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Hidden fees?


KandJBm

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After reading this ((http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-23/7-ways-private-equity-is-gaming-your-pension?bpop=74165092)) I wonder how safe my MI state pension funds are from these hidden fees? And what about my other retirement funds? It seems I am being asked to trust too much to the financial communnity that helped bring us the last crisis. Or should I not worry so much, after all look at the how great the stock market is doing?

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The "Private Equity Firms" that act as a middle man and get paid to manage the funds of large groups, like unions, public employees or large private employer 401K's, operate under a different set of rules. Most of those are done under negotiated agreements and you would hope that the folks on your side would know what fees are included in the contract, but in some cases they negotiate poor deals or don't know enough to ask the right questions; or they don't push hard enough to get the fees reduced. It's also true that some of these Private Equity Firms simply refuse to disclose the details of their fees, they consider them confidential & protected competitive data. In most cases like this, the Gov regulators take the position that you're a big, experienced company with professional staff; or you're a large group of employees paying for professional legal & financial advice, so we have no need to protect you from yourselves.

 

In the case of individual investors, the regulators take a much more protective position.

The individual savers/investors who deal directly with Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab, etc know upfront exactly what Fees are charged for various types of investments.

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In the case of individual investors, the regulators take a much more protective position.

The individual savers/investors who deal directly with Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab, etc know upfront exactly what Fees are charged for various types of investments.

Thanks for your response Jim2. I wonder if you are the only one out of the 171 viewers, so far, who knows enough about the matter to response?

 

Concerning my own mutual funds, I don't "know upfront exactly what Fees are charged!" Do others here know? According to this from Investopedia it sounds like I am not alone:

 

"Costs are the biggest problem with mutual funds. These costs eat into your return, and they are the main reason why the majority of funds end up with sub-par performance.

 

What's even more disturbing is the way the fund industry hides costs through a layer of financial complexity and jargon. Some critics of the industry say that mutual fund companies get away with the fees they charge only because the average investor does not understand what he/she is paying for."

 

That quote sure applies to me. Maybe I am suppose to know way more than I do. But for some of us who may be highly skilled in some aspect of "making a living" we might find finance and investments overwhelming.

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After reading this ((http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-23/7-ways-private-equity-is-gaming-your-pension?bpop=74165092)) I wonder how safe my MI state pension funds are from these hidden fees? And what about my other retirement funds? It seems I am being asked to trust too much to the financial communnity that helped bring us the last crisis. Or should I not worry so much, after all look at the how great the stock market is doing?

 

My approach is to only worry about things that are within my control. Your MI state pension funds are outside of your control. The folks that administer it send you a check ... sure, they may publish documents explaining how your slice of the pie is calculated and distributed ... but you can rest assured you have little or no direct control to affect change in that arena. If you're talking 401K plans ... it's not quite as "arms length" (since it's your company's executive management makes the decisions regarding who / how the plan they offer you is administered) ... but again, good luck changing anything there either. Right, wrong or indifferent - there's some stuff you can control ... and some stuff you can't. This is definitely a case of the latter. At best, you can keep your ear to the ground to understand what regulatory legislation is in the works - and support whatever bills and/or politicians look to be supporting YOUR interests.

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Concerning my own mutual funds, I don't "know upfront exactly what Fees are charged!" Do others here know? According to this from Investopedia it sounds like I am not alone:

 

"Costs are the biggest problem with mutual funds. These costs eat into your return, and they are the main reason why the majority of funds end up with sub-par performance.

We were traveling when this was posted so didn't have time to read the complete article, but now I have so will respond.

 

A great deal of this issue is dependent upon what retirement fund you are a part of and it's level of funding. Pension funds that have a long history of underfunding should be of more concern, since they are also in desperate need of investments which bring very high returns and those pay well because of the high degree of risk. For this reason, the first thing that I would look at is the level of funding of your pension plan. While very few of us really look hard at this issue when choosing an employer to make a career with, it would be wise to do so since the point at which you reach retirement is rather late to address such things.

