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What’s a Financial Plan, and How Do I Build 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.

Do you have a financial plan? If not, you’re not alone. In fact, most Americans don’t have a written financial plan in place.For some, it may be they don’t feel like they have enough finances to plan anything. For others, the task of creating one just may get lost in the busy day-to-day bustle of life. But regardless of circumstances, everyone should have a financial plan. Research shows that having a plan leads to better financial habits, including saving more and accumulating less debt.

What is a financial plan?

In the simplest terms, a financial plan is an outline of your present and future financial goals and strategies to help you achieve them.

Brent Dickerson, a certified financial planner and owner of Over Coffee Financial in Cleveland, Ohio, said a financial plan is like a map for a long-distance road trip. “Even if you stray from your original route, a map will help you to get back on track or find another route,” he said. “Without a map, you can set off in the general direction of your destination and try and find your destination that way, but the odds are a lot less that you will end up where you want to be.”

6 steps to build a financial plan

So, how do you create a financial plan? It’s key to have something down in writing, rather than just a vague idea. For some, a financial plan may not go beyond setting goals and a monthly budget, while for others it will include investments, retirement plans, tax strategies and more. You can adjust your financial plan as your income and assets change and as you move closer to retirement, but everyone can benefit from one, no matter how basic. Here’s what to consider as you create your own.

1. Set financial goals

What do you want your life to look like in five years, 10 years, and beyond? Think about things like buying a home, paying for your children’s college, travel, and the age at which you want to retire. Get as specific as possible, and then prioritize those goals.

Though you may not achieve 100% of your goals, it will help you see which are most important to you. Often, knowing what you’re working toward can help make doing the hard work easier than if you’re working toward some vague idea of your future.

2. Review (or create) your budget

A budget is one of the best ways to see just where your money is going — and keep it from going out the window. A budget allows you to set goals based on your monthly income and expenditures and should also, ideally, include savings goals as well.

Once you’ve created a budget, monitor how well you’re sticking to it. That means tracking your expenditures, no matter how small (keep all your receipts!), as well as keeping up with recurring monthly payments for student loans, automobiles, your rent or mortgage and more. You can do it the old-fashioned way with pencil and paper, or a spreadsheet. There are a variety of free budgeting apps and software that can help, too. Whatever works best for you is fine, as long as you have a reliable way to track and review your budget regularly.

3. Build an emergency fund

Your car breaks down. You lose your job. You need to replace a roof that’s leaking rain right into your bedroom. The list of all the unexpected possibilities that aren’t in your budget goes on and on. There are no guarantees in life, and you should prepare for the unexpected — or you risk digging yourself into a deep financial hole.

Most experts suggest your emergency fund be at least three times your monthly expenditures (refer to your budget). You may need to save even more, however, if you’re married and have children or if you’re self-employed. As for where to keep your emergency savings fund, typically savings accounts or certificates of deposit are a good choice, as they allow you to earn interest but still provide easy access to your money with no or low penalties.

4. Work on paying down high-interest debt

Dean Hedeker, principal of Hedeker Wealth in the Chicago area, says the most important priority in your financial plan should be paying down high-interest debt, like credit cards. “If you think about it, credit cards and high-interest debt are designed to basically strangle you,” he said. “It’s the outsider owning you, rather than you owning the outsider.”

He says lower-interest debt, such as mortgages or student loans, may not need to be a priority. In fact, in some cases, you may be better off investing some of the money rather than paying down extra on very low-interest debt. For example, the rate of return on stock market investments over the long-term may outweigh the cost of a low-interest student loan.

5. Put money aside for the future

No matter how far away your “golden years” may seem, retirement savings should be a part of every financial plan. If your employer offers a retirement benefit, such as a 401(k) plan, this is often the easiest and most effective way to build a nest egg. A 401(k) allows you to invest money into an account that will then grow tax-deferred (traditional 401(k)) or tax-free (Roth 401(k)) until you reach retirement age. Because your contributions are typically deducted regularly from your paychecks, it’s an easy way to set and forget your investments.

