Questions You Might Have

Most people have important questions when they consider using a financial advisor, but they often feel uncomfortable asking them. Here are answers to some of the most common ones.

What is financial planning?

Financial planning is the lifelong process of integrating personal values with the management of both human and financial capital for the betterment of self and community.

What is a personal financial plan?

In the old days, a financial plan was a large three-ring binder filled with all the details about your finances and what you should do about each one. Most of those plans were circular-filed, sometimes on receipt. Today, having a personal financial plan means you have a systematic and optimistic way to think about what has meaning to you, and how you will finance those desires. Two common goals are achieving long-term financial security and a having a chance to develop and use your personal gifts in a meaningful way. Hence, a “financial plan” addresses the nuts and bolts of cash-flow planning, insurance considerations, income and estate tax optimization, and investment management in tandem with career considerations, intergenerational finances and legacy concerns. Just as personal growth is never “finished,” neither is a person’s financial plan.

What is "fee-only" and why is it so important?

“Fee-only” used to be shorthand for being compensated by fees, not commission. It now describes someone who has minimized conflicts of interest and works only for the client. We’ve been fee-only from the start of our practice in 1992 when being fee-only was a very different way to be. To read more about the significance of the fee-only business model, click here.

How does financial planning make a difference?

Financial planning offers the promise of more financial safety, more financial understanding, more informed personal choices, more vibrant career choices, more meaningful family conversations, more knowledge about social and economic policy and, yes, higher lifetime wealth. In sum, financial planning offers peace of mind and more effective progress toward your goals.

Why use a financial advisor?

A good financial advisor should be many things: coach, teacher, clerk, trusted sounding board, reporter, information resource, implementer, a person who can help connect you to other professionals and quarterback your advisory team, truth-teller and cheerleader. Financial advisors are trained in the nitty-gritty details of tax, investments and insurance. They combine this knowledge and their background experience with a detailed and empathetic understanding of where you are coming from and where you want to go.

The result is an informed, caring professional at your side, arming you with objective information and tailored advice at each financial turning point in your life. Implementing planning ideas becomes low-hassle, and personal goals become more readily achieved and celebrated. Life is also a whole lot easier when someone else is minding the store while you are out in the world pursuing your dreams. We’ve got your back.

How are financial advisors compensated?

Fee-only advisors, such as those at our firm, are paid only by the client and only by fees that are fully disclosed and visible to the client. Clients deserve nothing less.

Some fee-only advisors charge an hourly rate. Others, like our firm, only work with clients on a continuous retainer basis. We think the retainer fee model works best because we see our service as being in a relationship with you, at the ready whenever a planning issue or opportunity arises.

There are other arrangements in our industry. For example, brokers, i.e., those regulated by FINRA, are paid by commissions, only some of which are easily visible to the client. Commission income represents compensation from the product company to the broker for selling the company’s product. Commissions thus introduce questions of objectivity and loyalty. These days, some advisors are charging a combination of fees and commissions, which can further blur the client’s view of the advisor’s total compensation.

How should someone select a financial advisor?


Interview at least three advisors.

Develop a list of advisors to consider from friends and other referral sources; for example, NAPFA FPA. This is an important decision; spend more time on this decision than you do on something like buying a refrigerator.

Use these differentiating questions:

  • How are you regulated? Aim to work with someone who has a legal obligation to put your interests first.
  • Do you just manage money, or do you also provide comprehensive planning? Money managers don’t look at your whole picture.
  • Do you pay or receive referral fees? Look for a “no” answer.
  • Do you own a partial interest in another firm? Be wary if the answer is “yes” and referrals go to that firm.
  • Does some other entity own all or a part of your business? Be wary if so. The owner can exert pressure to keep margins up, for example by having the advisor talk less with clients.

Get the ADV, the government-mandated disclosure document. Part II comes from the advisor.

Then do a gut check for competency and chemistry: Do you want to work with this person over the long term on issues of great personal importance to you?

How much does it cost?

We charge an annual fee (minimum of $10,000 per year) based on portfolio size (typically 1 percent of the first $2 million, 0.50 percent of the next $3 million, and 0.35 percent above $5 million), or a flat fee agreed upon in advance. Fees are typically paid by direct deduction from the portfolio each quarter.