Investing well is arguably the most challenging part of personal finance. Throw a volatile economy into the mix, and it can seem impossible.
My advice? Don’t be a victim; be in the game.
- Take proactive steps to deal with your worries.
- Take responsibility for understanding key aspects of investing. Everyone should know the most important factor for long-term investment success. Everyone should know how compound interest works.
- Consider taking on an investment pro. Having someone on your team whose full-time job is to recommend and/or manage investments can help take away the stress of investing – assuming, of course, that you pick the right pro. Here’s what to look for.
The Right Credentials
One of the most important credentials an investment advisor can hold is that of Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). Seeing those letters after someone’s name means they have completed coursework in all aspects of financial planning, passed a torturous 10-hour exam, have at least three years of full-time financial planning work experience, commit to follow stringent ethics standards, and continue to take financial planning courses.
It isn’t the only designation that matters, but it’s one of the best. I know a financial planner who is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and also holds a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) designation. I would feel equally confident working with him as I would a CFP.
One other really important designation is that of a fiduciary. It isn’t a credential anyone earns; it’s an industry standard – the highest standard – that a financial planner can choose to adhere to. It means that the planner must at all times place the interests of the client ahead of his or her own. Today, all CFPs are required to operate as fiduciaries.
If you choose to work with an investment advisor other than a CFP, work with one that adheres to the fiduciary standard.
The Right Compensation
If you ask a lemonade salesman for ideas on how to quench your thirst on a hot day, it’s a safe bet that he’ll recommend the juice of a certain yellow fruit.
What does this have to do with financial planning? Everything. There are plenty of people who hold themselves out as financial advisors who are really product salespeople. Look for an advisor who is paid for his or her time and expertise, not one who is paid on commission.
In order to find a good fee-based advisor, ask friends for referrals, or use the web sites of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors or the Garrett Planning Network. Then…
Interview more than one. Ask specifically if they work as a fiduciary. Find out about their fees. Most will charge based on a percentage of the assets you have them manage for you. Others may charge a separate fee for a financial plan.
Ask to speak with some of their clients and find out how well the advisors have performed in up markets and down.
Ask the advisors how often they will be in touch with you and how often you can be in touch with them.
The Right Values
If your faith is an important part of your life, here are three organizations that enable you to put a Christian advisor at the helm of your investments.
Kingdom Advisors. This is a national network of financial professionals who are highly credentialed and who also have been trained in biblical principles of money. Founder Ron Blue is one of the foremost living authorities on biblical money management. Use the Kingdom Advisors web site to find an advisor near you.
Everyday Steward. This is a division of Ronald Blue & Company, a financial planning organization founded but no longer owned by Ron Blue. While some advisors will only work with people who have fairly large sums to manage, Everyday Steward has lower thresholds.
Do you work with an investment advisor? Why or why not? If you do, what other criteria did you consider in making your choice?
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