 

If your pension is in a 401k or some other "self directed" fund then you can impact the issue by careful study of the possible mutual funds and such that are available and choose accordingly. I was fortunate in that area since my former employer went to great lengths to educate the employees about the choices provided in our 401k to aid in our decisions. Most mutual funds (if not all) do disclose their fee system but it may take some study on the customer's part in order to understand the meaning of the terms used, but it can be done. A significant part of our retirement does come from what was once a self-directed 401k and which I have since rolled over into an IRA in order to allow me more direct control of those funds and investments. But I do also have a pension from that same employer which I have no control at all over the funding but it is historically funded well above the average corporate pension plan and it is one with a fixed monthly amount so it is neither under my control or an issue that I worry about.

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For what it is worth, here is what I do.NOT a model for anyone else, but simply a data point.

 

I happen to have much of my securities invested through a managed portfolio(s) with Merrill Lynch. While they do charge a fee, it has historically been worth it to me. How do I know this? because I manage a "shadow fund" of mostly Vanguard investments that I would be "likely" to own if I did not have the money in ML. The ML portfolios almost always come out ahead. As to fees - the way I look at it is the total value of the portfolio....with the fees out. and compare that to the Vanguard numbers. It is not a matter of "fees" - it is a matter of performance. If performance is satisfactory as compared to whatever benchmark you choose (choose a good one), then the fees are kind of irrelevant, in my opinion. Hypothetically, if you charge me a whopping 10% fee and still outperform any relevant benchmark then the fee may be worth it? But you have to CAREFULLY monitor things. And that is where most run into issues.

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Similar to Jack my investments are in a managed fund but with Morgan Stanley. Having a manager takes the emotions out of any changes that need to be made. I'm happy to pay the small fee they charge since they keep me out of investments that shouldn't be in my portfolio, especially those that have higher fees. I don't need to micro-manage my account and am glad to have them do so. They keep a really close eye on whichever stocks or funds I'm invested in and make changes as needed with my approval. Trades do not incur any additional costs. The fees I pay them are based on the total value of my account so they have an interest in having my account grow. Also my 2 sons accounts are "bundled" with us so they get much of the same perks and benefits that we do.

I did manage my accounts myself in the past but when I was within 7 years of retirement I realized that I would have to make many changes to my mix and that it would be best to have someone manage it for me. I've been retired going on 6 years now and living entirely on my investments and the total is higher than when I started. And it's really nice when my manager says that I'm not spending enough money........

My philosophy when I was still working was " what matters most is not how much you earn but how much you spend ".

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I manage a "shadow fund" of mostly Vanguard investments that I would be "likely" to own if I did not have the money in ML.

 

It is not a matter of "fees" - it is a matter of performance. If performance is satisfactory as compared to whatever benchmark you choose (choose a good one), then the fees are kind of irrelevant, in my opinion.

You are right, this is not a model for me! I have no ability to shadow a fund. I probably don't even know what that means in any real sense.

I do understand what you mean about fees and performance. Problem for me is that as "they" say, "past performance is not guaranteed," but fees are!

Thanks for your thoughts, however. It isn't your fault that I am "financially challenged."

 

And thanks to everyone here for your responses. I don't know what to do, but I know I am not alone with this problem of handling retirement funds. It is too bad that it has been dumped in the laps of some of us unqualified folks. If we had chosen this responsibility and taken it away from the companies we worked for, well that would be a different matter.

 

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I don't know what to do, but I know I am not alone with this problem of handling retirement funds. It is too bad that it has been dumped in the laps of some of us unqualified folks. If we had chosen this responsibility and taken it away from the companies we worked for, well that would be a different matter.

 

The first question is, what can you do about this? In most cases a government agency's pension funds are controlled by some sort of pension board and are not accessible to the beneficiaries. I would first determine if you have the option of any input into the management of funds. Does the fund have amounts that are tied to the employees who contributed them and if so, do you have the option of withdrawing the entire amount and rolling it into an IRA as most 401k plans have? If this isn't an option, there is probably very little that you can do other than to contact someone in the pension management to ask questions and make sure that they realize that you are watching it. You may also want to contact your state representative and seek help from that office in acquiring the information that you want.

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Thanks Kirk.

