Congratulations! You pay all your bills on time and you eliminated your high-interest debt; you’re managing your risk by holding cash and carrying a life insurance policy; and your income is growing thanks to your investment in yourself.
Now you’re ready to invest in the stock market. At this point, you might find yourself wondering, “Do I need a financial adviser?”
Logging into an online brokerage can feel overwhelming. I remember starting my Roth IRA seven years ago. I logged into the Capital One investing platform. Within a few clicks, I opened my account and funded it with $5,000. Then I froze.
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I googled “How to invest in the stock market” and landed on the Motley Fool, whose Stock Advisor subscription service provides stock recommendations from experts that regularly beat the market. They'll even help you create a personalized portfolio. Better yet, the Motley Fool is currently running a deal on this service. You can get more than 50 percent off!
Once on the Motley Fool site, I started to research individual stocks and ended up choosing seven. One was Dr. Pepper (DPS), and another was Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). I can’t remember the rest. And if I'm honest, my specific portfolio doesn’t matter.
What matters is that I was overwhelmed by the prospect of picking stocks or mutual funds. Completely new to investing in stocks, I had no idea what constituted a good investment or a bad one. I was a mess.
My First Experience With a Financial Adviser
A few months later, my portfolio was up 10 percent, but I wondered if I could do better.
I wound up speaking with an insurance-salesperson-slash-financial-adviser. Big mistake.
My husband and I both ended up with whole life insurance policies. Plus, we bought fee-loaded mutual funds with high expense ratios.
Here’s the thing: I thought financial advice was free. But it isn’t — it’s never free. But at the time, I didn't understand the fees being tacked onto my investments.
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I purchased high-fee mutual funds — 5.75 percent of my purchase price went straight to my financial adviser as a commission. The mutual funds I bought had an expense ratio of 0.8 to one percent.
An expense ratio is an annual fee you pay for owning a mutual fund. That expense ratio of one percent means that every year, one percent of my holdings went to a mutual fund manager. On top of that, I paid an extra 0.25 percent trailing commission to the adviser.
When Do I Need a Financial Adviser?
Am I saying that commissions and financial advisers are bad? Not at all. Later in your financial journey, a financial adviser can become your advocate. A professional can keep you from making big mistakes, and you’ll connect with him or her on a regular basis.
However, most financial advisers are too expensive for “small portfolio” clients. The fees will eat into your returns, and you won't get consistent advice.
Don’t make the mistake of hiring a financial adviser too soon, especially if you’re new to investing in stocks. Instead, work on building your investment knowledge right now.
If you have a large portfolio (more than $250,000), you can enlist the help of a “fee-only investment adviser.” This adviser will have experience managing investment portfolios like yours. He or she will charge you an annual fee – around one to two percent of your portfolio — in exchange for managing it.
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Plus, most advisers will give you financial planning advice and even connect you with tax experts when needed. This can be a huge help. But if you’re new to investing in stocks, skip the financial adviser and follow the steps above instead.
This is the third installment of a multi-part series on investing. To start from the beginning, click here.