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Here’s Exactly How to Confirm Your Financial Advisor’s Qualifications

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Hiring a financial advisor can be an excellent way to maximize your financial strategy and ensure you’re doing all you can to meet your money-related goals. A qualified financial professional can set you up for success, whether it’s planning, saving or investing you need help with.

Just one problem: The words “financial advisor” have no official meaning, and there’s no one certification or license that makes someone an advisor. That means it’s buyer beware when you’re in the market for professional advice.

Here’s how to perform an advisor check that’ll help ensure you’re getting your money’s worth. (After all, saving money is the whole point of this endeavor, right?)

A background check is essential when hiring a financial advisor

When you start looking for a financial advisor, you’ll quickly notice a veritable alphabet soup of designations. Your contending confidante may be a CFP, CPA, CLU or FRM — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What’s more, not all of those spiffy-sounding titles indicate similar skill sets or educational backgrounds. In fact, some of these so-called qualifications are little more than meaningless name decor.

“Some certifications you don’t even need to [take a] test for,” said Malik S. Lee, founder of Felton & Peel Wealth Management. He’s also a certified financial planner (CFP), and he serves as a member and question writer on the CFP Board’s Council on Examinations.

Certified financial planners, he said, go through a stringent course of study, culminating in a difficult exam; he estimated the pass rate to be just over 60%. And while CFPs certainly aren’t the only qualified professionals on the advisor market, the plethora of options means consumers need to be careful — especially since financial advice is so highly sought-after.

New types of “experts” crop up on the market all the time, Lee said, estimating a current count of about 140 to 150 qualifications to choose from. But many of those designations aren’t accredited or regulated by any kind of governing body, and some “advisors” are little more than insurance salesmen who are looking to make a commission off your purchase of an expensive financial product like life insurance.

“You have to be careful of all certifications,” Lee said, “and you have to make sure you do your due diligence.” Here’s how.

How to check your advisor’s credentials

Whether you’re looking for a financial advisor, investment advisor, planner or broker, the best way to ensure you’re hiring a professional is to delve into what the letters stacked after their name actually mean.

You can start by tracking down the certifying board’s official website, if there is one, and reading more about its requirements and specifications — keeping in mind, of course, that it’s not going to be the most unbiased information available.

But one of the best ways to weed out the bad eggs is to go straight to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), said Lee.

Choosing an advisor whose designation is accredited by FINRA is a great way to ensure there’s some actual know-how behind those letters. The organization keeps a comprehensive list of professional designations, listing prerequisites, educational requirements, the type of exam students must pass, and information about complaints and accreditation. You can even compare multiple designations at a glance.

Once you feel good about your potential advisor’s designation, you can double down by looking up their specific credentials. For instance, you can ensure that your advisor’s license is current and check to make sure there no bad reviews from previous clients.

A good start is to check out any user reviews that may exist for the firm or broker, either on their Google listing or through a third-party rating site like Yelp. But it’s also a good idea to use a tool like FINRA’s BrokerCheck to get a full report on their employment history, qualifications and disclosure events. Depending on whether the advisor advertises themselves as a broker, investment specialist or insurance agent, there are a variety of different ways to go about the process — both online and over the phone. Check out FINRA’s instructions for full details.

Know before you go: what’s your advisor’s fee structure?

Another shorthand for finding a worthy advisor: Look for a fee-only advisor or fiduciary who earns their keep in exchange for actual management services rather than banking on commissions in exchange for selling you products. Fee-only advisors may charge flat rates for specific services or express their rates as a percentage of assets under management (AUM). There are also fee-based professionals whose compensation structures may combine flat fees, AUM percentages and commissions.

While “fee-only” is good, “fiduciary” is better, said Lee, suggesting consumers look for that term first. Fiduciaries are legally required to act in their advisees’ best interests, regardless of how it affects their paycheck.

What you may want to avoid is an advisor who makes their money exclusively off commissions, as this person may have conflicts of interests if they can earn money selling you a product you may not really need. How exactly a potential advisor is compensated should be one of the first questions you ask in an initial meeting.

