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5 Lies Your Financial Adviser Might Tell You

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.

More Americans are seeking professional help when it comes to managing their money.  

The percentage of people who used a financial adviser grew to 40 percent in 2015 from 28 percent five years earlier, according to a survey by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Those people said their decision had less to do with recent economic crises than with their desire for better financial guidance. 

However, reliable financial advisers are becoming increasingly hard to find, and more investors have grown distrustful of the profession as a whole. In the same 2015 survey, the board found that 60 percent of Americans thought their adviser valued his/her company’s interests over those of the consumer, compared with 25 percent in 2010.  

Jessica Parker, 23, is particularly wary. The first time she met with a financial adviser, she believed she was interviewing for an internship. Instead, she was given an hours-long investment pitch and left the meeting having unknowingly signed an insurance policy.  

“They made it sound so appealing,” says Parker, who works as a senior analyst for Johnson & Johnson in Raritan, N.J. “They had all of these metrics, graphs and data. They 100 percent lied about what it was going to be.” 

Whether lies are serious or more mundane, they can take a toll. Having an untrustworthy adviser can mean serious damage to your stock portfolio, your retirement plan or any number of other investments. Knowing the lies some financial planners will tell you  can help you avoid being tricked into a decision that could put your money in jeopardy. 

“Trust me, this is your best investment option.”

When speaking with your adviser, it’s important to know he or she has your wallet in mind, rather than his/her own.  

Julie Rains, 57, a writer in Winston-Salem, N.C., says she met with a financial planner who suggested an investment option that wasn’t in line with the type of portfolio she wanted. After refusing the offer and complaining to the brokerage, Rains said, she eventually discovered that the investment would have made her adviser a large amount of money.  

“His recommendation was complex and confusing, and would have resulted in a huge, unnecessary tax bill,” Rains says. “But the solution would have benefited him greatly with a large annual fee.” 

Ben Jacobs, a financial planning analyst based in Athens, Ga., says conflicts of interest are common among advisers who earn commissions for their services.  

Jacobs recommends seeking a financial planner who is registered with the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), with some 3,000 members nationwide and high standards for membership. 

NAPFA members earn their money through a consistent client-paid fee instead of earning a commission from a percentage of the financial products they sell to customers, such as mutual funds, life insurance and annuities. As a result, fee-based planners have no financial incentive to sway you in any one direction, because they’ll get paid the same amount regardless.  

“Fee-only means you don’t pay me for the work.”

Still, fee-only advisers, who receive a set fee from clients and do not earn commission on the products they sell, can be just as misleading when it comes to how they’re paid. Jacobs says confusing pay structures are common in the industry, with consumers often misunderstanding how their financial planner calculates their total service charge. 

“You’d be surprised at the number of people who think they aren’t paying their financial adviser,” he says. 

The cost of working with a financial planner can vary depending on the planner’s experience and where you live. 

Vid Ponnapalli, founder of Unique Financial Advisors in Holmdel, N.J., says people should be weary of additional costs when making any agreement with a financial planner. These extra, sometimes hidden expenses can range from your adviser earning a percentage of your bond sales to 12b-1 fees — an annual marketing fee tacked onto some mutual fund agreements.  

You should read through any contract before signing, especially if you’re unsure how  your adviser is making money from your business, he says.  

“My credentials show that I’m an expert.”

Many advisers take on titles and certifications that have little to do with their actual skills.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found more than 50 designations for senior-specific advisers in a 2013 study of financial problems facing senior citizens.

However, the CFPB also found that the educational and professional requirements for using those titles varied greatly, and that some could be obtained with little to no training or effort.  

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) maintains a database of professional designations and the prerequisites for earning them. Some of these titles — such as Behavioral Financial AdviserDisability Income Advocate, and Retirement Plans Associate — require almost zero qualifications.  

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a formal warning against deceitful titles in 2014, encouraging consumers to “look beyond a financial professional’s title when determining whether he or she can provide the type of financial services or products you need.”  

The titles that matter most, such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC), involve accreditation by national standards agencies that often hold professionals to certain ethical standards. FINRA maintains a list of these designations, and you can also use the organization’s BrokerCheck tool to search for advisers who hold these titles.  

“I can help with all of your financial needs.”

Even when their credentials are legitimate, planners may try to emphasize skills they don’t have. For example, advisers may claim they’re qualified to sell you insurance despite having little knowledge of the subject.   

Rains, who runs a website called Investing to Thrive, says she thinks advisers are  attempting to seem more versatile and appeal to a large client base. 

