Q&A: ‘Fee based’ vs. ‘fee only’ financial planners: There’s a big difference

Dear Liz: How do you find a fee-based financial planner? I just inherited a lot of money, and trying to figure out our future is stressing me out.

Answer: That’s understandable. Getting sound advice can mean the difference between growing your newfound wealth and wasting it. But finding a good, honest, competent planner requires some work.

Most advisors aren’t fiduciaries, so they aren’t required to put your interests ahead of their own. Instead, they can recommend investments that cost more or perform worse than available alternatives, simply because the recommended investments pay them more.

Such advisors often call themselves “fee based,” hoping you’ll confuse them with “fee only” planners. Fee-only planners are compensated only by the fees you pay; they don’t accept commissions or other compensation that could influence their advice.

The National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors and the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners are two organizations that represent fee-only planners, many of whom charge a percentage of your investable assets. You can find fee-only planners who work on an hourly basis at Garrett Planning Network and those who charge monthly retainer fees at XY Planning Network.

Interview at least three candidates. Ask them how they are paid and what your “all-in” costs — their fees plus the cost of investments they recommend — are likely to be. Ask about, and verify, their credentials. (You can check a certified financial planner’s status at cfp.net/verify-a-cfp-professional.) Find out about their education and experience, including whether they’ve advised people similar to you.

They should be willing to assert in writing that they will be fiduciaries. Finally, check their backgrounds, including their disciplinary history, at BrokerCheck.finra.org.

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