News & Politics

Top Money Advisers 2014: 5 Things to Know Before Seeing a Financial Adviser

Illustration by Mark Wagner.

1. They won’t lecture you.

“In the same way that if you’re embarrassed to tell your doctor something, it keeps you from going to the doctor, the fear of being judged can keep people from going to a financial planner,” says Elissa Buie, a certified financial planner at Yeske Buie in Vienna. “No good financial planner will judge anyone. If you feel judged, you’re with the wrong person.”

2. Consultations are usually free.

You may not get specific advice at that free first meeting, but you can decide if you could work with that person. One exception: Some financial advisers work on an hourly basis and charge for an initial appointment—but you should leave with specific money advice.

3. You’ll have to talk about how the adviser is paid.

“Fee-only” financial planners charge flat or hourly fees, or fees based on a percentage of a portfolio—but don’t earn commissions, which they say keeps their recommendations honest. Stephan Cassaday of Cassaday & Company in McLean suggests asking a planner: Are you a fiduciary who must act in my best interest? Good “fee-based” advisers earn commissions but still act in a client’s interest. Disclosure is what you want. Beware an adviser who won’t say how he or she makes money.

4. Don’t meet the portfolio minimum? No problem.

You’re 28 and an associate at a law firm, and you don’t have much to invest—yet. Still, that “wealth manager” with a $2-million portfolio minimum may see you now, because your financial future is bright.

5. Advisers aren’t just for when there’s a bump in the road.

“Marriage, children, a big move, divorce, death, when can I retire—those are the times when we think we add tremendous value,” says Jon Yankee of FJY Financial in Reston. While big life events are what drives most people to money advisers, Buie says, “That’s like waiting for a heart attack to see your doctor. You don’t have to have a specific question to see an adviser. You can simply say, ‘Let me tell you about my financial life and my goals. What can I do?’ That’s the best strategy.”

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Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.