Q&A: What to do when a financial advisor doesn’t act in your best interests

Dear Liz: I hired a fee-only financial advisor a year ago. The advisor’s firm also included a CPA who prepared my 2017 tax return.

My tax liability was 100% more than what I paid via my W-2 withholding because the advisor traded constantly, incurring short-term capital gains. He authorized 45 trades in a three-month period. My capital gains for 2017 were more than I have ever earned annually in my 40-plus years of filing returns, yet the overall gain in my account was negligible.

I am 67 and soon to be retired. I do not believe he was acting in my best interests as his client. Is there any action I can take?

Answer: If you’re considering legal action, you’ll need to consult an attorney. If you want to take your beef to a regulatory agency, you can start by contacting the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Just because an advisor is fee-only does not mean he or she is competent or is a fiduciary (someone who is legally required to put your best interests first). Most advisors are held to a lower standard of “suitability,” which basically means their recommendations can’t be unsuitable, given the client’s situation.

Giving an advisor authority to make trades in your account is risky business. When you don’t know an advisor well, it’s better to start with a non-discretionary account that requires your approval for any trades.

If the advisor earns your trust, you can consider switching to a discretionary account that allows trading — but first you should have an investment plan that makes clear, in writing, what your goals for the account are, what investments are appropriate and how often the advisor expects to make trades.

Most people are best served by passive investment strategies that seek to minimize fees and match various market benchmarks. Attempting to beat the market with frequent trading is usually futile, and costly. That’s especially true in taxable accounts because short-term capital gains are taxed at regular income tax rates, while investments held long term can qualify for lower capital gains rates.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Fighting auto loan bias, despite Congress. Also in the news: What you should tell your financial advisor, how much you should spend on a Mother’s Day gift, and why you shouldn’t pay anyone to help with your student loans.

You Can Fight Auto Loan Bias, Despite Congress’ Reversal
Preapprovals are key.

What You Should Tell Your Financial Advisor
Everything they need to know.

How Much Should You Spend on a Mother’s Day Gift?
Making Mom happy.

Don’t Pay Anyone to ‘Help’ You With Your Student Loans
Beware of scams.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How much you should contribute to an IRA and how often. Also in the news: Creating a meaningful financial plan, what you should tell your financial advisor, and how to avoid drunk shopping binges.

How Much Should I Contribute to an IRA — and How Often?
Establishing a schedule.

Ask Why, Not What for a Meaningful Financial Plan
Setting the tone.

What You Should Tell Your Financial Advisor
Important information to share.

How to Avoid Drunk Shopping Binges
Valuable advice.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How your money story can help you break free. Also in the news: Why you should freeze your child’s credit, 4 things that could make you a target for a tax audit, and what happens if you don’t pay a debt.

How Your Money Story Can Help You Break Free
Going way back to the beginning.

Why You Should Freeze Your Child’s Credit
Even children can be victim’s of identity theft.

4 Things That Could Make You a Target for a Tax Audit
Don’t leave yourself vulnerable.

What Happens if You Don’t Pay a Debt?
Nothing good.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How grads can get another shot at student loan forgiveness. Also in the news: Spring cleaning your credit cards, how to sidestep 3 unethical financial advisor tactics, and how to handle loaning money to your parents.

How Grads Can Get Another Shot at Student Loan Forgiveness
This could be your last chance.

This Spring, Clear Mediocre Credit Cards Out of Your Wallet
Get rid of the credit clutter.

How to Sidestep 3 Unethical Financial Advisor Tactics
Protect yourself.

How to Handle Loaning Money to Your Parents
Role reversal.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why couples need their own slush fund. Also in the news: 5 signs it’s time to break up with your financial advisor, easy home touch-ups to bring in more buyers, and the dark reason so many millennials are miserable and broke.

Why Couples Need Their Own Slush Funds
Separate doesn’t have to mean secret.

5 Signs It’s Time to Break Up With Your Financial Advisor
What to look out for.

Easy Home Touch-Ups to Bring All the Buyers to Your Yard
Giving your home more curb appeal.

The dark reason so many millennials are miserable and broke
Social media is taking a toll.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What you can learn from the tax hike on Super Bowl players. Also in the news: 3 tactics to tame your credit card debt worries, could Bitcoin be the next legendary investment bubble, and six mistakes people make when hiring a financial advisor.

Super Bowl Players’ Tax Hike May Have a Lesson for You, Too
A look at Duty Days.

Tame Your Credit Card Debt Worries With 3 Tactics
Fight back against fear.

Is Bitcoin the Next Legendary Investment Bubble?
Crypto craziness.

Six Mistakes People Make When Hiring A Financial Advisor
What not to do.

What good financial advice looks like

Good financial advice can help you achieve your life goals. Bad financial advice can cost you a fortune and leave you worse off than if you had tried to go it alone.

Unfortunately, you’re still on your own in trying to determine the good advice from the bad. The U.S. Department of Labor has delayed key portions of a fiduciary rule that would require financial advisers to put their retirement account clients’ interests first. The provisions are set to begin July 1, 2019, but it’s anyone’s guess if that will happen.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why it’s still a buyer-beware market for financial advice.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Plug in 3 numbers to plan your financial future. Also in the news: 10 questions to ask a financial advisor, how to stop scammers from stealing your down payment, and shopping around for car loans.

Plug in 3 Numbers to Plan Your Financial Future
A retirement calculator can help.

10 Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor
Finding the best match.

Stop Scammers From Stealing Your Down Payment

Don’t Forget, You Can Shop Around for Car Loans
You don’t have to accept the first offer.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Millennial enthusiasm for stocks is at a record high. Also in the news: How to choose a financial advisor, why flood insurance comes with a waiting period, and how to survive college without surprise debt.

Millennial Enthusiasm for Stocks at Record High, Index Shows
Millennials play the market.

How to Choose a Financial Advisor
Making the wise choice.

Flood Insurance Comes With a Waiting Period
Don’t wait until the last minute.

How to graduate college without surprise debt
A most unpleasant surprise.