. Taxes are guaranteed, returns are not. Most advisers should be willing to work around assets that have appreciated, utilize them for gifting or have a compelling reason why changes should occur.
Know what you are paying for. Understand what the scope of services will be and the capacity of the advisory firm to carry those services out. Turn this understanding into agreements rather than simply expectations.
Keep asking questions. If something does not seem right to you, you have the right to ask about it. If the explanation still does not make sense, you have the right to have it explained in a way that does. While a good advisory relationship is based on trust, the trust should be insured by making things understandable.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the chief executive & founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.