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How to choose a financial adviser

Selecting the right financial adviser for retirement advice and other financial goals.

If you’re seeking professional help to manage your finances, you have a variety of advisers to choose from. Financial advisers offer various services, may carry a variety of certifications and operate under several different fee structures.

Here’s how to choose a financial adviser that’s appropriate for your situation.

1. Decide what you want to accomplish with a financial adviser

Before you seek out a financial adviser, ask yourself what your financial goals are. If you want a financial adviser to build you a holistic financial plan that addresses every aspect of your financial life including debt management and retirement planning, you may want to seek out a certified financial planner (CFP) who can design a financial roadmap and guide you every step of the way. If you only want investment advice and portfolio management, a registered investment adviser (RIA) may be a good option. RIAs can include both human and robo-advisors.

No matter what kind of advice you need, you can typically find a financial adviser specializing in one or more of these services:

  • Financial planning
  • Budgeting and savings
  • Debt management
  • Investment advice
  • Portfolio management
  • Tax planning
  • Home buying and mortgages
  • Insurance
  • Retirement planning
  • Estate planning
  • Wealth management

Our top picks for financial advisers

Personalized financial plans

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Terms apply.
Financial planning, advice and portfolio management
  • 3 IRA types: Roth, traditional, rollover
  • Access to: Financial plans, with unlimited video or phone check-ins with a fiduciary advisor
  • Annual fee: Up to 0.6%

Promoted for personalized advice

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  • Minimum investment: $50,000
  • Access to: Automated investment management with human advisor support
  • Portfolio construction: ETFs and mutual funds

Flat-fee financial planning

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$50 when you open and fund an account
  • Lowest plan cost: $2,500 for a one-page plan
  • Access to: On-demand financial advisor with a free consultation
  • Flat-fee structure: Choose from 3 plan options

2. Learn about the types of financial advisers

Financial adviser is an umbrella term covering many professionals that provide financial advice. CFPs, financial coaches and RIAs are different types of financial advisers. But always ask a financial adviser if they’re a fiduciary before hiring them.

Fiduciary advisers are legally required to put their client’s best interests above their own. Whether an adviser operates under the fiduciary standard often depends on their official designations.

Fiduciary advisers

Here are two types of financial advisers that are legally fiduciaries:

  • Registered investment advisers. An RIA is an individual or company that specializes in securities advice and investment management. They are required to be fiduciaries and must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or state regulators.(1)
  • Certified financial planners. A CFP is a fiduciary who designs financial plans that can address various financial goals like debt management, savings and retirement planning. Many CFPs work on a fee-only basis, meaning they’re compensated only for giving you financial planning advice, and they don’t earn commission for selling any financial products.

Non-fiduciary advisers

Here are two types of financial advisers that may not be fiduciaries:

  • Commission-based financial advisers. Sometimes called fee-based financial advisers, these professionals may earn commissions for selling you particular investment or insurance products. Getting you to invest in one particular fund over another because it offers a commission fee may create a conflict of interest.
  • Broker-dealer. These are firms or individuals licensed to sell securities like stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Broker-dealers adhere to the suitability standard, which means they can recommend securities that pay them the highest commissions as long as they reasonably align with the client’s financial profile, investment goals and other circumstances.(2)

3. Choose how you want to work with a financial adviser

Financial advice is available in many ways these days. You can get advice from an individual, a digital platform or a combination of both.

Robo-advisors

A robo-advisor is a digital platform that uses an algorithm to build and manage an investment portfolio on your behalf based on your financial goals, risk tolerance and time horizon. Advisery fees for robo-advisors tend to be less than a traditional financial adviser, but you also don’t get as comprehensive of advice.

  • Best for: Hands-off investors who want to pay low advisery fees for portfolio construction and management.
  • Look elsewhere if: You want to interact with a human financial adviser or are looking for financial planning that goes beyond portfolio management.

Online financial advisers

Some firms offer suites of digital financial services alongside financial advice. For example, in addition to virtual meetings with an adviser, the financial services firm Empower offers digital tools like a dashboard to track all your financial accounts and an interactive retirement planner, as well as access to a self-directed brokerage account and portfolio management services. Meanwhile, SoFi Invest provides a no-advisery-fee robo-advisor and digital financial management tools, plus complimentary access to a CFP. Members of Facet get access to CFPs as well as financial management tools and a retirement portfolio.

  • Best for: Those who want financial advice entirely or almost entirely online, with meetings taking place virtually or by phone.
  • Look elsewhere if: You prefer to meet with an adviser in person.

Traditional, in-person financial advisers

Those who want face-to-face advice can always go with a traditional financial adviser. Various financial adviser marketplaces like Zoe Financial and Wealthramp can connect you to in-person financial advisers in your area based on your specific needs. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisers is also available to match you with fee-only financial advisers in your area.

  • Best for: Someone who wants personal, one-on-one financial advisery services.
  • Look elsewhere if: You prefer a primarily digital approach.

