In 1968 Nick Murray had to sell investments the hard way. He met most clients in their home. The tool of choice was the mutual fund. Most people he sat with were hard working people, but unsophisticated  investors. Fee-based advisors were rare in those days for the small accounts families had. Fees were high and people were risk adverse. To top it off, the market was having bouts of volatility, suffering a noticeable decline even to those who didn’t follow the market on a regular basis.

It was in this environment Nick Murray had to convince his clients and potential clients the best course of action for them. Investing in mutual funds came at a steep cost. Loads (aka sales fees) were as high as 8.75%. 91.25% of your money went to work right out of the gate trying to get back to the even water mark.

Nick Murray

Young families had to consider equities for at least a portion of their portfolio if they were ever to have enough money for a comfortable retirement, and Nick Murray knew it. The high fees were one issue; the market another. The question was always the same:

“Do you think the market will go up?”

An honest financial planner will never tell you the market will go up because no one has a crystal ball. Markets do go down at times, and significantly. In the long run stocks would provide the best return on investment if placed in a broad-based mutual fund. The gut-wrenching declines that show up now and again was the problem. Nick Murray had to provide comfort for the clients he served while encouraging the best financial behavior. He said:

“I do not know if the next move in the market will be up or down. The next 20% move could go either way and I have no way of knowing which way it will be. The same is true for the next 50% move. I just don’t know if the next such move is up or down. The same with the next 70%, 80% and even 90% move in the market. But I can guarantee you the next 100% move in the market is up, not down.”

How could Nick Murray make such a claim? Of course, the next non-100% move in the market is anyone’s guess. But to guarantee the next 100% move was up! 

Nick Murray spoke at a H.D. Vest Financial Services conference in Dallas in December of 1994 when he told this story. (I might be off a bit on the date as I’m pulling from memory only. It was December because H.D. Vest always had their December conference in Dallas. The year was 1992 to 1994, with my bet placed on 1994.) Murray explained why he made the statement to clients he did. He said:

“I could guarantee the next 100% move was up because the next 100% move has always up. And if I were ever to be wrong there would be nobody left to discuss it.”

Those words always stuck with me. Every bump in the night, ah, the market is not a cause for panic. Even if I bought at the height of the market in 1987 or 2008, it didn’t take long before another 100% gain was notched onto the market. Even the 1929 high eventually fell to substantial 100% gain after 100% gain.

Once again we face a market with a long up trend and worries abound. 

And now is a good time to ask if you need a financial planner.

 

What a Good Financial Planner Does

Financial planners come in so many flavors. Some are honest and good at what they do. Some are out for a quick buck. Others are incompetent, at best.

Earlier this week I met with a client in my office. This elderly couple had worked beyond the normal retirement age, but now were putting traditional labor in the past. They are simple people that prefer as little complication as possible. 

My husband/wife client have never used a computer. Normally I suggest a good index fund at Vanguard or Fidelity. That wasn’t the right advice in this instance. The 401(k) administrator (Transamerica) presented all the options. 98% of the page was annuity choices: single life, period certain, joint life. Way at the bottom was the lump-sum option.

My client was clear they did not need any of the money. They were aware of the required minimum distribution and that is all they would take from the funds.

So what does an honest financial planner tell a client in a situation like this? They didn’t need the money. They were not sophisticated investors. They were risk adverse. They had more than enough for anything they wanted.

After a half hour of discussion it was clear to me my client did not need an index fund or any other fancy sort of investment. I asked where they banked. It was a good local bank. I explained to them what laddered CDs were. They understood CDs and what I suggested. By the time you read this they will be working with their banker carrying  out what I feel is in their best interest. The interest earned will be small, but it is what serves this client best.

 

A good financial planner will be honest with her clients. No one size fits all. Usually when working with young families I have to spend serious time getting them to invest in equities. (Too often I must work my fingers to the bone convincing them to pay down debt and invest even a token amount.) 