“Certainly, some are qualified to handle a broad range of functions, but many have a specialty,” she says. “It’s good to be aware of the strengths, and limitations, of whoever you might hire to help you.” 

Even financial planners with highly respected designations can have their blind spots. For example, Jacobs says the CFP exam doesn’t include certain specialized topics—such as divorce settlement and disability planning—that advisers may need to seek separate training in order to properly cover.   

In order to ensure that he could meet the needs of prospective clients, Ponnapalli began offering free, hourlong consultations before doing business with them.  

“I can guarantee you big returns on your investments.”

Parker says it’s a bad idea to trust advisers who say they’re only concerned about making you money. Nothing is ever certain in finance, and consumers should be suspicious of planners who promise them a specific return on their investment. 

Advisers have the responsibility to set realistic expectations, and promising clients a specific payoff “can lead to huge problems,” Ponnapalli says. 

“The big myth is that we are moneymakers,” he says. “We have to explain to (clients) that money management is one small part of our job.” 

Tips for finding a reliable financial planner:

  • Look for a fiduciary. As a fiduciary, a financial adviser is required to take a formal oath stating that he or she will work in the best interests of clients. When looking for a fiduciary, start with the NAPFA, which requires each of its registered financial planners to renew the Fiduciary Oath every year. Also, MagnifyMoney has reviewed some financial planners, including online options Stash Wealth and the XY Planning Network. 
  • Compare advisers. Finding a financial planner who fits your specific needs can take time, and it may involve meeting with many in person. Rains recommends looking for substance over flash and charm. “Personally, I’d choose the smart person who’s good with money but slightly clumsy with conversation over the one who’s a smooth talker,” she says. 
  • Do your research. As important as in-person meetings are, you also need to do your homework.  According to a 2016 study at the University of Minnesota, 7 percent of financial advisers at the average firm have a record of misconduct (the figure reaches 15 percent at some of the largest firms), with almost half of these individuals keeping their jobs after they were caught or disciplined. To help with this, the SEC has an online database where you can do a background check on most registered financial planners.  
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Once you pick an adviser, you need to make sure you’re both on the same page. When meeting with your planner for the first time, it’s good to come in with a long list of questions, as well as a full brief of your own financial situation. “Do your research on what type of plans they offer,” Parker says. “When you’re in there, be very clear on your intentions of what you want to do with your money, otherwise they might try to steer you another way.” 

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.

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Survey: Millennials Are Underestimating Retirement Savings Needs

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

For many savers, a cozy retirement can seem like a distant dream rather than a realistic future. Costs of living continue to rise, while it’s becoming harder for many to keep up with saving. More and more senior citizens are working into retirement, and millennials may be underestimating just how much they’d need to save for retirement in the first place.

MagnifyMoney commissioned a survey of 800 full-time workers to get a better look at their understanding of their own retirement savings needs. The results show that while millennials may be underestimating the real costs of retirement, so are baby boomers. Furthermore, some baby boomers indicated that no amount of money would make them comfortable enough to retire.

Key findings

  • 73% of full-time working Americans believe $1 million is enough to get them through retirement if they stop working at age 66. There was widespread agreement on this across all age groups.
    • $1 million in retirement savings is a general rule of thumb to follow, although an individual’s actual retirement savings should be more specific based on projected spending in retirement.

  • Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 5 millennials said having $500,000 in their retirement savings account would make them comfortable enough to stop working tomorrow. Another 14% of millennials would retire after amassing $750,000.
    • Millennials aren’t alone in believing less than $1 million is enough. Across all age groups, 20% of respondents said that $500,000 in retirement savings was enough. The next largest cohort — 17.4% of respondents — said $1 million in retirement savings was enough.
  • Interestingly, more than 1 in 5 baby boomers responded similarly to millennials, saying just $500,000 would get them through retirement if they stopped working tomorrow. Another 15% of boomers said $750,000 would be enough to retire.
  • Some baby boomer respondents offered a bleaker outlook: More than a quarter of Americans ages 54-73 reported that no amount of money would make them comfortable enough to retire.
    • Boomers were almost twice as likely to say that no amount of money would make them comfortable enough to stop working compared to younger Americans. 14.4% of millennials and 15.2% of Gen X-ers had the same sentiment.
    • Boomers may be less willing to stop working than other age cohorts because they believe they need to save more before they stop working, or because some feel you can never really have enough money saved for retirement.
  • More than 1 in 10 Americans have lofty goals for their retirement savings. Just under 12% of our respondents want to accumulate at least $3 million before ending their career.

