"The Motley Fool comes as close to being
an effective investor advocate as any
organization in America."
- Arthur Levitt, SEC Chairman 1993-2001, quoted in The Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2001
About 18 months ago, we introduced TMF Money Advisor, designed to help you learn about, improve, and eventually master your financial life. 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 with estate planning? Forecast the retirement needs? Set up the college funds? Plan the estate? 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 help. They aren't quite sure where to turn.
If that isn't a proxy for the American public, I'm not sure what is.
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 of them are somewhere between unready and severely under-prepared. They may have higher incomes, but they have consumer debt. Most have under-funded 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 offered up our new service.
TMF Money Advisor was created out of thousands of interviews and conversations with people in our community. Millions 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?"
a. An affordable financial planner who carries no conflict of interest
b. Online planning tools to understand my circumstance
c. A package of seminars I can take anytime I want
d. A community of folks with common aims
So, 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 planning systems, to provide a sophisticated, comprehensive but easy-to-use online tool for assessing your financial situation and creating your own plan to achieve all your goals from homeownership, to education, to retirement planning, as well as virtually any other financial issue that may affect your household.
We also included an all-access pass to all Motley Fool online seminars and How-To guides. We publish a timely email newsletter by David and me each month. Finally, TMF Money Advisor includes access to the Fool Community and a members-only discussion board in which we can all convene to use the service more effectively, together.
I also want to answer the three 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, for obvious reasons. However, if you're unsatisfied with the service in any way, at any point, you can contact our Member Services group (email@example.com) and receive a pro-rated refund based on the number of months you've used the service. Of course, right now you can try it risk-free for 30 days. If you don't find it suitable, just cancel and pay nothing.
Q. Who are the Ayco financial advisors? 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 company has been advising high-level executives on all manner of financial issues. TMF Money Advisor 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!). And the financial advisors available through the Financial Helpline offer advice without conflicts of interest or commissioned sales of financial products. Check out this interview with an Ayco Financial Advisor.
Q. What will 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 includes a Q&A section and tips on how you can optimize this valuable service. We work hard to make this meaningful publication manageable and informative.
Q. I don't think I need help. Why do I need help with a plan?
A: If you've adhered to sound basic money management up until now, you feel good. You have no credit card debt. You save money each month. Your retirement plans are fed. 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 refinance my home? Which is better for me: an Education IRA or a 529 plan? These are all questions that the Financial Helpline advisors are prepared to answer, and I can call them on the fly.
I know that there's well more than $195 in value that I can get out of 11 Motley Fool How-To Guides, the online financial planning tool (that retails at $75), and up to four hours on the phone with an experienced financial advisor who knows my situation. I even think reading my brother's thoughts might be worth something.
Please e-mail us (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions about this service. Again, here's the link to more information on how you can get a free 30-day trial of TMF Money Advisor.
-- Tom Gardner