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Updated on Wednesday, November 28, 2018
From Uncle Fred’s savings “strategy” of hiding cash around the house to your neighbor’s endless solicitations for you to invest in his business, free financial advice is easy to find. Free good financial advice, though? That’s another story. It can be hard to sort through articles, advice and “this is what I did, so it should work for you too” info to find what actually might be the right choice for your financial situation.
Personal finance is just that: personal. Even sound financial advice may not be appropriate for your situation. Knowing your options, consulting multiple sources of info and doing your own research can help you sift through the advice you find. Here are a few places to begin.
1. Utilize resources from your current financial institutions
From your bank to your 401(k) provider to your student loan lender, you may find that your financial institutions have resources available to help you manage your money. These resources may range from articles to appointments with a professional. Here’s where to look and what you might find.
Your bank or credit union
If you’ve never sat down with a banker at your bank, it may be a good idea to do so. A banker can listen to your financial goals and give you their opinion and feedback. For example, if your goal is homeownership, a banker can give you an idea of what your financial picture would need to look like before you applied for a mortgage and make suggestions for banking products that may be helpful.
Of course, the products they recommend are likely to be products the bank offers, so it’s important to do your due diligence and research competitor products to determine the best options for you.
If your bank or credit union is online-only, it may offer a robust selection of targeted financial advice. For example, online bank Ally has interactive calculators and tools for different financial stages, such as a savings goal calculator for growing families.
You don’t need to bank at an institution to take advantage of its investment advice. For example, Discover has a site called College Covered that targets every aspect of paying for college, including how to pay back your student loans.
Your brokerage or robo-advisor
If you have any money in a brokerage or robo-advisor account, you may be able to get free financial advice from its resources. For example, TD Ameritrade offers an advisor referral program, where clients may get a free consultation with an independent investment advisor.
Robo-advisors also may offer financial advice. For example, Betterment has an investment review quiz designed to assist you in optimizing your investment strategy.
If you do get financial advice from a brokerage or robo-advisor, it’s important to know whether the advisor you’re working with is a “fiduciary.” If they are, that means the advice they give you is in your own best interest. An advisor who is not a fiduciary — for example, a broker — must give advice that is “suitable,” but it may not be the optimum advice for you to follow. That’s why it may make the most sense to use your brokerage as a jumping-off point to take advantage of a referral program and speak with an independent advisor.
2. Work with a pro bono advisor
If you’re facing a financial challenge or crisis, it may be possible to get free financial counseling, depending on your circumstances. The Foundation for Financial Planning offers resources, including links to nonprofits that work with various populations. For example, GreenPath is a nonprofit that provides credit counseling and other services for free or at a low cost.
Searching “pro bono” and “financial clinic” in your area may help you find some local options. For example, in New York City, The Financial Clinic pairs low-income individuals with a financial coach to address money concerns. The Financial Planning Association also has local chapters that occasionally offer pro bono clinics; look up the chapter in your area for more info.
3. Search for free advice online
When you begin Googling financial advice, chances are the same domain names will keep popping up. Consumer-facing personal finance sites can be great resources to familiarize yourself with financial terms and topics. MagnifyMoney is a great resource for educational articles and interactive tools, including a credit card payoff calculator. Some online financial apps also have robust personal finance sections. Ellevest, an online investing platform, has a virtual magazine targeted toward women beginning to invest.
Government agencies also offer financial advice online. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau provides an extensive Q&A about common financial topics. Investor.gov, an arm of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has a page of free financial planning tools. These tools include a mutual fund analyzer that can help you assess how fees and expenses impact your overall investments.
Personal finance and investment books also can be good sources of free financial advice, and many have online components as well. For example, the popular app You Need a Budget has a book available.
In addition, robust Facebook groups have sprung up surrounding personal finance. One popular example is Your Money and Your Life, a group of almost 50,000 people that sprang from the popular NPR series of the same name. The Dave Ramsey Budgeting group has almost 150,000 members. Of course, Facebook groups tend to be peers discussing strategies that work for them and may not be professional advice, but they can be good ways to explore money topics.
4. Listen to personal finance podcasts
Personal finance and investing have become huge topics in the podcast world. Some well-known podcasts include “Stacking Benjamins” (general finance), “BiggerPockets” (real estate investing), “Radical Personal Finance” (in-depth personal finance) and “Millennial Money” (relatable and easy-to-understand money advice).
As is the case with any personal finance advice, it’s important to know who you’re getting advice from. Knowing the certifications or licenses of the podcaster can help you determine their credibility. For example, CPA (certified public accountant) and CFP (certified financial professional) are two professional designations that show that the podcaster has a robust background in personal finance topics.
5. Consider low-cost financial planning options
If you’re at a stage in your life when you’re juggling a few financial goals and obligations, such as buying a house while paying off student loans, it may make sense to budget for a financial advisor.
Work with a robo-advisor
A financial advisor can be digital-only in the form of a robo-advisor. An online robo-advisor usually charges a percentage of your managed investments and offers personalized investment advice through an algorithm. A robo-advisor can be great if you want to begin investing, and it may offer a human touch when you need it.
Work with a human financial advisor
If, however, you want to simultaneously invest and work toward some financial goals, it may make sense to work one-on-one with a financial planner.
You likely won’t find a free financial advisor, though. Financial advisors may be fee-only (which means they are paid an agreed-upon amount regardless of any returns on investments they recommend), fee-based (which means they charge a fee but also accept commissions on investments) or commission-only. A fee-only financial advisor may make the most sense, and many offer flat-fee packages devoted to developing an annual investment and financial strategy you then will carry out yourself.
To find an advisor, it can be helpful to ask for recommendations from friends and family. No matter who you consult with, interview them to see if they are aligned with your goals before making a commitment.
Find a strategy that works for you
In general, the best financial advice for you is what works best for you. That advice may come from a variety of outlets. Keeping an open mind, cross-referencing information, looking up any terms or concepts that confuse you, and asking questions can help you keep a handle on your money and your investments. Soon, people may be coming to you for free financial advice. And unlike Uncle Fred, you won’t tell them to hide all their cash in half-empty cereal boxes.