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Do I need a financial adviser?

Posted August 3

"How do I know if I need to hire a financial adviser?" -- Enjoli

You're at crossroads with your finances and you're not sure where to go from here. Is it time to seek out expert advice?

Maybe. But the first thing to note is that a "financial adviser" isn't necessarily what it sounds like.

Many are actually asset managers who can help build your portfolio through investments ... as long as you have a lot of money.

"Most advisers have an asset minimum of roughly $500,000 to $1 million, which means it can be difficult for younger clients," says Lifewise financial adviser Matt Cosgriff.

Plus, this kind of adviser would typically charge around 1% on assets managed, according to Cosgriff.

Dr. Rui Yao, a professor in the Personal Financial Planning Department at the University of Missouri, says most advisers want to work with wealthy clients. That's how they make money. Rearranging debt and budgeting is not their primary focus.

"Millennials are future clients but they are not 'good' clients now in terms of revenue generation."

Related: The 1st question to ask your financial adviser

If you're only just starting your financial journey, a good option is to look for an adviser that has a retainer model or monthly subscription, says Cosgriff. These are often called "fee-only" advisers.

With some models, you could pay, say, $1,000 to $2,000 upfront, followed by an ongoing monthly fee of $100 to $200. Others might charge a flat fee for a one-time consult. Cosgriff says this fee structure removes any potential conflict of interest -- like when advisers earn commission through the sale of insurance products.

So, now that you know what kind of adviser to look for, the question is, do you even need one at all?

Here are a few situations that may warrant sitting down with an adviser.

1. You're drowning in debt

If you're buried under a mountain of consumer debt or student loans and you're finding the payments unmanageable, you might need some expert advice.

But spending even more money on a financial adviser might not be the best option. Certified financial planner Pamela Capalad recommends financial nonprofits that offer debt counseling for free or at a low cost.

She suggests Clearpoint and Money Management International for debt counseling and the Department of Housing and Urban Development website for advice on buying a home.

Just watch out for those that promise debt restructuring for a fee.

2. You need a plan

Do you feel like you've run into a wall with your finances and aren't sure where to go? Or maybe you're just starting out and you simply don't know where to begin.

"Anyone that really doesn't feel like they have a firm grasp on how they should think about their financial bigger picture or direction should really consider using a financial adviser," says Jim Marrocco, financial adviser at Thinking Big Financial.

Capalad says some of her clients reach out to her when they're making a decent income but are still living paycheck to paycheck. Others have a good grasp of saving and managing their spending, but have no clue what they should do next.

In these situations, a financial adviser can step in and help create a road map that looks at long-term goals.

Marrocco says this process starts by understanding the inflows and outflows of money and knowing how much is left over to save, invest or pay off debt. Next comes an assessment of your financial situation such as your current assets and debt.

At this stage, you can start to work backwards from your goal whether it be retiring at a certain age or buying a house in five years, says Marrocco. Frequent check-ins by a financial adviser will ensure you don't stray from your plan.

3. You've reached a milestone

Major life milestones are another good reason to seek out a professional check up.

These pivotal moments include getting engaged or married, purchasing a new home, inheriting money or making a major career advancement.

"Young people should start to seek out a financial adviser as their financial life becomes more complicated and their time to focus on managing their financial life decreases," says Cosgriff.

Big financial questions loom when young people face parenthood and children enter into the picture, says Yao.

"Do you pay off your student loans before starting college savings for newly born family members? Do you choose a Coverdell Education Savings Account or 529 plan?"

Bottom line: Unless you're feeling the pressure of keeping your finances in check or are drowning in debt, it's not absolutely necessary to get the help of a financial adviser. But just keep in mind, it's never too early to get advice.

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