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When to Downsize Your Pro

Have you hugged your financial advisor lately?

Good, affordable financial help is so hard to find these days. (After all, we Fools stole one of the best away from the industry so he could dole out advice to our readers.) But if you're busy, lazy, or bored by money matters, you need the best possible person looking out for your interests.

That doesn't mean you should settle for a so-so relationship. No matter where you seek financial advice, remember that it is your money -- and you are an at-will customer. In the end, you call all of the shots. If you encounter a third party who insists that you relinquish all the thinking to them (and that you give them "discretionary authority" to manage your money), then we humbly suggest that this may not be the best pro for you.

That's not the only reason you should consider laying off your financial counselor. When you ask questions of your pro, do you understand the answers? When you ask for clarification, does the subsequent explanation make more sense? If not, you might want to start interviewing other candidates.

Another warning sign is if a life insurance salesperson seeks out your business offering a free consultation. No, thank you. Trust us on that one.

Unless you are specifically looking for stock picks, be wary of an advisor who is preoccupied with them -- especially if they generate commission income by getting you to actively trade. Also, any discussion of investments should involve risk. If you hear the words "sure thing" or are offered "exclusive access" to an investment, run, do not walk, toward the exit sign.

Any person who provides financial planning services and manages investment assets of $25 million or more has to file Form ADV with the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Those who manage less than $25 million in assets must disclose similar information with their own state's security agency.) Along the same lines, any professional who sells securities will have a Central Registration Depository (CRD) file. It gives you a 10-year history of the provider, including any disciplinary actions taken against that person. What if the individual provider or firm principal is not registered with the SEC or the state securities agency? See the last sentence of the previous paragraph, and do it in double time.

Your use of a financial pro also comes down to dollars and cents. If you don't have a lot of money, and your finances are not very complex, you probably do not need a full-blown, detailed financial plan or historical tax audit in exchange for $2,000 of your meager savings. And if you are looking to buy simple financial products, such as term life or automobile insurance, you can more easily and effectively research and purchase them online. The fees you would pay to a financial planner for these services are a waste of money.


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