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99% of Americans don't use a financial advisor — here's why

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If you manage your own money, you are like most other Americans, according to the new CNBC Invest in You survey released Monday.

In fact, only 1% of those polled said they use a financial advisor.

Yet how do you know if it is the right move? And if you think you want an advisor, what do you need to look for?

"Finding a financial advisor isn't something you can be pushed to do," said certified financial planner Winnie Sun, president and founder of California-based Sun Group Wealth Partners.

"You'll know when the time is right."

The remaining 99% of those surveyed said they either do it themselves; have their spouse, parent or someone other than a financial advisor handle it for them or didn't answer. The national poll, conducted for CNBC and Acorns by SurveyMonkey Oct. 21–25, surveyed 2,776 adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

What's holding people back?

There are a number of reasons people are staying away from getting professional financial help, experts said.

For one, there is a lot more information online these days, compared to past generations, so people feel like they can do it themselves, said Sun, a member of the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council.

Younger Americans are also saddled with more debt, like student loans, so they don't have a lot to invest, she said.

Then there is the cost. Many people think using a financial advisor is expensive and only for the wealthy, said certified financial planner Douglas Boneparth, president and founder of Bone Fide Wealth in New York.

Plus, people may not understand the different functions a financial advisor can provide, he added.

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"They think it's specifically about managing money and not about receiving financial advice and financial planning," said Boneparth, who specializes in financial planning for millennials and authored the book "The Millennial Money Fix."

For those who don't think they have enough assets, there are a growing number of advisors that will work with a less-wealthy population, he pointed out.

You can also get complimentary consultation and work with planners on an hourly basis.

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When to hire an advisor

The decision on when to hire a financial advisor is a very personal one and isn't necessarily tied to a certain amount of money saved or a specific age.

Boneparth, also a member of the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council, said it's about "becoming financially-planning ready."

"It has to do with where they are in terms of responsibilities in their life," he explained.

"The moment in which you are financially-planning ready is when your responsibilities go up and your free time goes down."

He called it an inflection point — when you may have taken on things like marriage, children and buying a home and find yourself with less time and energy to deal with handling your money and investments.

For Sun a good indication on when you should speak to someone is when you feel like you want to make a difference in your life and aren't sure where to go. Another signal is if the information you are getting online isn't speaking to you or making any sense, she added.

"You don't want to make a mistake," she said.

Vetting an advisor

The most important thing to look for in a financial advisor is someone you can have a conversation with and listens to you, Sun said.

Experience also matters. You'll want someone who has been in the industry at least through one recession, she advises.

"It is really easy to manage money when the market is doing well. It is harder when the market isn't doing well," Sun said.

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There are also different types of investment professionals.

Brokers, who are regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra), buy and sell assets like stocks for their clients. Finra is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investment advisors, who are overseen by the SEC and state securities agencies, manage portfolios and provide investment advice.

Boneparth suggests looking for a fee-only certified financial planner, who must pass a rigorous exam and adhere to a professional code of conduct. A fee-only advisor doesn't receive a commission for selling you a product.

However, thanks to the SEC's new investor protection rule, all investment advisory firms registered with the agency must now act in the best interest of their clients.

Once you have a name, check him or her out first. You can do a background check to see how long the advisor has been in practice and if there have been any complaints.

Finra and the SEC both have websites that allow you to do that. To verify someone's CFP certification and background, go to the CFP Board's website.

"There are so many advisors out there," Sun said.

"You want to take the time to do your due diligence to make sure that the two of you can work together and it's a long-term relationship."

Investing on your own

If you decide to stick it out it on your own, make sure you are in a position to make informed decisions, Boneparth said.

That means asking yourself three questions when faced with deciding on an investment or other financial move: Can I afford it? Will I feel good about doing it? Does this decision make sense?

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Also, don't move forward without making sure you have a solid foundation first, he said. That includes mastering your cash flow and your budget.

"If you can do that and know what your goals are, you can then go leverage these tools out there to invest, have an estate plan and manage your own taxes and insurance," Boneparth said.

For Sun it's important that do-it-yourself investors keep it simple and stay diversified.

That could mean something like a target-date fund in your 401(k), which is tailored to your age and retirement year.

"At some point it probably pays to have someone look at it who does this on a day-in-and-day-out basis," said Sun.

"It is much more expensive to make a mistake than the price you pay to have money properly managed."

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.