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4 Red Flags to Spot When You’re Looking for a Financial Advisor

A couple meets with a financial advisor in their office.

Image source: Getty Images

People who end up wealthy don’t always get there on their own. Often, they seek help in the form of a financial advisor.

Recent data from Northwestern Mutual finds that 70% of wealthy Americans have a financial advisor, which is roughly twice as many as the general population. And while you might think you don’t have enough money or assets to warrant the help of an advisor, you’d be wrong.

Financial advisors will commonly work with clients regardless of their income, savings, or age. Rather, a good advisor is someone who will help you make the best of your financial situation — whatever it happens to be — and assist you in meeting your financial goals.

But if you’re going to work with a financial advisor, it’s important to find the right person for the job. Here are a few signs the advisor you’re interviewing isn’t a great fit.

1. They’re not clear about their fees

Just as you get paid for what you do, financial advisors have to earn money in the course of helping their clients. But you also deserve the right to know exactly what you’re being charged. And if a financial advisor isn’t transparent about their fees, then they’re probably not a good person to work with.

Similarly, if your advisor’s fee schedule is overly complicated, then you may want to run the other way. Financial advisors will commonly charge a fee that’s calculated as a percentage of assets under management. For clients with less than $1 million in assets, you’ll commonly see a fee of around 1%. So if you have a $200,000 portfolio, your annual fee would be 2%.

This doesn’t mean that’s what your advisor will charge. The point, however, is that you should have a clear sense of what you’ll be paying.

2. They focus on short-term returns

Investing works best as a long-term process. The stock market has delivered an average annual 10% return over the past 50 years, as measured by the S&P 500. But there were plenty of years during that window when the market performed quite poorly.

That’s why you’ll often hear that investing is something you should aim to do on a long-term basis. So if you come across a financial advisor who seems focused on short-term gains and returns, there’s a good chance they’re the wrong person to work with.

Someone who’s fixated on short-term returns might seek out investments that are overly risky. And since it’s your money on the line, that’s not a good thing.

3. They don’t seem to be listening to your goals

Maybe you’re hoping to retire early. Or maybe you want to save enough to be able to put your kids through college.

No matter your financial objectives, it’s the role of a financial advisor to help you meet them. So if your advisor doesn’t seem to be paying attention to your specific goals, you should probably move on.

Similarly, if your financial advisor is quick to dismiss your goals, that’s another bad sign. It may be that you’re 40 and have only $10,000 in your IRA. In that scenario, retiring early might be tough, but that doesn’t make it impossible. But if your financial advisor basically laughs in your face when you say that you’d like to retire early, it’s a sign that you’ve chosen the wrong person.

4. They won’t explain how they’d like to invest your money

Your financial advisor may be more familiar with different assets and investing strategies than you are. And they may have a really good plan for putting your money to work. But if you don’t understand how your money is being invested, and they’re not doing a good job of explaining things to you, then you may want to find someone else.

Educating clients is a big part of being a good financial advisor. If your advisor is quick to throw around different financial terms without slowing down to loop you in, they may have good intentions — but that doesn’t make them the ideal professional to work with.

Engaging the services of a financial advisor could improve your financial picture in a very big way. But it’s important to find the right person for the job, so be mindful of these red flags as you go about your search.

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