4. Understand financial adviser cost structures

Depending on their fee structures and the scope of your financial needs, financial adviser costs can vary widely. Advisers with hourly fees typically charge in the range of $120 to $300 per hour. Those charging an assets under management (AUM) fee may charge 0.5% to 2% of the assets they manage on your behalf.(3) So, an annual 0.5% AUM fee on a $20,000 portfolio would translate to a $100 fee per year.

Here’s a look at different financial adviser costs:

Fee typeTypical cost
AUM0.5%–2%
Hourly fee$120–$300
Per-plan fee$1,000–$3,000
Commissions3%–6%(4)
Performance-based fees20% of the returns above benchmark

5. Research financial advisers

When planning your financial future or handing off your money to be invested, it’s crucial to do your homework. Not all financial advisers are created equal, so here are a few things to consider as you search.

  • Ask them if they are legally obligated to work as fiduciaries to clients at all times
  • Compare costs and fees
  • Look them up on Broker Check by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to verify their credentials
  • Verify CFPs on the CFP Board

8 important questions to ask a financial adviser

Before you shake on it, ask your would-be financial adviser some key questions.

  1. Are you a fiduciary? Fiduciaries are legally obligated to act in your best interest, while non-fiduciary advisers can push certain products on you because it makes them money.
  2. What are your credentials? FINRA recognizes more than 200 professional designations such as chartered financial analyst (CFA) and certified tax specialist (CTS).
  3. How do you get paid? Financial advisers may operate under a variety of different fee structures, like fee-only and commission-based.
  4. What advisery and planning services do you offer? Available services can vary from debt management to retirement and estate planning. Make sure they specialize in what you need.
  5. What’s your financial planning approach? You may prefer frequent in-person meetings or a more digital approach. Make sure you feel comfortable with your adviser’s planning approach.
  6. Do you have any conflicts of interest? Advisers who are also working for third parties like mutual funds or insurance companies may earn commissions by recommending specific products that may not be in your best interest but earn the adviser more money.
  7. How often will we meet? Interaction with your adviser may be more frequent depending on the complexity of your financial needs.
  8. Are you dually registered as a broker-dealer and investment adviser? If they’re dually registered, they’re required to act as fiduciaries when building financial plans but can act under the less strict suitability standard when selling financial products.

Compare financial advisors

Compare financial advisers by available asset types and minimum deposits. Select Go to site to sign up for an account or More Info for a comprehensive review.

1 - 7 of 7
Name Product Available asset types Minimum deposit Cost
JP Morgan Personal Advisors
Finder Score: 3.3 / 5: ★★★★★
JP Morgan Personal Advisors
Mutual funds, ETFs
$25,000
Between 0.4%–0.6% of the assets in your account, paid monthly
Ongoing access to an advisory team with personalized, expert-built portfolios. Provider terms & conditions apply
Vanguard Personal Advisor
Finder Score: 3.8 / 5: ★★★★★
Vanguard Personal Advisor
Stocks, Mutual funds, ETFs, Treasury Bills
$50,000
Annual fee of $20 (avoidable)
Financial advice powered by relationships, not commissions.
Domain Money
Not rated yet
Domain Money
Investments, Retirement
$0
Empower
Finder Score: 4.1 / 5: ★★★★★
Empower
Stocks, ETFs
$100,000
Between 0.49%-0.89% of the assets in your account
Unlimited financial guidance plus optional professionally managed ETF portfolios.
WiserAdvisor
Not rated yet
WiserAdvisor
Stocks, ETFs, Investments, Retirement
$0
Varies
Compare top financial advisors matched to your specific needs.
Datalign
Not rated yet
Datalign
Savings, Investments, Retirement
$0
$0
Get matched with a pre-screened financial advisor at no cost.
Facet Financial Planning
Stocks
$0
From $2,400 to $8,000
Flat-fee financial guidance from a certified financial planner for between $$2,400 and $8,000 per year.
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Finder is not an adviser or brokerage service. Information on this page is for educational purposes only and not a recommendation to invest with any one company, trade specific stocks or fund specific investments. All editorial opinions are our own.

Bottom line

If you think you need a financial advisor, choosing the right one takes an understanding of what these different financial professionals offer, how they’re paid and whether they’re legally obligated to act in your best interest.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best way to pick a financial adviser?

One effective way is to use an online marketplace that connects you to fiduciary financial advisers.

How do I know which financial adviser to use?

Knowing which financial adviser to use depends on the kinds of services you need. So, ask if they specialize in those areas and verify their credentials.

What are seven things you should look for in a financial adviser?

Look for the following seven things in a financial adviser:

  • Are they legally required to work as fiduciaries at all times?
  • Do they work on a fee-only basis?
  • Do they have FINRA-recognized designations?
  • Are they registered with the SEC or state regulators if offering investment advice?
  • Do they specialize in the advisery services you seek?
  • Do they work under the suitability standard?
  • Do they work on a fee-based structure?

How much money should you have before seeing a financial adviser?

Anyone with a need for financial guidance can consider a financial adviser. Some wealth management firms have investment minimums of $1 million, and some robo-advisors have no investment minimums. Compare minimum asset requirements across advisers.

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