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For some Fools, it's the conversation they dread: talking with Mom about her finances. They dread it because of the landmines that turn up. You know, the nice man at the insurance agency who wants to sell her something called an "equity-indexed annuity," the broker who "seems to make an awful lot of stock trades" (with $300 commissions on each trade) or who is pushing her to sell her blue-chip Pfizer
As we Fools know, there's a whole segment of the investment business that specializes in preying on older and less knowledgeable folks. These predators come armed with products and strategies that seem to assuage Mom's fears but have outrageous (and often concealed) fees and, usually, lousy performance. And when your mom (or dad, or other relative or friend) is tempted by one of these situations, it can be surprisingly hard to talk them out of it. What's a Fool to do?
Tempting as it might seem, don't paint the investment professional as a villain. Mom may genuinely like that nice man at the insurance agency, and he, in turn, stuffed full of his company's propaganda, might actually believe that his company's product is a good fit for your mom. More to the point, in Mom's mind, the broker or rep has professional credibility -- they're in the business, so they must know what they're doing, and besides there are laws and stuff to protect consumers. You? You're just a kid -- to Mom, you lack the same level of professional credibility. You're just not Wise.
So how do you show Mom the light? Two approaches come to mind:
• Help Mom get educated so that she can see the light herself;
• Find an alternative, more benevolent source of professional credibility.
Helping Mom get educated
Of course, here at the Fool, we think the best thing Mom can do to get educated is to become a Fool herself. But we also know that not all moms are interested in diving in to even a sublime, super-friendly online resource like the Fool. If she's open to the idea of self-education but would prefer a book, offer her one. For a personal finance primer, I like the Motley Fool book You Have More Than You Think by our very own David and Tom Gardner, but there are other good ones available.
But if Mom's just not interested, all is not lost. Sit down with her and look carefully at the fine print on that annuity contract, or the fee table in that mutual fund prospectus. Explain it to her in plain English. Show her how much she'll be paying and what she'll be getting for her money. Then show her what her alternatives are. Walk through them together. Instead of that high-fee bank-brand mutual fund, show her how simple it is to choose a no-load option from a company like Vanguard or Fidelity. Talk about the pros and cons of annuities together, and show her that there are sensible alternatives to that equity indexed annuity that limits her returns to a maximum of 4% a year. Help her understand that it's not that hard to do the right thing and that you're willing to hold her hand along the way.
And, geez, try to talk her out of betting the family farm on Dendreon.
If all else fails
Sometimes the best answer is simply to find her a better investment professional, one who isn't motivated by commissions and who will do a good job of acting in Mom's best interest. The way to go here is to look for someone who is compensated on a fee-only basis, whether via an hourly charge or an annual retainer. If you don't know anyone who fills the bill, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors -- an organization of independent fee-only advisors -- can help you find candidates in Mom's area. But don't despair. After all, your Mom was smart and clever enough to raise you. Given the right tools and support, she's sure to find her way to financial well-being.
Need a last-minute Mother's Day gift? Make a Fool of Mom with a subscription to The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. Foolish retirement guru Robert Brokamp and his team devote their days to hunting up the best in retirement strategies and advice and presenting them to subscribers in the friendly and fun Foolish style. If you'd like to try before you buy, help yourself to a free 30-day guest pass.
Fool contributor John Rosevear loves his Foolish mom (hi, Mom!) and looks forward to never having to decipher a scary EIA contract with her. He holds a (small!) position in Dendreon but does not own shares in any other company mentioned. Pfizer is an Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy never fails to send flowers to its mom on Mother's day.