I’m not a big fan of life insurance. (Don’t get me started on annuities.) However, there have been instances where the facts and circumstances indicated a client should have term life insurance. Business clients might best be served with key-man insurance or a policy for a buy-sell agreement. There have even been a few cases where the facts required I suggest annuities. With annuities I always go into a long-winded explanation of the high commissions so clients understand how much it pains me to make such a recommendation because I know commissions are ultimately paid by the client.

 

The most important task a financial planner has, in my opinion, is to prevent clients from panicking in a downturn and contain greed when the market is soaring.  Nothing else a financial planner does will do more to increase the value of a client’s account. 

As an accountant I see many clients. Over the years way too many have committed financial suicide because they got scared out of the market at a bottom. I’ve also seen too many invest on margin (borrowed money) when the market is hot. If I could have one wish, it would be to go back in time and convince more clients to walk away from a hot stock tip. A good financial advisor should encourage good long-term investments, like index funds. Sophisticated investors can invest in individual stocks because they know how to value a business. They use different financial planners from the proletariat. 

 

The duty of a good financial planner is simple: Stay in touch with clients to understand their financial plans and needs, helping them achieve those goals. In other words: Know Your Client!

It is easier than ever to walk the financial road without a financial planner. Mutual fund fees have collapsed to zero in some cases. (Does anyone pay a load anymore to buy a mutual fund?) ETFs are very low cost to buy. Automatic investing is easier than ever. 

The real questions is: Do you need a financial planner? There are only a few questions you need to ask yourself to get the answer:

  • Do you understand the investment choices available and the risks and consequences? Honestly!
  • Do you understand the tax implications? Or have a trusted tax professional to help you understand the tax issues?
  • Do you tend to want to “trade” the market?
  • Have you ever sold or panicked when the market was down? Be honest! How did you react, or not react, to the 2008 economic, housing and market meltdown?

 

Financial planners are different from the past. Many brokerage houses (E*Trade, Vanguard and Fidelity, for example) have in-house advisors available to help you make financial decisions.

Some advisors still pay house calls, but they are getting rare. And since commissions are totally different from a few decades ago when I was in securities, an alternative to a financial planner might be a better choice.

 

 

Alternative Financial Planners

While many consider stock brokers and insurance people financial planners, the truth is they are really salespeople for the firms they are appointed with. These traditional advisors still play a role in financial planning. However, their role is diminished compared to even recent times.

The stock broker wants to sell you stuff that generates a commission or fee-based product. So does the insurance guy. It’s how they keep the light on and I have no problem with that. Many financial planners are fee-based only today, charging 1% or something similar per year on the assets they manage for you. The fee seems small, but accumulates to a large amount over the years. And remember, the fees paid also no longer generate future returns for you.

 

There are two natural professions that can help you with your financial planning needs: attorneys and accountants. The accountant should not also sell products or fee-based services as well or you will find recommendations slanted toward what they sell.

Helping a client by telling them the truth — that they should use laddered CDs — is something an accountant can tell you. I don’t get paid a commission. I charge for my time and have no vested interest in the investment the client makes. 

As an accountant I can also help facilitate the process. If a client needs a Vanguard account I can walk through the set-up process with them or they can call Vanguard. All the client pays for is my time. 

Attorneys can play the same role. They might be more expense and have less time to work with you, but attorneys play a vital role in personal finances. Wills and estate issues will require an attorney anyway. The attorney and accountant can work together to help you deal with issues such a Medicare and future potential nursing home expenses. 

A good attorney and accountant can also keep you honest when the market is soaring or in free fall. These professionals have seen it all before in the market and in their client’s accounts and they don’t shake easy. Clients in my office know I wear cast iron underwear when it comes to taxes, investing and personal finance issues. I’m not moved by headlines! And I doubt your attorney is either.

 

Have an honest discussion with your accountant or tax professional. They might be the perfect choice for a financial planner. 

