Andrea Coombes' Ways and Means: 5 ways to find free financial advice

Who doesn’t want expert guidance on how to best manage their money? One of the biggest barriers to hiring a financial planner is the cost, but there are a handful of ways to get advice for free.

From occasional events that offer one-on-one meetings with a financial planner, to the individualized guidance offered by so-called robo-advisers, it’s possible to get at least some of your money questions answered by experts—at no cost to you.

There are caveats. Generally, if you’re not paying for it, you’re less likely to get the personalized attention and in-depth holistic planning that can be best for your long-term financial health.

“The disadvantage in consuming free, mass-produced financial advice is that often it is too broad in scope and fails to account for each individual’s unique situation,” says Frank Paré, a certified financial planner and founder of PF Wealth Management Group LLC, in Oakland, Calif.

That said, mass-produced advice can help those consumers who then take the time to research whether the guidance is right for them, Paré says. “Time, and keeping an open mind, is the key,” he says.

Here are some ways to find free advice:

1. Sign up with a robo-adviser

A number of online tools now offer various forms of financial advice—in some cases a substantial portion of that advice is free. Some so-called robo-advisers manage your investment portfolio for you, usually including guidance on the best investments to meet your goals (just as with live advisers, each company’s definition of “best” may vary), automated rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting (selling stocks that have dropped to recognize losses that can offset taxable gains).

Some robo-advisers go beyond investment management and delve into retirement planning and advice on reaching short- and long-term financial goals, often by linking all of your financial accounts in one place.

Robo-advisers’ pricing structures vary, so read the fine print. As one example, if you sign up at Personal Capital and link your financial accounts—retirement savings, bank accounts, etc. — to their online tool, you can get a clear view of your overall net worth as well as information on how much you’re paying in investment fees. There’s also a retirement planner that can help you figure out whether you’re on track—and all of these tools are free.

Another example: SigFig offers free account management for those with a balance of up to $10,000 (the minimum balance is $2,000). Other names in the space include Wealthfront, Betterment, RebalanceIRA and LearnVest (owned by insurance company Northwestern Mutual). These companies harness algorithms to provide their services; the advice is targeted to your unique situation, but only to the degree that the algorithm understands your situation based on your online financial accounts and in some cases your answers to a brief questionnaire. The benefit is high-quality free or low-cost advice; a potential drawback is that your big-picture financial outlook may not be fully recognized by the tool.

Another free option: ESPlannerBasic , a robust planning tool that helps you see how various decisions and financial goals might affect your living standard over time.

2. Meet with a financial planner

Every year, a group of nonprofit organizations, including the CFP Board of Standards, which manages the certified financial planner designation, the Foundation for Financial Planning and the Financial Planning Association, host a “financial planning day,” where anyone can meet with a financial planner.

The event generally takes place in October. However, Jon Dauphiné, executive director of the Foundation for Financial Planning, which provides grants to nonprofits that provide financial advice, says in coming years these financial planning days may take place throughout the year. Go to Financial Planning Days to find out when an event will be held near you (the website should be updated for 2016 soon, Dauphiné says).

There’s great value in getting one-on- one advice tailored to your situation, Paré says. But these meetings are brief. “If questions should come up after the financial planning day is over, there is no one for the attendee to call without potentially generating a fee.”

3. Visit your retirement plan or brokerage website

Are you making the most of the retirement plan advice available to you online? Sixty percent of employers who offer a defined-contribution plans offer online guidance and 53% of plans have online advice, according to a survey in 2015 by consulting firm Aon Hewitt, of 367 large employers who offer 401(k)s, 403(b)s and similar plans.

Another option: If you’re investing through an independent brokerage, take a look at the portfolio management tools offered online. While not necessarily advice tailored to your specific information, you’ll do a better job managing your own money if you educate yourself on financial concepts.

For example, TD Ameritrade offers nine online courses (each course offers a test at the end) to its paying customers on topics ranging from “introduction to bonds” and “reducing portfolio volatility” to “creating your own portfolio” and “managing your own portfolio.” If you’re not a TD Ameritrade customer, three of the online courses are available for free: “creating your own portfolio,” “options for income” and “introduction to futures.” Go here for more information.

4. Look for local financial-services programs

There are numerous community-based programs nationwide that offer various forms of financial advice for free. For example, the San Francisco LGBT Center offers free classes on budgeting and home-buying. And San Francisco-based EARN works with low-income people to help them start saving for specific goals, such as buying a house, funding a college education or starting a business.

If a steep debt load is causing you financial stress, see whether a visit to a credit-counseling agency makes sense for you. Go to www.NFCC.org to find out more.

In some cases, pro bono programs target specific groups. For example, a program in Massachusetts pairs financial planners with low-income people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, says Dauphiné. Other programs nationwide focus on survivors of domestic violence, active military personnel, veterans and low-income folks.

Many such programs are offered by local chapters of the Financial Planning Association. Do an online search for your local Financial Planning Association chapter to see if there’s a program near you.

Another way to find out about community programs is to peruse the organizations that have received grants from the Foundation for Financial Planning. Go here to see the list. (Some of these grantees may have ended their programs.)

Getting help with tax preparation can yield insights into your money situation—and there are ways to get that help for free. Generally people with income of $54,000 or less can get help doing their tax returns at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. Go here for more information.

AARP also offers free tax preparation through its Tax-Aide program. Read more.

5. Read reputable sources

Whether or not you get advice for free or pay for it, doing your own research on products and strategies can help you be a better judge of whether the advice is right for you. There are plenty of reputable online resources.

For example, AARP’s Financial Freedom website has helpful tips and resources. Also check out the CFP Board’s Let’s Make a Plan website for some useful articles written by certified financial planners, including an estate planning to-do list.

On the Mr. Money Mustache website, you can find details on how this young tech worker and his wife retired at 39. The discussion forum on the site offers insights on a variety of money topics.

And, a plug for MarketWatch: check out the Retirement and Personal Finance sections for a slew of powerful money management ideas.

Filed in: Top News Tags: 

You might like:

: Winning a bet, Tesla builds the world’s biggest battery for Australia : Winning a bet, Tesla builds the world’s biggest battery for Australia
Missing Argentine submarine: ‘Explosion’ detected near last known location Missing Argentine submarine: ‘Explosion’ detected near last known location
Why this year’s Thanksgiving dinner guests may be even more insufferable Why this year’s Thanksgiving dinner guests may be even more insufferable
NewsWatch: 6 things all investors should be thankful for NewsWatch: 6 things all investors should be thankful for
As sexual harassment scandals multiply, parents rethink how they raise their children As sexual harassment scandals multiply, parents rethink how they raise their children
Nearly a decade after Bernie Madoff, Americans still lose their life savings to Ponzi schemes Nearly a decade after Bernie Madoff, Americans still lose their life savings to Ponzi schemes
When is the best time to fly or drive on Thanksgiving? When is the best time to fly or drive on Thanksgiving?
Futures Movers: Oil eases from highest levels since 2015 as traders weigh up U.S. data Futures Movers: Oil eases from highest levels since 2015 as traders weigh up U.S. data
© 4158 Stock Investors News. All rights reserved. XHTML / CSS Valid.