If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan or if you’ve maxed out contributions to yours, you can also consider an individual retirement account (IRA), which offers many of the same benefits as 401(k)s.

6. Invest to grow your long-term wealth

So, you’ve maxed out your contributions to available retirement plans, established an emergency savings fund and paid off your high-interest debt. Now what? Hedeker says at this point, beyond investing in a house, “the stock market is the place to be,” as you can’t beat the average rate of return over the long run.

He said an easy way to jump into the stock market is to invest in some mutual funds that mirror the S&P 500 and set up automatic contributions each month. Then it’s just like another bill you pay. He said putting even $100 a month in the stock market can help you build up a significant amount of wealth over time.

Where to go if you need help creating a financial plan

Can you create a financial plan yourself? Sure, there’s plenty of information out there to help you if you are willing to put in the time and effort. The more complex your finances become and the more wealth you accumulate, however, the more time and effort it’s going to take. That’s where financial advisors come in.

Dickerson says the question to ask is how much time and effort you want to put into learning the myriad information that goes into a comprehensive financial plan. “If it were a simple task, everyone would do it themselves and few of us [financial planners] would have jobs because there would be no reason to pay for something that was easily done yourself.”

Beyond human advisors, there are also legions of robo-advisors available these days. These online services provide personal financial recommendations using algorithms based on the information you provide. Hedeker says robo-advisors serve a purpose and may be a good option in some cases for people with small accounts. However, he said they don’t offer the human factor that you may need as your finances become more complicated.

The most important thing when it comes to financial plans is that you have you one. It’s not something set in stone, but rather it’s a guiding force to help steer you where you want to go. Whether it’s one you DIY or one you develop with the help of a professional, having a written financial plan is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your financial success.

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.

Julie Ryan Evans
Julie Ryan Evans |

Julie Ryan Evans is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julie here

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Profile of Annex Wealth Management

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.

Annex Wealth Management is a full-service financial planning and wealth management firm. The firm has 36 investment advisors on staff and more than $2.4 billion in assets under management (AUM). Headquartered in Elm Grove, Wis., Annex Wealth Management primarily serves individuals, high net worth individuals, pension plans and profit-sharing plans.

All information included in this profile is accurate as of December 3, 2019. For more information, please consult Annex Wealth Management’s website.

Assets under management: $2,444,755,818
Minimum investment: No minimum requirement
Fee structure: A percentage of AUM, ranging up to 1.50% for investment management; asset-based, hourly or fixed fees for consulting services
Headquarters:12700 W Bluemound Road
Suite 200
Elm Grove, WI 53122
https://annexwealth.com/
262-786-6363

Overview of Annex Wealth Management

Annex Wealth Management was founded in 2001 and is registered as an LLC in Wisconsin. The firm is headquartered in Elm Grove, Wis., and it has five additional locations across Wisconsin and an office in Naples, Fla.

Annex Wealth is owned completely by David J. Spano, the firm’s president and CEO. Annex Wealth is also the sole member of three other related companies, Annex Insurance Services, Annex Advisory Services and Annex Investment Services. The firm has 66 employees, 36 of whom perform investment advisory functions. It has more than $2.4 billion in assets under management.

What types of clients does Annex Wealth Management serve?

Annex Wealth Management serves a variety of clients, including individuals and high net worth individuals. In addition, Annex offers services to corporations and other business entities, estates, trusts, charities, pension plans and profit-sharing plans.

The firm’s primary focus is on individual investors, with individuals outnumbering high net worth individuals at a 4:1 ratio. This is likely the result of the fact that the firm does not have a minimum investment requirement, which makes it accessible to anyone interested in getting help from a full-service financial planning and wealth management firm. The firm does charge a maximum annual fee of 1.50% of assets under management, though Annex notes that this fee is negotiable.