Unfortunately I have no confidence in my ability to comment on the management of my pension fund even if I could. I think I can take a lump sum and maybe I will, but of course that seems to say say I think I can do a better job than the pension managers, right! I have heard a few people say that Vanguard index funds are hard to beat (not withstanding Jack Mayer!) so I am leaning in that direction. Makes sense?

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That would depend upon how much you can get as the lump sum. Would it actually be all of your share, or just some percentage of that amount? Some funds that allow the lump sum, penalize you for taking it so be sure. As to where to put it, Vanguard has very good ratings but they are not the only such choice. A good financial manager can often do better than any of the funds, but those also usually require a pretty substantial investment. The one that we are part of has a $100K minimum investment.

 

Keep in mind that over the long term, an 8% return is considered to be quite good so that would mean that $100K would provide $8K in annual income, as an average.

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Thanks Kirk.

Unfortunately I have no confidence in my ability to comment on the management of my pension fund even if I could. I think I can take a lump sum and maybe I will, but of course that seems to say say I think I can do a better job than the pension managers, right! I have heard a few people say that Vanguard index funds are hard to beat (not withstanding Jack Mayer!) so I am leaning in that direction. Makes sense?

 

You're faced with a complex decision that has serious ramifications for your financial well being for the rest of your life. You've received a lot of good and valid advice but I get the sense that you feel very uncertain about processing that information and applying it to your situation. Without some fundamental knowledge of investing and all the related issues it's very hard to know whose advice to follow. Most financial planners make their money by giving you such advice and charging you a percentage of your assets under management. Here's an alternative you might consider.

 

Consult an attorney or CPA whom you trust already have a relationship with or perhaps can be referred by a trusted friend. Explain your financial situation and the decisions you face. Ask for their professional advice as to how to proceed in your situation. This way you should expect professional advice (which you're paying for on an hourly basis) rather than getting tied in with an advisor who has a financial interest in having you bring all your money to him for management. This will be the best way to get unbiased advice about how to handle your pension withdrawal.

 

If at some point you feel it appropriate to consult a financial advisor to help you manage your money consider using an independent advisor who will consult with you for an hourly fee. These are not so easy to find. Nearly all financial advisors want to only work for a percentage of assets under management or, worse yet, work for "no fee" but make all their money by selling you "investments" for which they get a lucrative sales commission. It is my opinion that it is best to use a financial consultant just like you'd use a professional like an attorney or a CPA. When you need help or advice go to them with your questions and pay them for their their help according to the amount of time and effort they spend on your problem. The hourly fees might seem high but in the end it can be far less expensive than the alternatives.

 

Here's one place to start looking:

http://garrettplanningnetwork.com/find-an-advisor-2/

 

---ron

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The Vanguard index funds are pretty good but the down years can be brutal. During the last recession many of these funds lost 30-40%. I use them and it works for me but it also means some lean years that you need to plan for. If someone could time the market they could be filthy rich quickly but I don't know anybody that good. Investing is difficult and most funds and advisers do not beat the indexes after expenses. Some do. A lump some leaves you responsible so consider carefully.

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There are such things as "Fee Only" financial advisors. They charge a fixed fee or an hourly rate for the time they work on your numbers.

 

Regardless of whether you use a fee only advisor or one that charges you a percentage of your funds under their control, there are things you should ask every advisor you consider using, that can give you a better feeling about your choice (excerpted from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, answers paraphrased).

 

1) What experience do you have?

 

A. How long practicing, how many and which companies. Describe work history and how it relates to current practice. Choose one that has experience counseling individuals with financial needs like yours.

 

2) What are your qualifications?

 

A. Ask what qualifies them as financial planners. Are they CFP's, CPA/PFA's or ChFC's, Look for proven experience in the fields you need help in (Insurance, tax planning, investments, estate planning, retirement, etc.). Determine how they stay current. Check their background against their certifications.

 

3) What services do you offer?

 

A. What they can legal do is based, at least partly, on their credentials, licenses and expertise. Generally they can not sell insurance, mutual funds or stocks without proper licenses. Some offer advice but sell nothing.

 

4) What is your approach to financial planning?

