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Investing

What’s a Financial Advisor and Do You Need One?

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.

When you’re just starting out in your investing journey, you may feel a bit overwhelmed about where to put your money. If you’re looking for real help, you might turn to a financial advisor.But what is a financial advisor, and how do they differ from others giving investment advice? Make sure you know the difference between an accredited professional and someone who may not have your best interest at heart.

What is a financial advisor?

A financial advisor is essentially anyone who provides financial advice. There isn’t a lot of oversight, which means anyone who claims to have knowledge about money can call themselves a financial advisor.

Sally Brandon, a senior vice president at investment management firm Rebalance, said it’s an unregulated title.

“The term ‘advisor’ is problematic,” Brandon said. “Just about anybody who sells stocks or insurance products to earn a commission can claim to be a financial advisor.”

Brandon suggested hiring a registered investment advisor (RIA) to manage your money. “If you hire an RIA, you have hired a person or a firm that is a fiduciary, which means that person or firm is required by law to act in your interests ahead of their own,” Brandon said. “No crazy hidden fees and no misguided investment ideas that don’t fit your needs just because they get a commission out of it.”

Having a fiduciary means a financial specialist is working in your best interest — not their own.

Brandon also suggested hiring a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). CFPs can help you analyze where your money will be put to its best use: investments, retirement or even saving for your child’s education. CFPs don’t just help with investing; they help with money management. While you don’t need to find someone who is both an RIA and CFP, consider what your financial needs are and what you hope to get out of the relationship before deciding who to hire.

What does a financial advisor do?

Your advisor is meant to serve as your money friend. They should discuss which investments are best for you, what each type of investing could be most beneficial and how best to manage your money. The best kind of advisor makes sure you’re making worthy investments for you — not for them.

When you work with a financial advisor, they’ll go over how much money you need for your different investment interests, such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds. For example, talking to an advisor — as opposed to simple money management — could help you strategically navigate a large amount of money you’ve recently come into. Depending on what you need, talking to a real person may be a better option than a robo-advisor.

What are robo-advisors?

A robo-advisor is exactly what it sounds like: a robotic financial advisor. Instead of a human managing your money, algorithms and computer programming can automatically set up and manage your investments.

When you sign up for a robo-advisor, you’ll answer a few questions about your investment preferences. Your portfolio is then selected based on your specific requests and needs.

Many robo-advisors still offer access to a CFP, but Brandon said some companies forget that real humans matter. “Most robo-advisors are too heavy on the ‘robo’ part,” Brandon said. “There’s nobody there to talk to, and if you do get a number it’s a distant call center, not your advisor.”

Not all robo-advisors are the same, but if you prefer human interaction and want to speak with someone, you may not like robo-advisors. However, robo-advisors do typically charge lower fees so you’ll need to consider the trade-offs.

How much does a financial advisor cost?

The less money you dedicate to paying someone else, the more will be invested. But regardless of who helps you manage your investments, they’ll come with an extra cost.

Advisors can earn their paycheck in a few different ways:

  • Fee-only: An advisor who only earns money from the fees you pay. They don’t earn a commission and they are less likely to sell you something you don’t need.
  • Fee-based: These advisors accept commission from third-parties while also charging a fee.
  • Commission-based: Advisors who earn a portion of money when you buy a product they offer. They might be less willing to consider you and your investments, and more willing to put money in their pockets.

The specific costs can vary depending on the firm you choose and how your money is handled. For robo-advisors, fees might run 0.3% of your assets up to 2% for human advisors, according to Brandon.

“I know 2% doesn’t sound like much money, but it’s 2% of your total retirement savings, not 2% of your gains in any given period,” Brandon said. “Some years you can pay the advisor more in fees than you make in returns, and that can run into thousands of dollars.”

Many firms charge a percentage of your total investments, also known as assets under management (AUM). There might be fixed, hourly, commission or performance fees that are tacked on. The amounts can vary depending on your firm or company choice, so it’s wise to do the math before committing.

For example, if you have $100,000 in assets and a firm is charging 2% of AUM, that’s $2,000 a year. If you set up a financial plan, those fixed fees might cost another $1,000. If you’re talking to someone for a financial consultation, that could average about $200 an hour.

Before you know it, your investment cash has taken a hit. It’s hard to avoid fees completely but try to find companies that keep your costs as low as possible.

How to pick a financial advisor

Due to the lack of major oversight on what it means to be a planner or advisor, you’ll need to take the vetting into your own hands.

It’s worth your time to make sure your advisor is who they say they are. You can check a firm’s licensing by going to BrokerCheck, and you can look up a specific advisor or planner in the SEC’s Action Lookup. If someone has had court orders against them, it’ll be in the database.

If you’re choosing a local financial advisor, check your state’s securities regulator. Here, you can find and verify licenses.

It’s also perfectly normal to ask advisors for their Form ADV. This is how advisors register with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to verify their company’s practices. Companies must tell customers about the company’s offerings, the advice they give, fee schedule and conflicts of interest. They’re also required to give an update to customers every year as new employees are hired and changes occur. Feel free to look up an advisor’s Form ADV as well.

Don’t be scared to ask a potential advisor any questions you have, especially when it comes to their expertise. Ask if they are a fiduciary and have your best interest in mind. Find out how often they talk to and consult with clients. See how they earn their money and if they’ve ever had any legal trouble. Doing your homework is encouraged — your advisor could make or break your entire investment strategy.

When it’s time to hire a financial advisor

If you’re not sure if you need a financial advisor or not, ask yourself a few questions before you settle on one.

  • How much am I investing? Brandon suggests if you have $100,000 or more in investable assets, you should consider hiring a financial advisor. If you don’t have that much but still want to start investing, a robo-advisor might be the way to go.
  • What are my investing goals? Are you looking to manage your investments with a minimal amount of work? A robo-advisor might be enough. Are your investments more complex than you originally started with or it’s too much to handle? Try talking to a professional.
  • How much am I willing to pay for help? Just about every firm has fees of some kind. Robo-advisors keep costs low because there are fewer people running the show. If you want the minimum amount of management and still want to be able to speak to a person, try a hybrid company. Find a firm that offers mostly robo-advisors with the option of talking to human experts when you have questions or concerns.
  • Can I do this on my own? If you’re having trouble understanding how to invest, or would rather not learn, hiring a financial advisor to help you make the most out of your money is probably worth it.

Regardless of which type of investing help you choose, make sure you’re choosing the right one for you. Talking to a financial planner, advisor, broker or other investment specialist is a great way to make sure you’re on the right track with your money. But make sure you don’t pick one who isn’t clearly a specialist or expert in their field.

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.

Dori Zinn
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Dori Zinn is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dori 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