How much should I save for retirement?

Saving for retirement is not an exact science. Shooting for a $1 million nest egg is a common rule of thumb — and most survey respondents agree that $1 million would be enough.

However, the amount of retirement savings you need depends on your estimated expenses in retirement. Your exact number could be more or less than $1 million, depending on how much you expect to spend on housing, discretionary costs or lingering debts.

For example, $1 million in savings would fund a 20-year retirement where you’re limited to $50,000 in annual spending. If you anticipate a 30-year retirement, $1 million in savings would only cover around $33,000 in annual spending.

How much you should have saved for retirement also depends largely on your age. For example, it’s unlikely that at 30 years old, you’ll already have $1 million set aside unless you’re extremely blessed. You’ll have to build up your savings as you go and as your income, hopefully, increases with age.

Fidelity offers a different take on savings guidelines by age. According to Fidelity, by age 30 you should have 1x your annual salary saved, growing to 3x your annual salary saved by age 40, 6x by 50, and 8x by 60.

How do I save for retirement?

If you think you’ve underestimated how much you truly need to save for retirement, there’s still time to get your savings on track.

A common retirement savings tool is the 25x rule, which dictates you need to have 25 times your annual retirement expenses saved. Core to this rule is the assumption that you’ll need to cover 25 years of retirement. So if you calculate an estimated $70,000 in annual spending in retirement, for example, following the 25x rule would indicate a nest egg goal of $1.75 million.

That’s a far cry from the mere $500,000 that 20% of our respondents indicated would be adequate for retirement. If you stuck to that goal, by the 25x rule, your annual spending in retirement would be cut down to $20,000.

It’s best to throw your retirement savings into an investment account, rather than a high-yield savings account. Over time, investing can post returns around 8%, well above the 2% savings APYs we see today. Retirement savings are more than just your 401(k), too: individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, allow you to save on your own, whether instead of or in addition to your 401(k).

If you’re an investing beginner, there are a ton of resources out there to help you get started. Robo-advisors and online brokerages offer an easily navigable investing experience that allow you to set your own goals and preferences.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 816 full-time American workers. The survey was fielded October 1-3, 2019.

We define millennials as those aged 23 to 38, Gen X as those 39 to 53 and Boomers as those aged 54 to 73. Members of Gen Z (ages 18 to 22) and the Silent Generation (ages 74 and up) were also surveyed, and their responses are included within the overall total percentages. However, they were excluded from the age breakdowns due to the lower sample size among respondents in those age groups.

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.

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Survey: For 36% of Americans, Economy Informs 2020 Presidential Preference

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.

The presidential election will dominate headlines throughout 2020, with voters and pundits alike obsessively following polls, reading coverage and watching debates to get a feel for who’s leading in the race for the White House. In addition, they’ll be closely watching another key indicator for the race: the performance of the U.S. economy.

MagnifyMoney commissioned a survey of 1,000 Americans to gauge how people think about the relationship between the economy and the 2020 presidential election. Our survey found that nearly four in ten respondents said monitoring the economy helps them decide which candidate to support, and believe the results of an election can be at least somewhat predicted by the performance of the economy.

Key findings

  • About 41% of respondents believe the outcome of a presidential election can be predicted based on U.S. economic performance in the 12 months leading up to the election.
    • Around 36% said monitoring the stock market and the economy helps them decide which presidential candidate to support.
  • Republicans are more confident than Democrats about three key aspects of the economy over the next 12 months: that the stock market will continue to rise, jobs will continue to be added to the economy and the overall economy will continue to grow.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 respondents think the 2020 presidential campaign will positively impact the economy — while about 18% believe the economy will be negatively impacted.
    • Investors are almost twice as likely as non-investors to believe the campaign will positively benefit the economy, and six-figure earners are also more likely to agree with this proposition.
  • Like many topics in politics, the potential economic impact of re-electing Donald Trump is a polarizing subject.
    • When asked which 2020 presidential candidate made them most optimistic about the future of the U.S. economy, the most-cited candidate was Donald Trump, with 33% of respondents overall.
    • When asked which candidate made them most pessimistic about the future of the U.S. economy, Trump was yet again the most cited candidate, by 35% respondents overall.

How could the state of the U.S. economy impact the election?