If you’re strapped for time or not keen on doing hours of research, certified financial planners and certified public accountants (CPAs) are common designations that serve many investors. According to Lee, these two designations require their members to pass the hardest examinations in the industry, thus indicating a significant, measurable level of financial savvy.

And no matter who you hire, don’t forget: It’s your money. If you find yourself in a professional relationship you’re uncomfortable with, you always have the option of moving on to a different advisor — and it’s an option you should absolutely consider if you have reservations.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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Investing

Ally Invest Review 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

If you’re looking for an online discount broker with no minimum investment requirement, Ally Invest may be perfect for you. Ally Invest is an ideal choice not just because you don’t need a fortune to open an account, but also because commission fees for trades are well below many competitors — especially for active traders who can earn discounts.

While Ally Invest is missing some common tools for investment research and their mobile app isn’t as feature-rich as some competitors, their full-featured online platform makes up for what the mobile app lacks. And, there’s a wide range of account options with Ally Invest, so you’re covered whether you want a taxable account, a retirement account, or an account for your kids.

Ally Invest
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The Bottom Line: Ally Invest is an affordable discount broker with a wide range of investments to choose from.

  • Commissions are just $4.95 or $3.95 if you’re an active trader.
  • There’s no minimum deposit required for a self-directed trading account, and no minimum account balance requirement.
  • Ally Invest offers tons of investment options, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, options, futures and forex.

Who should consider Ally Invest

If you’re looking for an affordable investment account, Ally Invest should be at the top of your list. You’ll have many choices for different types of accounts with Ally Invest, including traditional and Roth IRA, IRAs for the self-employed, taxable investment accounts, 529 Plan, and more. And, you won’t have to make a minimum deposit to open your account — it’s free.

Once you’ve got your account open, Ally Invest makes trading affordable for most investments. Commissions for stock trades are among the lowest of any online discount broker, and Ally Invest offers more than 100 commission-free ETFs. If you’re looking to buy Mutual funds though, you’ll pay a transaction fee, whereas some competitors offer ample fee-free options.

Ally Invest’s online trading platform is easy to use, and their research tools are good. While you won’t find earnings transcripts, SEC filings, earnings press releases or audio calls, you can still dig into technical data using free screeners and other tools powered by Recognia.

If you don’t want to manage all the investments on your own, you can opt for a managed account. This is Ally’s robo-advisor option — but you’ll need a minimum of $2,500 if you’d prefer this hands-off approach rather than a self-directed trading account.

Ally Invest fees and features

Current promotions

New Ally Invest accounts accounts receive 90 days of commission-free trades, up to $500 in value, regardless of deposit amount. Cash bonuses are available for new accounts starting at $50 for if you deposit or transfer at least $10,000.

Stock trading fees
  • $4.95 per trade
  • $3.95 per trade (30+ trades per quarter or daily balance of $100,000 or more)
Amount minimum to open account
  • $0
Tradable securities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Options
  • Futures / commodities
  • Forex
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $50 full account transfer fee
  • $50 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Offers automated portfolio/robo-advisor
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android , Windows phone
Customer supportPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email

Strengths of Ally Invest

Ally Invest has plenty of strengths to help it stand out from the competition, including the following:

  • Low commissions: You pay just a $4.95 commission with Ally Invest, which is one of the lowest commissions charged by discount brokers and well below the $6.95 charged by competitors including E-Trade and TD Ameritrade. Plus, if you make more than 30 trades per quarter or have a daily balance of $100,000 or more, your commission is even lower — it drops to just $3.95.
  • No minimum deposit required: While competitors such as E-Trade require a $500 minimum deposit to open an account, Ally doesn’t have any minimum initial deposit requirement. You can also earn a cash bonus for opening an Ally Invest account if you deposit or transfer just $10,000, compared with a $25,000 minimum to earn a cash bonus with E-Trade or $20,000 with Merrill Edge.
  • Powerful tools and intuitive trading platform: Ally Invest’s online site offers you powerful tools to screen investments. Its trading platform is intuitive and provides the features necessary to be an informed investor. This includes a dashboard you can customize to your preferred view, as well as real-time streaming quotes and up-to-date data.
  • Responsive online and phone customer service: You can contact Ally Invest via phone 24/7. There’s also an online chat feature, where you can get answers within seconds from helpful customer service agents. Email support is available as well.