Services offered by Annex Wealth Management

Annex Wealth Management offers a range of investment management and wealth planning services. For its comprehensive wealth management and financial planning services, the firm charges a “bundled” fee, which covers the ongoing financial planning and wealth management services that the firm selects for each client based on their needs. In general, the firm begins by offering financial planning services, which often lead to investment management and advisory services that are designed to help clients reach their goals. The firm’s financial planning services include retirement planning, risk management, estate and legacy planning and tax planning.

Annex also offers ongoing consulting services designed to provide insight and analysis to clients on their investments and financial situations. The firm then uses these insights to develop a plan to help clients achieve their objectives.

Additionally, Annex offers Ignite, an online investment management platform. While this service includes online investment analysis and account opening and transfer capabilities, it does not include Annex’s financial planning services. With Ignite, a client creates a personal profile, which is then matched to an actively managed model portfolio based on their risk tolerance. Clients who use this service have their assets held at TD Ameritrade.

Finally, Annex Wealth Management also provides pension consulting services to retirement plans that are covered under ERISA.

Here is a full list of services offered by Annex Wealth:

  • Investment management
  • Financial planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Objective risk management and insurance assessment
  • Estate and legacy planning
  • Tax preparation and planning
  • Financial education and discovery
  • 401(k) plans for businesses

How Annex Wealth Management invests your money

In general, Annex employs what it calls a “Core and Tactical Investment Strategy” designed to include short-term and long-term strategies that focus on risk management while at the same time promoting growth when it looks like there’s a new opportunity.

The idea behind a core approach is to focus on long-term strategies like more traditional asset allocation with stocks and bonds. On the other hand, a tactical approach is about short-term trades that are intended to capture current growth opportunities. As a result, you might end up with some of your portfolio being used to buy investments that might be traded again as quickly as a month. However, a good portion of your portfolio will likely be kept in assets designed to be held for several years.

Annex also focuses on selecting assets that are low-cost, even while using actively managed accounts. The firm attempts to balance risk with clients’ cash flow needs. While Annex mainly uses exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in its client accounts, it also makes use of individual equities, fixed-income securities, variable annuities, mutual funds and cash.

Fees Annex Wealth Management charges for its services

When calculating fees for its comprehensive wealth management and limited discretionary asset management services, Annex Wealth Management considers the types of assets used to accomplish client goals as well as the complexity and scope of the services and investments involved.

Annex charge a maximum fee of 1.50% of assets under management for its wealth management services, though the average fee that clients pay is typically around 1.00%. Clients are billed quarterly, and fees are generally deducted directly from clients’ investment accounts.

It’s important to note that clients might also incur other fees outside of the asset-based fee that the firm charges. For example, a custodial fee might be charged if you hold money with a third party, and there are mutual fund and ETF expense ratios to consider. There might also be markups and transaction fees when trading takes place outside Annex Wealth Management.

For its consulting services, the firm charges either an asset-based fee, an hourly rate or a flat fee. The flat fee for these services starts at $1,000 but can be higher, depending on the types of services provided. Clients who want the firm’s continued monitoring or management beyond the scope of the initial consulting services will need to pay an additional fee.

Annex Wealth Management’s highlights

  • No account minimum: Because there is no account minimum required to access Annex Wealth Management services, this makes the firm more accessible to all levels of investors. Some investors with fewer assets might struggle with a fee of 1.50%, but that fee is negotiable, so it could be possible to get a lower rate.
  • Variety of services for different needs: Annex Wealth Management offers a number of ways for clients to work with the firm, depending on their unique needs. In addition to comprehensive wealth management and financial planning services, Annex also offers the option of limited discretionary asset management services as well as consulting services. A range of financial planning services are available for both individuals and businesses.
  • Online portfolio management available through Ignite: The firm offers an online platform that clients can sign up for to get matched with a proprietary portfolio management services through Annex Wealth’s Ignite service. Fees might be lower, and clients can access generalized investment management services from their homes.