Our survey found that about 4 in 10 respondents think you can at least somewhat predict the outcome of the presidential election based on U.S. economic performance in the year leading up to the election. Meanwhile, 37% say that they do not think that economic performance could predict the election’s outcome, while nearly 22% were not sure.

Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say that economic performance could at least somewhat predict the 2020 election, 53% versus 43%. Meanwhile, 50% of millennials think that the state of the economy could at least somewhat predict the 2020 election, compared to 40% of Gen Xers and 32% of baby boomers.

Our survey asked whether people monitor the stock market and economic performance when deciding which presidential candidate to support. We found that the majority of people (64%) do not track such metrics when deciding who to support, while approximately 21% do somewhat and 15% do a great deal. The results didn’t differ greatly when considering party affiliation: 40% of Democrats and 42% of Republicans follow these metrics at least somewhat when determining who to vote for.

How could the election impact the U.S. economy?

While our survey revealed that many people think that economic conditions can help predict the outcome of the 2020 election, we also asked respondents how they think the election will impact the economy once the polls close and the next president is selected.

Overall, people feel very differently about how the 2020 election results will impact the economy, with 31% of respondents saying it will positively affect it, 18% saying it will negatively affect it, 42% saying they are unsure how it will affect it and 9% saying it will not affect it at all.

Those results look somewhat different when party affiliation is taken into account: 41% of Republicans said the outcome of the election will positively impact the economy, compared to just 32% of Democrats. Meanwhile, Democrats were more likely to say that the election would have a negative impact on the economy, 19% compared to 14% of Republicans.

Different generations also had different thoughts on how the election’s results might affect the economy, with millennials (39%) most likely to say they think it will have a positive impact, followed by Gen Xers (28%) and baby boomers (24%). In contrast, Gen Xers were the generation most likely to say the election will have a negative economic impact (20%), followed by millennials (18%) and baby boomers (15%).

Our survey also revealed how people think the stock market will react to a President Trump re-election. Overall, 31% of respondents think that the stock market will fall if Trump is re-elected, 26% think the market would rise, 28% are unsure of how the market would react and 16% think it won’t change. Not surprisingly, 50% of Democrats think the stock market will fall with a Trump re-election, while 52% of Republicans think it will rise.

How could the election impact investor confidence?

Everything from a CEO’s tweets to global trade deals has the potential to rattle an investor’s confidence — and our survey found that the 2020 election is no exception.

Interestingly, we found that overall, 37% of people avoid investing their money during election years. That includes 41% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans, as well as a whopping 56% of millennials, 29% of Gen Xers and 13% of baby boomers.

One reason for the lack of investment during election years could be chalked up to overall uneasiness about the state of the economy in general. When looking at the 2020 election in particular, many respondents aren’t too confident in many metrics that measure the health of the economy.

Overall, 28% of those surveyed are at least somewhat unconfident that the stock market will continue to rise, 30% are at least somewhat unconfident that the U.S. will continue adding jobs in the next 12 months and 29% are at least somewhat unconfident that the overall U.S. economy will continue to grow over the next 12 months.

When looking at confidence levels regarding the overall future of the economy, our survey found that Democrats are much more pessimistic than their Republican counterparts: 38% of Democrats were at least somewhat unconfident that the overall U.S. economy will continue to grow over the next 12 months, compared to just 19% of Republicans who feel the same way.

When looking at how the economy is now versus how it was on the night of the election in 2016, different political parties have very different viewpoints. Only 16% of Democrats think that the economy is in a better position now, compared to a whopping 68% of Republicans.

When asked which presidential candidate made them the most optimistic about the future U.S. economy and which one made them the most pessimistic, the most popular candidate was the same for both: Donald Trump. Overall, 33% of respondents said that Trump was the candidate that made them the most optimistic about the economic future, followed by Joe Biden (17%), Bernie Sanders (14%) and Elizabeth Warren (12%).

Meanwhile, 35% of respondents said that Trump was the candidate that made them the most pessimistic about the future of the U.S. economy, followed by Sanders and Biden (both at 14%) and then Warren (11%).

Methodology

MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,048 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the general population. The survey was fielded October 1-3, 2019.

In the survey, generations are defined as:

  • Millennials are ages 23 to 38
  • Generation Xers are ages 39 to 54
  • Baby boomers are ages 55 to 73

Members of Generation Z (ages 18 to 22) and the Silent Generation (ages 74 and older) were also surveyed, and their responses are included within the total percentages among all respondents. However, their responses are excluded from the charts and age breakdowns due to the smaller population size among our survey sample.

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.