Q: I am a child psychologist and feel confident at my job. As confident as I feel in my career, I feel equally helpless when it comes to finances. … What I don’t understand is the difference between putting my money into a firm that actively manages with models, will charge me a 1 percent fee, and will have lots of capital gains to fit into the models, vs. having my money in a brokerage account. … I feel like I am bringing my car into the shop without a clue about how it runs, hoping someone will be a good steward for me.



A: I cut down Sarah’s e-mail for space, but here’s some additional information. She inherited some money in her 20s when her father unexpectedly died. She kept the money at a brokerage account with a man who knew her father. He never asked about her future plans. He didn’t meet with her. She finally pulled her money out. Her current firm is more engaged. But the firm wants to sell her stake in several blue chip stocks so that her portfolio will fit into their model. She will incur large capital gains on the sale. She’s uncomfortable with the strategy.

I checked in with Jonathan Guyton, principal at Cornerstone Wealth Advisors in Edina. “Sarah is in no way like someone ‘bringing my car into the shop without a clue about how it runs,’ …” he said. “Not only are her questions germane and informed, they also reflect the growing financial maturity of someone who has clearly come a long way since her mid-20s.”

A portfolio concentrated in a small number of stocks is risky (with the important caveat that I don’t know about your other financial assets). There are sensible ways — nothing particularly exotic — to gradually reduce your exposure to a concentrated portfolio while limiting capital gains taxes. This doesn’t mean you have to rush, but unexpected events can hammer even blue chip stocks.

Finding a good planner takes time. Consul with a fee-only planner to go over your portfolio. The fee-only relationship minimizes conflicts of interest. I also recommend looking for certified financial planner or comparable well-educated designation, such as a Personal Financial Specialist.

The main website for finding highly qualified fee-only financial planners is the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors at napfa.org. The website for finding CFPs is plannersearch.org. Not all CFPs are fee-only. Ask any potential planner to clearly explain what they can and cannot do for you and how they make their money.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace”, commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.