Annex Wealth Management’s downsides

  • Fees may be above average: Because there is no clear tiered fee structure, it’s possible that clients may end up paying above average compared with national average fees. Annex caps its fee for comprehensive management services at 1.50%, which is well above the 1.17% national average for RIAs.
  • No fee estimates provided: In general, you need to consult with an advisor before you can figure out which fees you’ll be charged and what your rate will be. Many other firms publish clear fee schedules based on the amount of assets a client has under management, making it easier to compare costs.
  • Potential conflict of interest related to fee structure: In its Form ADV (SEC-filed paperwork), Annex notes the potential for a conflict of interest to arise due to the fact that its financial planning clients often end up also receiving investment management services. Because the firm charges clients based on the amount of assets under management, it may be incentivized to make financial planning recommendations that will increase a client’s assets, whereas actions like gifting money or paying off a mortgage may lower invested assets. The firm does take steps to mitigate this potential conflict though.

Annex Wealth Management disciplinary disclosures

Annex Wealth Management has no disciplinary disclosures to report. The firm has a clean record with no prior legal or regulatory issues on its record.

Annex Wealth Management’s onboarding process

To get started, clients can fill out a form on the firm’s website. Information requested on the form includes:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Amount of investable assets
  • Where you’d like to have your visit
  • Whether you want an annuity review
  • How you found the page
  • Your age
  • Whether you have any particular concerns

Once you submit the form, someone from the firm will contact you about setting up an appointment to more fully discuss your needs. Annex also offers an online chat function that you can use to get more information about the firm.

The bottom line: Is Annex Wealth Management right for you?

For those looking for a more personalized approach to long-term financial planning and wealth management, Annex Wealth Management may be a solid choice. The firm prides itself on offering individualized solutions, rather than menu-based options, and there is no minimum investment required, which makes the firm accessible to all levels of investors. Even if you don’t decide to pay for investment management, it’s still possible to get fee-based consultation services from the firm.

However, it’s worth noting that the firm’s fees may be higher than average. Annex does not provide a fee schedule like many firms do, and while you know your fee will be capped at 1.50% for wealth management services, you won’t actually know your rate until you sit down with an advisor. Make sure you look around before you get started, as it’s a good idea to compare your options before making a decision about whether Annex Wealth Management is right for you.

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.

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit |

Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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Profile of BBR Partners

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.

With 115 employees across offices in New York, San Francisco and Chicago, BBR Partners works with extremely wealthy families and individuals — the minimum investment with the firm is generally $20 million. BBR partners currently manages nearly $16 billion for around 1,200 clients, working with them to create and execute a portfolio strategy with an emphasis on tax efficiency using third-party managers. BBR Partners also consolidates record keeping for its clients, allowing them to see the performance of their entire portfolio at a glance.

All information included in this profile is accurate as of November 26th, 2019. For more information, please consult BBR Partners website.

Assets under management: $15,886,200,000
Minimum investment: $20 million
Fee structure: Percentage of assets under management, performance-based fees
Headquarters:140 East 45th Street
New York, N.Y. 10017
212-313-9870
https://www.bbrpartners.com/

Overview of BBR Partners

Founded in 1999, BBR Partners is a privately held multifamily office principally owned by Brett Barth and Evan Roth. The firm also has 17 equity partners. Co-founders Mike Anson and Todd Whitenack serve as BBR Partners’ chief compliance officer, and head of investment research, respectively.

BBR Partners has 115 employees across offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, 75 of whom perform investment advisory functions. The firm’s 17 partners have diverse backgrounds, including several lawyers, accountants and MBAs. Rather than directly managing client money, BBR works with third-party investment managers throughout the industry.

What types of clients does BBR Partners serve?

With a minimum account balance generally set at $20 million, BBR Partners focuses primarily on serving ultra-high net worth families and individuals, but it also works with their associated family partnerships, foundations and charitable organizations. The firm serves entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 and finance executives, and those with inherited wealth.