Drawbacks of Ally Invest

Ally Invest also has some downsides to consider:

  • Mutual fund transaction fees: Ally Invest charges a $9.95 transaction fee per trade for no-load Mutual funds. But many competitors offer options without any transaction fees, including E-Trade, which offers more than 4,400 fee-free funds.
  • A mobile app with minimal features: While you can do the basics with Ally Invest’s mobile app, it offers far fewer features and investment tools than competitor apps such as TD Ameritrade Mobile.
  • No physical branches: Ally Invest is an online-only company. There are no physical branches, unlike for competitors such as Merrill Edge, or E-Trade which has more than 30 branches spread across the country.

Is Ally Invest safe?

Ally Invest is a trusted online brokerage with more than $4.7 billion in assets under management. It’s a member of the FDIC and SIPC, so you can rest assured that the cash in your accounts is safe. And since the company has passed its FINRA broker check, you can count on the fact it’s in full compliance with regulations.

Since Ally Invest is online-only, it’s important to review Ally’s data protection policies. The good news is Ally promises that they use “multiple levels of security” to keep your info safe. This includes 128-bit SSL encryption for any exchange of data from your browser and Ally’s servers if your personal information is being transmitted. The downside, however, is that Ally’s privacy policy does permit Ally to share your information with third-parties. While this is a common policy, it’s still disappointing.

Of course, once you invest your money, there’s always a risk of losses. Research what you’re investing in carefully and diversify your portfolio to minimize risks you’re taking.

Bottom line

Thanks to the fact it has no minimum deposit requirement, Ally Invest is a great choice if you’re looking to get started investing and you don’t have a ton of money. Affordable commissions and commission-free ETFs also give you a diverse offering of low-cost or no-cost investment options. But if you’d prefer to buy Mutual funds without paying transaction fees or want a physical branch to visit, alternatives such as E-Trade or Merrill Edge may be a better choice to meet your needs.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Christy Rakoczy
Christy Rakoczy |

Christy Rakoczy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Christy here

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Investing

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios Review 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is a robo-advisor option from a trusted online-only financial institution.

It can make managing your money simple: Just answer a few basic questions about your goals and risk tolerance and your funds are invested for you. However, while fees are competitive, they aren’t the lowest among other robo-advisors’ offerings.

If you don’t mind the lack of bonus for opening the account, and you want to take a hands-off approach to building wealth, Ally Invest may be a good option.

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios
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The Bottom Line: Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is a decent robo-advisor that’s competitive with other managed portfolios online. But its lack of tax-loss harvesting, and fees that slightly exceed competitors may prompt you to look elsewhere if you’re not already an Ally customer.

  • The minimum deposit to invest in Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is $100
  • 0.00% management fee, no matter how high your account balance
  • Customer service is available 24/7, but there are no local branches to visit

Who should consider Ally Invest Managed Portfolios?

If you’re looking for a robo-advisor that allows you to build a diversified portfolio without a lot of advanced knowledge about investing, Ally Invest Managed Portfolios has you covered.

You’ll answer a few questions about your age; timeline for investing and risk tolerance; and whether you’re investing for retirement, wealth-building or a big purchase. Then, Ally Invest comes back with a recommended portfolio you can accept or tweak.

You can open a joint, custodial or Individual taxable account with Ally Invest Managed Portfolios, or can opt for a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA or Rollover IRA. Unfortunately, unlike with Ally Invest’s self-directed accounts, there’s no promotion or bonus for transferring funds into a managed portfolio. And, you’ll need quite a bit of money to get started — more than many competitors in the robo-advisor industry require.

