How to know if you need a financial advisor 

  • With robo-advisers and financial blogs, is there a need to hire a human for help with your money?
  • Most experts agree, yes.
  • And here's when.
Financial Advisor
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Investment apps, glossy books, robots, blogs and more blogs — the number of places to pick up financial advice have never been greater. Is there ever a need to consult a person with a pulse anymore?

Most financial experts agree, yes (and no, not just advisors).

"You have to go to a person to get a complete picture of your financial condition," said Mercer Bullard, a professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law, who specializes in securities.

Here are some reasons why you'd want to see a financial advisor.

During personal changes in your life

Getting engaged, married or having a baby are all times when you might want to start seeing a financial advisor. Even if those milestones appear on the horizon, it’s time to start having conversations about money, said certified financial planner Zaneilia Harris, president of Harris and Harris Wealth Management.

“If you’re dating someone and it’s really serious, go to a financial planner on a date,” Harris said. Starting off on the same page with your significant other is important, said Harris, adding that money mistakes and disagreements can destroy a relationship.

If you’re having a baby, an advisor can help you manage the life change as a neutral third party, Harris said.

A financial advisor can help you get the correct estate planning documents in place, as well as work through things like who will work when, what kind of childcare you can afford and when it’s time to start planning for college. They can also help you determine the terms of a prenuptial agreement along with adjusting to a different tax status.

And wealth changes

You finally got that promotion, or brand new job and it came with a significant pay increase. Or, you inherit a windfall. What next?

To avoid misspending that extra money, CFP Rianka R. Dorsainvil, founder/president at Your Greatest Contribution, says to assign the new dollars a job. Every dollar should go to a bill, debt, savings or investing. A financial advisor will help you do this to take your finances to the next level.

“You have a full set of clubs when you go golfing,” said Anthony Badillo, a CFP and lead planner at Gen Y Planning. “Without a financial planner you’re someone who uses their driver all the time.”

As well as for emotional help

If you didn't flinch during the 2008 financial crisis or when the dot-com bubble burst, you might not need an advisor to give you objective advice and reminders. But many people will need that source of calm, said William Bernstein, author of the Investors Manifesto.

"At the end of the day, how well you do over the course of your investment life is mostly dependent upon that 2 percent of the time in the markets when it looks like the world is ending," Bernstein said. "That's where the value of a human being comes in."

Further, an advisor can push you to be more honest about your finances, Bullard said. For example, he said many soon-to-be retirees overestimate for how long they will be able to work.

"People don't want to face the statistical odds that are based on things they don't know about their future," he said.

Keep in mind...

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Some financial advisors can do more harm than just relying on instinct to retire well.

"When you go to see a CPA or someone with an MD, you can expect a reasonable standard of care," Bernstein said. "That is not true with investment advice."

Badillo from Gen Y Planning recommends asking any potential financial advisor three questions: What is your experience? What is your certification? And how are you compensated?

"You have a full set of clubs when you go golfing. Without a financial planner you’re someone who uses their driver all the time." -Anthony Badillo, lead planner at Gen Y Planning

You’ll want to look for a fiduciary, someone who has pledged to put your needs first, meaning that they will offer you lower cost solutions as opposed to ones that will lead to a higher paycheck for them.

"If they're not willing to sign the fiduciary pledge, you make a 180 degrees back turn and run as fast as you can," Bernstein said.

Planning can be for everyone

Think you can't afford a financial advisor? You might be wrong.

"There is a common misconception that financial advisors are only for the wealthy," said Arthur Laby, a professor at Rutgers Law school, who has written about the fiduciary relationship. "Many advisors will work with individuals who do not have significant sums to invest."

Though, he added, if you're strapped for cash you should probably pay off any credit card debt before you consider seeing an advisor. "If a person has a dollar to spare, he or she is better off using the dollar to pay down credit card debt, and avoid paying a high rate of interest on that dollar, then investing it at a lower rate of return," he said.

"If they're not willing to sign the fiduciary pledge, you make a 180 degrees back turn and run as fast as you can." -William Bernstein, author of the Investors Manifesto

Everyone should go to a financial advisor at least once, Bullard said.

"Most of them will give you a free financial plan, top to bottom, in order to entice you to let them manage your money," he said. "As long you feel that you can get that plan for free and then walk away, there's absolutely no reason everyone shouldn't do that."

A number of websites offers databases of financial advisors, including the National Association of Personal Finance Advisors and the Garrett Planning Network. You can also verify that an advisor has passed Certified Financial Planning requirement's on the CFP Board's website.

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