You have financial questions. The internet has answers. So do friends, family members and late-night TV money gurus.
But sometimes you need a professional who can provide money advice that’s tailored specifically to your needs.
And that raises more questions: Whom do I hire? How much will it cost? What will be asked? Where do I start?
Find the right help, at the right cost
Financial pros are like doctors: Some are specialists in defined areas, such as taxes or managing investments.
Others are general practitioners, offering advice on everything from budgeting and investing to insurance and retirement planning.
Just starting out?
For financial situations that aren’t complex — you are looking for low-cost investment guidance or to open your first IRA — automation has enabled traditional firms like Vanguard and Fidelity as well as online-only companies like Betterment and Wealthfront to substantially lower the price of portfolio management.
These so-called robo-advisers charge a small fee (ranging from 0.25 percent to 0.89 percent of your account balance) to build and manage a portfolio of low-cost investments suited to your financial goals.
The investment mix is determined by a computer algorithm and is automatically adjusted when needed. At the basic account level, you can start investing with $500 or even less.
Need comprehensive hands-on help?
For those juggling multiple priorities — like saving for college, retirement, a new deck or a nose job — a certified financial planner (CFP) can provide holistic one-on-one advice for even the most complex financial situations.
The official CFP designation indicates that a provider has gone through a rigorous formal training and testing process.
A fee-only CFP typically charges by the hour (usually $200 to $400) or by the task (a flat $1,000 to $3,000 fee, for example). The initial consultation to discuss your needs and their services is usually free.
Ask whether the person you are considering is a fiduciary, a term that means they are obligated to put the client’s best interests first. (Members of the Garrett Planning Network and National Association of Personal Financial Advisors fill both the fiduciary and fee-only requirements.)
Want something in between?
Many robo-advisers combine computer-driven portfolio management with access to living, breathing financial advisers.
Depending on account size or the robo-adviser’s subscription model, the level of service varies — from online and e-mail-only consultations with trained staff, to scheduled phone conferences with a dedicated adviser.
Whether you hire human help or opt for electronic money management, you will begin with a review of where you stand.
You will be asked about:
• Your goals: What are your short- and long-term financial priorities?
• Your current financial picture: How much money comes in and goes out? What do you own, and what do you owe?
• Your risk tolerance: This series of questions about how queasy stock market gyrations make you informs how much of your portfolio should be in stocks vs. other investments like bonds.
Online advisories offer virtual tours, demos and even the chance to test-drive the investment platform before you sign up.
Wealthsimple even jumps right into advice mode by performing a free portfolio review for potential clients and discussing their savings and debt.
An initial meeting with a human financial planner, even the free consultation, is more involved.
Like a first date, it’s the chance to get to know one another and see if you mesh on a personal and philosophical level.
Take this opportunity to find out everything you can, including how much you can expect to pay, how the financial plan will be presented and how often to expect ongoing communication.
No matter your decision, keep in mind that the effectiveness of a financial plan depends on the quality and completeness of the information you provide. Don’t be shy about revealing your money issues.
You want to feel comfortable sharing your financial details, in order to receive advice tailored to your unique needs and goals.
Dayana Yochim is a writer at NerdWallet. E-mail: email@example.com. Twitter: @DayanaYochim.