Services offered by BBR Partners

BBR Partners works with wealthy individuals and families to develop an asset allocation strategy based their investment objectives, selecting and hiring managers to put the tailored strategy to work. While asset allocation remains the firm’s primary focus, it may also offer guidance on other issues, including estate and tax planning, charitable planning and insurance planning.

The firm also offers comprehensive reporting services, allowing clients to see their entire financial picture, including assets under management by other firms.

  • Investment advisory services
  • Financial planning
    • retirement planning
    • trust and estate planning
    • charitable planning
    • education planning
    • tax planning and management
    • IRA and 401(k) rollovers
  • Insurance/risk management
  • Comprehensive reporting services
  • Collaboration with clients’ lawyers, accountants, etc.
  • Miscellaneous services, such as helping wealthy families vet their employees or connect with labor lawyers

How BBR Partners invests your money

BBR Partners crafts individual portfolios for each of its family clients with a variety of asset classes and strategies. Based on that family’s objectives, the portfolio will include a mix of individual equity and fixed-income investments, third-party managers, exchange-traded funds, exchange-traded notes and private investment funds. The same applies to individuals.

The firm uses a mix of passive and active strategies, as well as illiquid investments, with a focus on the after-tax returns of the total portfolio. It also offers socially responsible and values-based investing options to interested families.

Fees BBR Partners charges for its services

BBR Partners charges investment advisory fees that are based on a percentage of assets under management, with a minimum annual fee of $150,000:

Investment value of portfolioFee (% of assets)
First $30 million0.75%
More than $30 million — $150 million0.50%
More than $150 millionnegotiable

Clients who invest in BBR-administered private investment vehicles pay an additional fee, ranging from 0.35% to 1.00%, on the balance of their investment in that fund. They also pay additional fees to any third-party managers, broker-dealers or custodians who manage their money.

BBR Partners highlights

  • One of the largest RIA firms (by asset size) in the Northeast, BBR Partners, consistently ranks among the top 10 firms on Barron’s list of top RIA firms.
  • BBR Partners acts as a “manager of managers,” which means it selects other firms to make investments for its clients. This BBR can offer a greater diversity of investment options while reducing the potential for conflicts of interest.
  • Turnover at BBR Partners is low — none at the partner level in its 20-year history.
  • BBR Partners does not have any disciplinary disclosures (see below).

BBR Partners downsides

  • BBR Partners has a minimum account balance of $20 million, which is beyond the reach of many if not most would-be investors.
  • The firm’s fees, as a percentage of assets under management, are lower than the industry average, but with a required minimum balance of $20 million, they amount to $150,000 per year or more.
  • The firm has a tiered fee schedule, so clients with fewer assets pay higher fees than they might at a firm with a different fee structure.

BBR Partners disciplinary disclosures

BBR Partners currently lists zero disciplinary disclosures. The SEC requires RIAs to report disciplinary disclosures on Form ADV. These include any regulatory actions, criminal charges, or legal developments like liens or civil judgments that have been taken against them.

BBR Partners onboarding process

BBR Partners meets with the family members of each of its clients to learn more about their goals for their portfolio. Based on these meetings, the firm creates and executes a customized, tax-efficient investment plan, working with multiple managers on behalf of its clients. In addition, depending on the needs of the family, the firm offers advice around tax and insurance planning, family education and charitable giving.

In addition to monthly statements, clients have access to a secure website, updated daily, where they can view their entire portfolio — including assets that aren’t managed by BBR Partners — at a glance.

The bottom line: Is BBR Partners right for you?

This firm focuses exclusively on high net worth families and individuals, including those managing the transition of wealth from one generation to the next. It provides personalized investment advice to those families and oversees the investment of their assets with third-party firms. Individuals whose family net worth is less than the $20 million minimum requirement need to look elsewhere.

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.

Beth Braverman
Beth Braverman |

Beth Braverman is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Beth here