"The Motley Fool comes as close to being an effective investor advocate as any organization in America." - Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, quoted inThe Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2001
Two weeks ago, we introduced a new service, TMF Money Advisor, designed to help you learn about, improve, and eventually master your financial planning. We remain hard at work to transform the sometimes agony -- or tedium -- of financial goal setting into an enjoyable, convenient, honest, and effective experience.
We know it's a monumental task.
You have a full-time job. You have children heading off to school. You've got to exercise, cook meals, finish reading the John Adams biography, stay on top of all the paperwork, and unpack from the summer. The last thing you want to do is to delve into living wills, 401(k) rollovers, emergency funds, and to start, or finish, (gasp) budgeting.
On top of that, where can you get help to do it? Who could help write the will? Forecast the retirement needs? Set up the college funds? Estimate the benefits of that rental property? Tell you if your insurance agent is jobbing you? Review the investment strategy? And, most importantly, who can help you out in an affordable way (not at $250 for one hour) -- without hidden fees, commissions, or sales incentives?
Again, we know our task is enormous. No one has yet made financial planning broadly convenient, effective, honest, and interesting. And so, most people don't dig deeper into their finances. It's a pain. They're busy. They don't really know if their financial goals are realistic. They don't think they can afford a financial planner. They aren't quite sure where to turn.
Just look at the baby boomers. Over 75 million of them are hoping for a comfortable retirement within the next 25 years. Yet the mountain of data suggests most are somewhere between unready and severely under-prepared. They may have higher incomes, but they have consumer debt. Most have underfunded retirement plans. Some have no savings strategies in place. Others don't have a will or an estate plan. Most have never met with a financial planner or created clear goals
It's into that environment, at the turn of the century, that we offer our new service.
TMF Money Advisor was created out of thousands of interviews and conversations with people in our community. Today over 3 million people come to Fool.com each month, and another 20 million teach us and learn from us on radio, television, in our newspaper column, and through our email services each month.
We asked them -- we asked you -- "What help do you need with your finances?"
- An affordable financial planner who carries no conflict of interest
- Online financial planning tools to understand my circumstance
- A package of seminars I can take anytime I want
- More Tom and Dave Gardner
- A community of folks with common aims
So seven months ago, we began creating that service.
We signed up The Ayco Company L.P., leaders in providing financial advice without sales incentives. We signed up DirectAdvice, a leading developer of online financial planning systems, to provide a comprehensive online tool for assessing your financial situation. DirectAdvice will help you plan all of your financial goals -- home ownership, education, retirement planning, and virtually everything in between.
We also packaged together nine online educational seminars. And in the wake of our primetime PBS Special, we're now publishing a monthly email newsletter written by David and me. Finally, TMF Money Advisor includes a members-only discussion board in which we can all convene to use the service more effectively, together.
We assembled it for $149 a year -- commonly the cost of a single one-hour meeting with a financial planner or a single subscription to a newsletter, and far less than the cost of taking finance courses down at your local university. Plus, we offer a pro-rated money-back guarantee so that you take no meaningful risk by trying out the service.
You can gather more information and sign up for TMF Money Advisor by following this link: TMF Money Advisor Information.
I also want to answer a few of the most common questions about TMF Money Advisor. Since our launch, we've literally been overwhelmed by requests for more information, which I find gratifying.
Q. Is there a money-back guarantee?
A. Effectively, yes.
We cannot refund your money in full. However, if you're unsatisfied with the service in any way, at any point, you can contact our Member Services group (firstname.lastname@example.org) and receive a pro-rated refund based on the number of months you've used the service. If you've only gone a month and find our service wanting, you'll get eleven months of your one-year membership back. We don't think that'll happen. But we offer it, gladly.
Q. Who are the Ayco financial planners? Are they any good?
A : The Ayco Company L.P. has more than 30 years of experience providing personal financial advice to corporate executives. Their foundation has been in advising high-level executives on all manner of financial issues. Our partnership together marks the first time Ayco's professional services have been made widely available directly to the public (exclude yourself from this group if you have more than $20 million in deferred compensation coming your way!).
The financial planners available through the TMF Money Advisor Financial Helpline offer advice without conflicts of interest or commissioned sales of financial products. And, if you like, you can work exclusively with one planner, as your needs and questions arise.
Q. What does the newsletter include?
A: The TMF Money Advisor Monthly is emailed once a month. It is focused on writings by David and me. However, it also comes from a company whose national Motley Fool Radio Show has included guests like Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, and personal finance guru Suze Orman. I plan to make this letter worth the entire subscription fee.
Q. I don't think I need help. Why do I need help with financial planning?
A: If you've adhered to sound, basic money management up until now, you should feel good. You have no credit card debt. You save money each month. You feed your retirement plans. Index funds and maybe a handful of stocks are enduring the market's decline. You sleep well at night.
Congratulations to you.
That's how I've felt.
But then what about writing a will? Can I negotiate with my realtor on the sales commission? When retiring, should I take a single life annuity, joint and survivor annuity, or lump sum payment? Should I keep renting or buy a home? Which is better for me: an Education IRA or a 529 plan? These are all questions that the Financial Helpline financial planners are prepared to answer, and I can call them on the fly.
I know that there's well more than $149 in value that I can get out of nine online seminars, the online financial planning tool (that retails at $75), and hours on the phone with an experienced financial planner who knows my situation. I even think reading my brother's thoughts might be worth something. And so, yes, I've paid in full.
I hope you all enjoy TMF Money Advisor. Please do not hesitate to email me (TomG@fool.com) with any questions about this service or drop a note to the TMF Money Advisor customer service at email@example.com.
Again, here's a link to more information: TMF Money Advisor.