This makes even more sense if you handle your own finances. Having a disinterest third-party to bounce ideas off of in very valuable. When I’m not writing or preparing taxes, I am working with clients and readers of this blog, consulting on a variety of issues, including: index fund/equity investments, insurance, retirement planning, Social Security and Medicare planning, tax planning, business formation and session planning, and more. It amazes me the topics I discuss with clients. I get to enjoy some unique research at times which keeps me young.

 

Many people reading this blog are informed enough to actually be a financial planner themselves so you probably think you can handle it all on your own. I understand. The history of financial planners and advisors is not encouraging.

Consider an alternative to the traditional financial planner. At least in my office, I help clients make the right choice for them and send them to the most appropriate professionals to carry out the directives.  

Most important, always keep learning because everyone actually does need a financial planner. And the best one you can ever have is you. Because no matter how hard I try to know my client, you know you better than I ever will. My performance is best when my client also understands the rules.

 

This is an important topic. I hope we get a lively debate in the comments on how you, kind readers, interact with financial planners. My ideas are good, but as a team our knowledge will be more than the sum of the parts.

 

 

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Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Your personality determines your investment success. Understanding your relationship with money can make the difference between outstanding and sub-par results.

Your personality determines your investment success. Understanding your relationship with money can make the difference between outstanding and sub-par results.

Once again we see the market throwing a temper tantrum. On the way up it was tempting to handle your investments on your own. Now with the horizon less clear and a modest correction in the books as I write, you wonder if professional help might be worth the extra expense.

Those most knowledgeable about money resist the advice of commissioned (or fee-based) professionals. As everyone know, fees have serious consequences over long periods of time. The lower the fees the more you’ll have 10 years down the road.

But when the market gets schizophrenic confidence in one’s abilities declines. Worse, you can make serious mistakes well in excess of what you would pay a financial professional.

The stereotypical financial planner or investment adviser is history. Commission based compensation still exists but on a much more limited scale as fee-based planning has taken over, hitching the client’s performance to the adviser’s income. Annual fees typically run around 1% of assets per year. While this fee is lower than many mutual fund expense ratios from decades ago, 1% annually starts to add up. And remember, you not only lose the 1% fee, but all the future gains that 1% would have earned.

Readers of this blog generally forgo advisers since they are well versed in the details of money management. Some readers apologize when they call me for a consulting session as they pay investment management fees to an adviser. It doesn’t bother me if you use an adviser because there are good reasons to hire an adviser which we’ll cover shortly.

Normally people in the FI (financial independence) community would want to pass on an article suggesting you might benefit from a financial adviser. This should be the exception. After careful consideration I decided to share 3 reasons a financial adviser could be a good idea for you.

Actually, I personally believe there is only one true duty of a financial professional. Don’t cheat and skip ahead. There are other minor duties a financial planner should provide should you decide to hire one.

Broken Confidence

Before we begin I want to share why I’m writing this post. This blog has a presence on several social media platforms. I also follow several groups and pages in the genre on Facebook. Recently a few people confessed they were willing to sell because the pain was too great since they lost maybe 10% or so of their portfolio value from the market top a few months back.

This confused me since these same people exuded tremendous confidence in their personal investing habits without the help of a professional. How could a run-of-the-mill correction have people screaming? How would they react in a real down market? A bear market?

Further digging showed many were investing in individual stocks such as Apple, which is down is bit more than the broad market averages.

Of course selling after the decline is in full swing is rarely a good idea. The time to sell is when the market is up, not after it drops 10% – 25%.

People comfortable spending less than they earn and investing the difference consistently do fine when the market is climbing. But when the ride gets bumpy or a bear market growls loud, these same people consider making the largest mistake of their financial life: selling at a market low.

I see this whip-sawing with clients all the time. It breaks my heart to see a client bust her tail to build a sizable nest egg only to lose money in one impetuous panic trade.

And that is where professional help comes in. While fees are always a concern since we know it hurts long-term performance, we need to weight the costs against real world results.

