Okay, I love my sister and her husband. They are two of the smartest and most caring people you'll ever know. I want to get that out of the way right up front so when they read the rest of this, my family won't blackball me. Like most of us, my sister and brother-in-law never had any formal education in matters of personal finance, so they have lots of questions about their family finances.

Their most recent question was "Should Tommy [my brother-in-law] take $2000 out of his pay each year so his company can match the money in an IRA?" Now, for those of you who missed the "mistake" there, there is no such thing as a company matching funds in an IRA. Companies match funds in 401(k)s and other approved company-provided retirement plans. My sister and her husband don't know the lingo, so they don't really know the right questions to ask Tommy's employer.

Previous questions have ranged from the well meaning but slightly off the mark, "Dave, I want to invest in beanie babies, how do I do it?" to the largely more important, "Are we saving enough for retirement?" and "Why does that guy at [insert your favorite insurance company] want me to buy whole life insurance so bad?" Needless to say, my sister and her family have some very legitimate (and some not so legitimate -- beanie babies?) questions about their money. I decided to tell them about TMF Money Advisor, and I gave them a Top 3 list of reasons why the service would help them out. Here's what I told them. I hope you find it useful:

  1. TMF Money Advisor saves you time. My sister has two kids, one that just went to college and another who's in 9th grade. She and her husband both work full-time making modest incomes. He's a carpenter and she works in a hospital emergency room. They come home from work pretty tired, try and have a family supper together, flip on the news, talk about their day, help my nephew with his homework, watch part of a TV show and fall asleep on the couch. Sound familiar?

    On the weekends, they'd rather concentrate on family events or having some fun than spending valuable time on their budget and financial questions. So, they don't have a lot of time to do research and analysis, and truth be told, they probably don't want to do all of that. One of the major benefits of TMF Money Advisor is that all you need to do is pick up the phone and ask one of the Ayco financial advisors your questions. Wondering whether to refinance the house? Call and ask. It'll take 5 minutes. The Ayco Answerline® is there for you whenever you need it.

  2. You'll get a comprehensive financial plan about more than just investing. Getting people to make a basic move like contributing to a 401(k) plan and buying a mutual fund is hard to do. My brother's company used to match dollar-for-dollar in its 401(k) plan. That's a 100% immediate, tax-deferred return for those keeping score at home. Yet, half the people in the company weren't contributing. They didn't understand it. So, even when people DO take that leap and contribute to the 401(k) and buy an index fund, they think that's all they have to do. It's not.

    Like it or not, there are other things to consider when putting together your financial plan. Things like having proper insurance, creating a will, making major purchases like a home, and figuring out how to pay for your child's education -- whether you have the money to pay for it or not -- are all items we need to figure out. As you get older, things like estate planning, managing cash flow in retirement, dealing with the death of a spouse, etc. are all things you need to be prepared for. TMF Money Advisor, with its advanced online planning tool from DirectAdvice and the professional financial advisors of The Ayco AnswerLine® will work with you, now and through the years, to help you get on track. They'll help make financial issues easy and understandable, not intimidating and complex.

  3. TMF Money Advisor keeps up with the things you can't. By using the DirectAdvice online financial planning tool and The Ayco AnswerLine®, you'll find out about many of things that you may not have already known. For example, for the longest time my sister and her husband thought that all mortgages were 30-year fixed rate mortgages. They didn't know that, depending on their current cash flow, they could either get a lower rate with a 5/1 ARM and lower their monthly payments considerably, or if they had excess cash each month that they might be better off going to a 15-year fixed mortgage, paying a bit more each month and owning the house much sooner. They didn't know these were even possibilities.

    Now, you may know that there are multiple kinds of mortgages, but what's out there that you don't know about? Do you know what I-Bonds are? How about Section 529 education savings plans for your kids' college? Did you know that the government gives out $1000 checks to the first 500 people at the door of the U.S. Treasury on the first Monday of each month? Okay, I'm joking about that one. My point is that TMF Money Advisor was built to help you keep up with these things so that you can be aware of new laws, new investment vehicles that are beneficial to you, etc. Don't be at a disadvantage because you don't know what you don't know.

After I told my sister and her husband why they needed the service, they shook their heads and asked me the "important" question. "Okay, I understand all that, but how much does it cost?" I told them that it was $149 for the whole year.

They both looked at me blankly because they weren't really sure if $149 was a reasonable price for this type of service. I explained to them that the average financial advisor makes about $150 an hour, and that they'd probably need 3-4 hours a year to keep in contact and maintain their plan. I also told them that they get lots of other stuff with the TMF Money Advisor.

They still gave me a hesitant look. I reminded them that they wanted to spend a heck of a lot more than $149 on beanie babies a few years back, and that if they could afford THAT, they can afford TMF Money Advisor.

Finally, my dear sister looked me straight in the eye and asked me (as only an older sister can), "David, if I do this, are these people going to call me all the time and try and sell me things?" No. No. And No.

If you're anything like my sister and brother-in-law, you probably have even more questions about the TMF Money Advisor service. Feel free to ask us any question you might have about it. We're happy to help.