Still, if you don’t mind the lack of brick-and-mortar locations and marginally higher fees, Ally Invest is a worthy competitor to consider when looking for help managing your money.

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $100
Management fees
  • 0.00%
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $50 full account transfer fee
  • $50 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Current promotions

None currently

Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
Portfolio
  • Ally managed portfolios cover 3 asset classes and 9 major market segments
Automatic rebalancing
Tax loss harvesting
Offers fractional shares
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android, Windows Phone
Customer supportPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email

Strengths of Ally Invest Managed Portfolios

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios has some significant advantages worth considering:

  • Investing in a diversified portfolio is easy. You’ll answer basic questions about your investment goals and Ally Invest will suggest a portfolio with an appropriate mix of U.S. and foreign bonds, international and U.S. stocks, and cash. You can also tweak the suggestions Ally Invest Managed Portfolios makes, so you take on more or less risk based on your comfort level.
  • Ally requires a low minimum deposit of just $100 to open a managed portfolio account. While some of Ally’s competitors (such as Betterment) don’t have a minimum deposit requirement at all, $100 still falls on the very low side of the scale and makes this account extremely accessible to new investors.
  • Ally Invest Managed Portfolios offers automatic portfolio rebalancing. This helps to ensure you remain invested in the right mix of assets if certain investments under- or over-perform.
  • Customer service. Ally Invest offers phone, Email, and chat support. Customer service agents are available 24/7 with little or no wait. Agents will do their best to provide answers, although it may take a little time if your questions are technical since you may need to be transferred to an investment advisor.

Drawbacks of Ally Invest Managed Portfolios

You’ll also want to consider the potential downsides of choosing Ally Invest Managed Portfolios.

  • Ally Invest Managed Portfolios charges fees that are slightly higher than several competitors. You’ll pay .30% for Ally’s robo-advisor service, compared with .25% for Betterment’s digital account or for Wealthfront.
  • Ally Invest Managed Portfolios currently does not offer tax loss harvesting, which involves selling investments at a loss to offset taxable gains (although they do offer tax advantaged portfolios which add municipal bonds to Ally’s core portfolios). Competitors such as Betterment do offer this feature. However, Ally representatives indicate tax loss harvesting is expected to be rolled out in 2019 and investors with managed portfolios will be able to transition their accounts into a portfolio with tax loss harvesting.
  • No physical branches. If you’d prefer to go into a branch for local customer support, you’ll need to look elsewhere, such as E-Trade, which has more than 30 branches across the country.
  • Mobile apps aren’t very advanced. While Ally Invest allows you to use mobile apps on iPhone and Android phones to access basic account information, the offered apps aren’t as feature-rich as competitors such as Betterment.

Is Ally Invest Managed Portfolios safe?

Whenever you invest your money, there’s a risk you may lose some or all of it. This is no different with Ally Invest Managed Portfolios. The assets your robo-advisor invests you in could decline in value and your portfolio could lose money.

But Ally Invest is as safe as any trusted online brokerage, and there’s little risk of losing assets if the investment firm goes bankrupt. Ally Invest is in compliance with regulatory requirements according to FINRA’s Broker Check tool. Ally Invest is also a member of the FDIC and SIPC, both of which ensure cash in bank and brokerage accounts respectively.

Final thoughts

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is a viable choice for investors looking for an easy, hands-off way to invest — especially with its low $100 minimum deposit requirement. Ally also promises to offer a broad range of socially-responsible portfolios, which should interest investors who want to consider more than just financial returns. But the lack of a promotional offer, higher management fees, and the fact tax loss harvesting isn’t currently offered makes Ally a less-than-ideal option for investors looking for the most affordable way to build a diversified portfolio. If you want a lower-cost option that does offer tax-loss harvesting, consider robo-advisors such as Betterment or Wealthfront.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Christy Rakoczy
Christy Rakoczy |

Christy Rakoczy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Christy here