So here are the 3 things a financial planner or investment adviser must do to earn your business:

3. Asset Allocation

Index funds get all the press, but index funds are not the answer to every problem. (Have halitosis? A healthy dose of a Vanguard index fund will clear that right up! If only.)

Index funds are an important part of almost every financial plan. A financial professional should help you (or keep looking until you find one who does) determine how much should be in bonds, equities and cash. (If the adviser recommends Bitcoin, commodities, options, or other esoteric investments, especially if commission based, run like the wind while you still have a chance. And hold your wallet tight as you run!)

A financial planner should understand you and your goals with consideration for your investment temperament. The only investment that works is one you stick with. Here are the tricks financial professionals use to win the money game.

A financial planner should understand you and your goals with consideration for your investment temperament. The only investment that works is one you stick with. Here are the tricks financial professionals use to win the money game.

My personal portfolio has very few bonds. I certainly don’t follow the traditional investment philosophy of subtracting your age from 100 and having that much in bonds, or some such advice. (Yeah, I know I mangled that. The point is I don’t follow traditional investing advice.)

This brings up an interesting point. Your portfolio will look different from mine even if we are exactly the same age, in the same health, and have the same amount of money! The reason is that your personality will be different from mine. I’m willing to ride out any storm (for real!) while you might lose sleep at night if your investment/s decline temporarily.

When the market drops I start licking my chops. Where some people get scared and want to sell to protect from additional declines, I’m thinking about—and usually carrying out—purchases of more shares of companies or index funds.

Down markets are where the real money is made! The same applies to an individual stock if it is a quality company in most cases. (Apple is down hard recently and may drop more. I added a small amount to my portfolio and if the decline continues I’ll add more. Apple is a well run company with superb management. Temporary setbacks are part of investing and usually a time to invest in more shares of great companies and always a good time to buy broad-based index funds.)

A good adviser/planner will help you build a portfolio that allows you to sleep at night. For some it might be all cash, ie. bank deposits. (I actually have a neighbor who has it all in the bank and is happy as a clam in his retirement. He sleeps at night! No index fund gains would be worth the loss of security to him so it is the right thing to do. . .  for him.)

2. Goals

The financial professional is more than a product pusher. The professional will know his client (that’s you) before making any recommendations. If an adviser prescribes before diagnosis, walk. Keep looking until you find an adviser who wants to work for you.

Investing isn’t about “more money”. Well, not completely, at least.

Investing needs a reason, a purpose, for it to be something you’ll be consistent with. Financial independence can be a solid goal since once you reach FI it opens your view to the horizon rather than working a job because you must. You may stay working in your current environment if you enjoy the work after reaching FI. There is nothing wrong with that! You might want to start a business or explore an idea. That is good, as well, as that is where all progress comes from.

Early retirement is an honorable goal. So is building a nest egg so you can work less and spend more time with family is a goal that motivates. Growing your portfolio to leave an adequate legacy is also an important consideration. So is growing your portfolio so you have the resources to fund philanthropic causes dear to your heart.

Goals are endless. An adviser or planner must be willing to listen to your goals, even help you formulate clear financial goals that will serve your needs.

Often times we don’t even know what we want. Just wanting more money isn’t reason enough! With only a vague, undefined goal, that SUV looks mighty tempting fast. Only goals you fully subscribe to will keep you on course and fill you with joy.

So, advisers and planners need to understand who you are and what makes you tick and work with you to discover your real financial life goals. It might sound like a detailed job; it is.

When I work with clients I practically give them a tax and financial proctology exam. You might be laughing now over my choice of words, but I’m dead serious. I need to know my client when dealing only with taxes. My advise is based on what I discover about my client and her goals. If it’s important with taxes; it’s tremendously more important when it involves your financial plan.

1. Panic and Greed

Two very important traits a financial adviser must have before you work with them is they must understand who you are and how it affects your asset allocation and a determination to help you reach your financial goals. But those traits are nothing compared to what I consider the only true value a financial professional has: dealing with your emotions: fear and greed.

