It puzzles me when I meet people who don’t have an advisor to assist them with financial planning. In my mind, the health of your finances is somewhat like your physical health, in that a professional should make any required “diagnosis.” When you’re sick, you go to a doctor; with respect to financial planning, think of your advisor as someone offering preventative care in the form of a plan that reflects your specific short- and long-term needs.
Managing money for the long term takes discipline, something many investors lack. Most people need the assistance of a professional to ensure they don’t act emotionally when the market fluctuates. I recommend hiring an advisor you’re willing to trust, working with that person to create a long-term plan and then sticking to it.
The first thing I do with new clients is produce a needs analysis that takes into account a number of variables, including current and expected assets, short- and long-term goals, and current debt. Age is also a factor, as I may suggest a 30-year-old focus on investing, saving, and reducing debt, while a 60-year-old should be more concerned with post-retirement income.
Counseling clients about debt is something I do on a regular basis. Many people don’t understand the impact of paying off a “good” debt like a mortgage; they’ll lose a valuable tax deduction and likely cripple their credit score. Paying off “bad” debt like credit card balances, however, is another story.
When a client’s complete financial picture includes significant credit card debt attached to a high interest rate, retiring that debt will be high on our list of plan to-dos. There may even be a way to invest smartly to pay off the balance without dipping into investments.”
What about clients who receive windfalls such as an inheritance? You’ve surely heard the stories about lottery winners who found themselves flat broke not long after getting a big payout; they lacked financial discipline that could have been provided by a professional advisor.
That being said, recipients of large amounts of money must be smart enough to listen to their advisor’s counsel. I always tell people to plan for themselves first, making sure their needs are met before they seek to “change the world.”
Consider this story. A woman received $1 million after her spouse’s death and started spending like a drunken sailor, failing to heed advice to the contrary. She wrote checks to her kids, her church, and plenty of people with compelling sob stories, and she paid off her mortgage, something that had the unfortunate results. She may have lost valuable deductions from her taxes due.
This woman also opened herself up to liability by spending the money directly from the estate account, rather than transferring it into her name. That could have forced the estate back to the court if a relative who didn’t receive money saw how much she was spreading around to other people. Most people think their family will “play nice” — but money is a behavior-changer.
Did this story have a happy ending despite the fact that she failed to follow her advisor’s advice? Unfortunately, it didn’t. She arrived home after a vacation to find her home flooded from a water main break — and she didn’t have the money to pay the $50,000 bill she received for cleanup of her home. Consulting a financial advisor and staying true to a reasonable financial plan might very well have relieved some of her stress.
The moral of this story is simple: enter into a relationship with an advisor you trust to assist you with financial planning and follow his/her advice — or face some unpleasant consequences that could have been avoided.
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