Finding Your Financial Advisor

Finding a trusted financial advisor was already hard. Recently, the court of appeals reversed the pending Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule confusing financial consumers even more. It is critically important to understand if your financial advisor will be acting as a fiduciary for you or, instead, seeking investments that are suitable for you. It is also important, though, to learn if this is a trusted person that understands your needs, offers an approach that feels comfortable, and has the experience you seek for your unique circumstances. To help navigate the sometimes stressful search, we have put together our top five recommended questions when seeking a financial advisor.

1. Are You a Fiduciary?

The fiduciary standard legally obligates advisors to put your interest before their own. Advisors that work under a fiduciary standard must disclose any conflict of interests and share with you whether they benefit from recommending any products or other professionals. They must be transparent as to fees the advisors gets for that advice.

In contrast, the suitability standard is a standard requires advisors to suggest investment products that are appropriate for you. There is no standard to conclude that the investment will help you achieve your goals or is in your legal best interest. Also, there is no requirement to fully disclose any conflicts of interest, potentially allowing an advisor to recommend products that may provide higher commissions for themselves instead of similar products with lower fees.

There are wonderful advisors and poor advisors that work under both the fiduciary and suitability standard. We work under the fiduciary standard and highly value the trust we know it provides.

2. What are Your Credentials?

An advisor’s professional designations and experience matter. It gives you great insight as to the advisor’s knowledge and areas of expertise. There are over 100 different types of credentials and they can be very confusing. If you are looking for a financial advisor, you might be well served to at least be familiar with these three credentials that reflect a broad level of training and commitment:

CFP® – CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ®

CFP® professionals have completed university level financial planning coursework, met experience requirements, and passed the CFP® board’s rigorous exam covering 72 topics ranging from investment and risk management to tax and retirement planning, legacy management and the integration of all these disciplines. They also commit to ongoing education and a high ethical standard. More information: http://www.cfp.net

CFA® – Chartered Financial Analyst ®

To earn the CFA credential, professionals must pass 3 rigorous exams, each of which demands a minimum of 300 hours of master’s degree level study that includes financial analysis, portfolio management and wealth management. Professionals must also accumulate at least four years of qualified investment experience and annually commit to a statement of high ethics. More information: www.cfainstitute.org

CIMA® – Certified Investment Management Analyst®

CIMAs focus on asset allocation and portfolio construction. The program of study covers 5 core topic areas and applicants must meet experience, education, examination and ethical requirements. CIMAs must also commit to ongoing professional education. More information: www.imca.org

3. What Services and Products Do You Offer?

Make sure you seek out an advisor and firm that fits your needs. If you need someone to help you with your investing, you might seek out a firm that has a range of investment solutions such as an asset management firm.

If you need help assessing your current circumstances and creating a plan for you to reach various goals in your life, you might seek a financial planner. This advisor can help you consider retirement and college needs, tax strategies, risk management and possible wealth transfers.

If you need both financial planning and investment advice, then you should seek a wealth manager. This advisor has broad expertise and takes a holistic approach to guide you through comprehensive planning and portfolio management.

4. How are You Compensated?

Don’t be shy; ask about fees! Every professional deserves to be paid for their expertise and services. By understanding how the advisor is compensated, you can determine whether the advisor’s interests align well with yours.

Commissions only – these advisors are compensated based on the investment products you choose such as mutual funds, structured products, insurance policies or annuities they buy or sell for you.

Fee only – Independent advisors often offer fee only advising. Their fee is often stated as a percentage of the assets they manage for you so that they, too, benefit if your portfolio grows and are penalized when it declines. They may also offer fixed fees for specific services.

Fee-based – these advisors may charge a fixed fee for financial planning services they provide and collect a commission on any financial product you buy or sell. These may include mutual funds, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), annuities and insurance.

5. What is Your Approach for Someone Like Me?

It’s important to know that the advisor you seek has experience working with people in your circumstances. This is especially true if your financial situation is complex due to the wealth you’ve accumulated through-out your career. Ask the advisor to tell you about a client with common challenges and to share what solutions were offered.

Finding the right financial relationship can feel a little overwhelming sometimes. It is a bit like dating; you have to meet a variety of people, ask lots of questions, and wait until it feels like a good fit. Rest assured, no matter what your circumstances, you can find an advisor that is excited to work with you and has experience with clients just like you.

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Great Stock Market Guidelines for a Successful Portfolio

Investing can sometimes seem like a tough thing to do. A lot of people want to see their money grow, but they aren’t sure where to start. The stock market is a good place to invest your money, so if you want to learn more about how you can make a reasonable income through the stock market, then this article is for you.

If it seems too good to be true it probably is. If a return is being guaranteed, there’s a good chance that fraud is involved. There is no way to take part in investing without some risk and any broker that tells you otherwise is lying. This is not a person that you want to place your money with.

