Q&A: Finding a fiduciary

Dear Liz: I am 55 and a single mom of three teenagers. My money has been sitting at a discount brokerage firm unmanaged … ugh!! I need help, but I am afraid to hire someone who will lose my money. Plus, two of my kids are old enough now to open a retirement account. We need help!

Answer: There’s actually no age minimum on contributing to a retirement fund; your kids just need to be earning at least as much money as they’re putting into the account. If they want to contribute the maximum $6,500 to an IRA, for example — or you want to contribute that much on their behalf — they have to earn at least $6,500.

The word you’ll want to keep in mind when seeking help with your money is “fiduciary.” Your advisor should be willing to put in writing that they will put your interests ahead of their own.

Many advisors are held to a lower “suitability” standard, which means they can recommend investments that are more expensive or perform worse than available alternatives, simply because the recommended investment pays the advisor more.

You don’t actually need a human being for investment management, though. Your investing firm probably offers target date mutual funds, which adjust the mix of investments to be more conservative as your retirement date nears. Another option is a robo-advisor, which handles the investing according to a computer algorithm.

Where a human can come in handy is if you have broader financial questions, such as whether you’re saving enough, when you can safely retire and whether your family is adequately insured, among other issues. Your discount brokerage may offer access to fiduciary advisors for a fee or in exchange for investing a certain amount of money.

You can also find fiduciary advisors through the Assn. for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, the XY Planning Network, the Garrett Planning Network, the National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors and the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, among others.