It might seem like a total waste of money to pay a financial planner 1% of your portfolio annually when all the money is tucked safely into index funds. The whole low-cost benefit of index funds is partly removed with the advisory fee. So how can it be worth it to hire a professional for such a simple (and appropriate, I might add) investment portfolio?

On the surface the fees might seem like a waste until you remember how we entered this post: people freaking out on social media over a mild market correction.

If a 10% correction has you running for cover you made the wrong investment! Or at least you didn’t adequately prepare yourself for the reality of your investment choices.

Do you have the right financial plan? The right investment adviser can help you create, set up and implement the appropriate investment strategy for success and then work with you to stay the course.

Do you have the right financial plan? The right investment adviser can help you create, set up and implement the appropriate investment strategy for success and then work with you to stay the course.

And this isn’t a blame game either. Most people have no idea how risk adverse they are until the proverbial manure starts hitting the fan. Then Katy-bar the door, boys. It’s about to get real.

And for this reason a financial professional can earn her keep.

People who build a large portfolio do so by ignoring short-term market moves. It’s easier said than done. Most people need a steady hand to see them through. Enter the investment adviser/financial planner.

If the current market volatility concerns you then you either made the wrong investments for your personality or you need a professional to smooth the emotional peaks and valleys, maybe both.

The same applies to bull markets. If you’re tempted to use margin (borrowed money) when the market is hot you need a professional to talk you down.

My decades of experience makes it clear to me many people need professional help with their money. Everyone wants to go it alone because we all think we’re smarter than we really are, and as the market rises (as it usually does) it masks our deficiencies. Blue skies lull us into a false sense of security. Then the storm arises.

If you are considering a financial professional after reading this then I want you to do it right. Interview several financial professionals. If they aren’t interested in you, really want to know and understand you, move on. The adviser you hire (you’re paying them so you are hiring them so they darn well better do their job!) must take an interest in your goals. In fact, they should naturally gravitate toward questions bent to learn about you and what most motivates you.

Make it clear to any adviser you consider that you want a steady hand, not exotic investments. She must help you deal with the emotions in a down market so you don’t crush your financial dreams with impetuous trades; she must hone your desire to take a flyer when the world is getting rich in FAANG stocks.

A good adviser does those kinds of thing because they are responsible and looking out for you, her client. Anything less and you’re better off with the security of a bank.

A Parting Story

The mid and late 1980s were an incredible time to be invested. A long-time client with experience managing his own money added religiously to his portfolio. From 1982 to 1992 the market churned out an annual return well into the double digits. It was a good time to be invested in equity mutual funds.

During this decade my client invested in Fidelity’s Magellan Fund. During a good portion of this investment period the legendary Peter Lynch managed Magellan. Returns were in nose-bleed territory.

My client was a steady investing hand. An up market didn’t turn him greedy. He added funds steadily as he earned them.

Mild downturns were also okay for my client. But the 1987 stock market crash turned him into a sleep-deprived zombie. He couldn’t take the market volatility so he sold. At the bottom! Then the market recovered and blue skies returned so he moved back into Magellan.

Then in 1990 the market once again declined. Not nearly as bad as 1987, but enough to shake our good friend. As you may have guessed, he sold. A short while later when the market returned to new highs he felt safe enough to push all his money back into Magellan.

During this period the Magellan Fund was up an over 20% per year on average if you never sold. Our hero managed a measly 2% because he sold twice in decade out of fear, less than money market funds would have earned back then. Our hero went from mouth-watering investment returns to performing worse than money market funds over two stupid decisions.

Moral of the story: It only takes one or two stupid investing mistakes to sabotage your financial goals.

Now be honest: Do you need a financial professional to see you through the storm clouds?

Now for the bad news. If you do, they are as hard to find as a good under-priced stock.

Good luck.

 

 

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QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here.