Remember that stock prices are reflections of earnings. In the short term immediate future, market behavior will fluctuate depending on news and rumour and the emotional responses to those, ranging from enthusiasm to panic. In the longer term picture, however, company earnings over time wind up determining whether a stock price rises or falls.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best time to buy your investments is when they have fallen in value. “Buy Low/Sell High” is not a worn out adage. It is a way to success and prosperity. Do your due diligence to find sound investment candidates, but don’t let fear keep you from buying when the market is down.

Your stocks should be thought of as ownership in a company, not just meaningless pieces of paper which you trade. When assessing the value of stocks, evaluate the business by analyzing their financial statements. This will ensure that you consider each trade carefully before making any moves.

Make sure that you are properly educated before investing in the stock market. You need to have a basic knowledge of accounting, annual reports and the stock market history. There is no need to be an actual accountant, though the more understanding you have, the better off you will be.

You can use the stock prices to track earnings. Short-term market behavior is generally based on fear, enthusiasm, news, and rumours. Long-term market behavior is mainly comprised of company earnings. These earnings can be used to determine whether or not a stock’s price will rise, drop or go completely sideways.

Keep an eye on the price of a stock you want to buy, and buy when the price is at its low point. The stock market fluctuates constantly, so you might have to wait a bit for the perfect price, but it will pay off in the end with a high return on investment.

Always keep in mind that money is a tool, not a goal. The money you earn, save and invest serves you towards a goal. The goal might be a boat, a home, or even retirement. You have a target number you are pursuing because that target number means you can afford a lifestyle for you and your family that you do not currently have.

Before even buying your first stock, make sure you know your current total financial portfolio. What are your debts and income? Do you have six months reserve fund saved up? This should be done before buying a single share. Once it is accomplished, how much of your income can you put towards investing? Once you know this, then determine your stock portfolio and automate it.

Before you decide how much you want to invest in the stock market, take some time to figure out what you want your investments to do for you. Are you looking forward to building a retirement fund? Alternatively, make some extra income? When you get this figured out, you will be able to decide how much you are willing to risk on the market.

If you’re thinking of investing money in stocks and you do not know how to do it, then you might want to go to a stock investing gathering in your area. These are normally available for a cheap fee, and you are educated by professionals that could assist you in gaining a lot of money in your investment.

Do not forget to keep a strict watch on the volume of trading your stocks are involved in. The trading volume reflects the amount of trading that the specific stock is currently involved in. The activity of a stock can show volatility or stability, which could determine whether or not you want to buy it.

Don’t buy stock of companies that aren’t solid. You need to do a lot of homework on the stock that you are thinking about buying. When you rule out all iffy stock choices, there will be nothing but sound stocks in your portfolio. This will protect you from losses over the long run.

Have a game plan and generally, stick with it. Many individuals buy a stock with the plan of sitting tight on it for a period of five or ten years. As soon as something goes sour in the market, those same individuals turn around and immediately sell. While selling is sometimes the smart way to go, if you sell every time your stock takes a bit of a nose dive, you will see more of a loss than you will see a gain. If you instead remain strong and stick to your game plan, you will often see a greater amount of success in the long run.

You should now have a better idea about what the stock market is about and what you should be doing to prepare yourself so that you can invest. Keep in mind, that sharing information with friends can help. Make sure that you engage in conversation with your friends, as well as to teach them what you know so that you have a better grasp of the stock market as a whole. When you understand how something works, you know how to be good at it. Do this and success should follow.

Your Path to Becoming Financially Free And Genius

So you decided to become financially free. That is a genius decision. Having to worry about money constantly is bad for your health and your wallet. Living in constant fear of creditors or collection calls is a nightmare, and one you can avoid.

But how do you start? Life is expensive, especially if you have kids or a previous debt. Sometimes it may seem impossible to get out of your current situation. However, if you live in a free (or relatively-free) country and you are willing to make some sacrifices (sorry, nothing comes for free these days) you can significantly improve your financial status in the very near future.

Step 1 – Get Out of Debt

If you are in debt (except for a mortgage which you pay on time), you should first get rid of it. Debt is like an investment going against you, which means the more time goes by, the less money you have. Being in debt is an emergency, and should be treated as such. Your time and resources should be aimed at getting out of debt – paying more than the minimum payments (which are mostly interest payments), bargaining for more money, and most importantly – not getting into more debt. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

If you need help, consider contacting debt relief specialists who will create a personalized plan that will help you leave the days of debts behind. Even without them, there are several methods to get out of debt quickly (prioritizing by interest rate or total money owed). Just pick one that works for you and stick with it. Discipline is key here. When you are debt-free, no creditor has power over you.

Step 2 – Stop Incurring More Debt

When you’re debt free, stay that way! Only buy what you can afford right now. Using a credit card? Pay it off in full each month. Don’t let more debt enter your life, since it only works against you. Make sure your expenses are less than your income and don’t postpone any payments. Interest on them can be deadly.

More importantly, don’t take loans for everyday expenses. Loans should be taken only to buy assets which will increase in value or help you generate more income (such as well-thought business loans). Personal loans can drown you in debt and you should avoid them at all cost. If you want something, save towards it. Don’t borrow now and work for years to pay it off. Remember: in debt, interest works against you.

Step 3 – Create Emergency Reserves

Once you owe nothing, you can start working for yourself rather than others. Calculate how much you spend each month on average and start saving towards a sum that will last you for six months. For example, if you spend $3,000 each month, you need to save at least $18,000 in your emergency reserves. These reserves should be saved in a savings account or any investment which does not decrease in value and can be cashed in almost immediately.

Use these reserves only for emergencies – if you get fired or have a huge necessary expense which cannot be paid off your regular checking account. This money is not for travel, buying a boat, or purchasing jewelry. Its sole purpose is to save you in case of an emergency.

Cannot Save? That’s Not True

If you think “there is no way I can save such sums of money”, you are mistaken. Since you are debt free, you already have an income equal to or larger than your expenses. Now you can (and should) go both ways: increase your income and decrease your expenses. This way you will save money much faster.

First, see how you can get more money from your job. Ask for a raise, take a side-job if possible. Negotiate hard and you will get what you want (of course, don’t burn bridges. You still need a job). If you’re willing to take on some risk, start a side-business. Everyone has something to sell, and today it’s easier than ever to sell online. There are also many companies that let you work from home (for example, some telemarketing jobs), so you can use that time as well. Of course, leave some time for yourself.

Secondly, every time you spend money, no matter if it’s a small or large sum, write it down. At the end of each month take a look at your expense list and think which expense was unnecessary. It can be difficult to lower your standard of living, but it’s always smart to live below your means. When you want more, increase your means.

Look at your home insurance and car insurance policies and see if you can save something. Perhaps you can get the same coverage for less, which can save you a fortune in the long run.

Step 4 – Get Your Credit in Order

If you were in debt, your credit score is probably very poor. This is a situation which you have to resolve, since a big part of our financial lives depends on that score. It may prevent you from renting a house or cause you to pay heavily for an emergency loan or mortgage (it is HIGHLY recommended to NEVER take an emergency loan, but when you reserves run out and you’re out of options, it can be a temporary fix).

Improving your score is a hard task, but since you’re out of debt, you should be able to pay off your credit cards entirely every month. You can also try some credit repair services if you think they may help you. Most of them have free consultation, so use it before you make any commitment.

Step 5 – Save and Invest

This is where freedom begins. You were in debt, which is investments working against you. Now you will finally have investments working for you. Each and every month take what you saved and put it in an investment account. Don’t go crazy – invest in stocks, bonds, real estate, and other investments that you understand. After you invest, just forget it’s there. It’s not meant to grow ten-fold in a year. But over time, as you invest more and reap the benefits of compound interest, this sum will grow larger. The more you save each month, the faster you’ll reach financial freedom.

Step 6 – Financial Freedom

This is your goal. Being financially free means, at least for us, that you don’t have to go to work in order to sustain your current standard of living. In other words, your passive income (income not generated by being an employee but “passively” – dividends, rent, etc.) is larger than your expenses. This is what financial freedom is all about – choices. In this case, you don’t have to work, but you can choose to work (for an even larger income). You become the owner of your own time, your greatest, irreplaceable asset. That is the true meaning of freedom.

Of course, the term “passive income” is misleading. Nothing is ever passive. All those investments must be handled carefully, which also takes time. However, it takes much less time than working for eight or nine hours a day. The rest of your time can be spent on improving your health, being with your family, or reading books. You decide. You choose.

Empowerment and Equality and Your Finances

The slogan “girl power” has been used for decades to encourage and celebrate female empowerment, independence, and confidence. The term used most often relates to sports and employment; however, new studies are showing that women need to exert their girl power when it comes to finances and financial planning.

A recent study released by UBS shows that 58% of women worldwide defer long-term financial decisions to their spouses. This study included nearly 3,700 high-net-worth married women, widows and divorcees in nine countries. The results of the study showed that 85% of women were responsible for the day-to-day finances; just not the long-term.

What is really interesting is the generational span of this survey and, most notably, the generation most likely to allow someone else to control their decisions: millennials! Millennials are a generation well known for promoting equality and empowerment. Unfortunately, the survey results indicate the helicopter-style parenting millennials were raised with, where someone else is always ensuring their well-being, has bled into the financial realm. Fifty-nine percent of millennial women aged 20 – 34 are more likely to allow their spouse to take the lead compared to 55% of women over 50. The general excuse from the younger women is they have “more urgent responsibilities than investing and financial planning”. Even more contradictory to the equality movement is they “believe their spouses know more about long-term finances than they do”.

The challenge this arrangement poses is the lack of preparation and understanding should a life event such as death or divorce occur. The report noted that 74% of the widowed and divorced women it surveyed reported “discovering negative financial surprises after a divorce or death of their spouse.” Hindsight resulted in 74% of these respondents wishing they had been more involved in long-term financial decisions while they were married, rather than trying to navigate them while coping with such significant life changes.”

The ideal solution is for both partners in a relationship to be aware of both the short- and long-term aspects of their finances. Whether you are married, engaged, common-law or committed, financial planning is another part of creating a responsible long-lasting arrangement between two parties. In this age, knowledge really is power. So be powerful, take control of your money.