 

A. Determine what type of client and financial situations do they work with. Some work with your whole situation others work on specific items. Make sure they are not to cautious or aggressive with your plan (based on your comfort zone). If they don't work with people at your net worth level, ask them if they can recommend someone.

 

5) Will you be the only person working with me?

 

A. If they use helpers, you my want to meet them. Get names so you check them out.

 

6) How are you paid for your services?

 

A. You should know clearly, in writing, how they will be paid before you commit. If they are paid by the companies (mutual funds) that they put your money in, they may tend to put you in ones that pay them more money but aren't necessarily the best for your needs.

 

7) How much do you typically charge?

 

A. They should be able to give you ball park figures based on your situation.

 

8) Could anyone besides me benefit from your recommendations?

 

A. Ask for a list of potential conflicts of interest (where the investments may benefit the planner without the commensurate benefit to you that you should expect).

 

9) Have you ever been publicly disciplined for any unlawful or unethical actions during your professional career?

 

A. FINRA and CFP boards keep records of disciplinary histories. Ask what organizations the planner is regulated by and check with them. There are official disclosure forms they should be able to provide you with.

 

10) Can I have it in writing?

 

A. Have the planner you choose give you a written agreement explaining the services they will provide and the cost for those services. Keep that document.

 

A good planner, that wants your business, will have no problem with any of these questions.

 

BTW - I can provide the un-excerpted document (pdf) if you pm me (though I may not be online every day).

 

Don

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very sound advice.

 

I am still trying to find out how people know if their FA is doing a good job. Other than Jack using a "shadow account", I have no idea what criteria anyone uses.

The only ones I know of are S&P 500, Dow Jones, Index funds (entire market, or something similar). or ETFs of the entire market.

 

At my age, I can't afford to beat any of those as I need to protect assets long term. But I still do my own managing using Bond Funds, index funds, and ETFs, and one annuity for backup. There is no need for me to second guess the index funds or bond funds, as they don't do anything except keep me in the market. Since the index funds do not have all my money, as they go down, my bond funds go up. My index funds over all, beat the Dow Jones by over 4 percent. ie 11 + to 7.5. (I am just using the difference). Of course my total return was less because of bond funds. The S&P 500 was up over 12 percent also.

So I am asking, "did you FA come close to these two numbers for the stocks that are being used?". If not, you can do better yourself by just using index funds.

Maybe I should even ask "do you know what your return is?"

RVers will go and spend $200,000 to $300,000 or more on an RV and believe whatever the sales person says or checking out how the MH is built, and just want to see the floor plan. And then they go out and do the same thing with their money. No questions asked, just get a FA and goodbye.

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I am still trying to find out how people know if their FA is doing a good job. Other than Jack using a "shadow account", I have no idea what criteria anyone uses. The only ones I know of are S&P 500, Dow Jones, Index funds (entire market, or something similar). or ETFs of the entire market.

That question is a very subjective one unless you set specific goals. The goals need to be set jointly with your adviser if you use one, but there must be goals or you can't know if you have been successful or not. I don't use any of the suggested funds as a gauge, I use our financial goals. Markets change with times and circumstances, but the goal should be to meet your financial needs over the longer term.

 

At my age, I can't afford to beat any of those as I need to protect assets long term.

The first thing which should be considered in any investment plan, whether self-managed or using a professional is a risk tolerance ability of the owner of the funds. There are many things to consider and age is clearly one of them. Since degree of risk in an investment plays a major role in it's rate of return for most, it must be considered in selecting what to invest in. Individual stocks can have more potential gain but they also always have a higher degree of risk.

 

So I am asking, "did you FA come close to these two numbers for the stocks that are being used?". If not, you can do better yourself by just using index funds... ~ ~ ~ ~ Maybe I should even ask "do you know what your return is?"

I receive reports on my investments each month, a quarterly report with comparisons to the previous quarter, the same quarter last year, and the average of the same quarter's results for the history of my time with this firm. Annually I get a complete report with results and comparison numbers for the year and previous years by month, quarter, and by year. So the answer is that yes, I do know what my rate of return is. And all of those reports also include comparable periods for the various indexes as well. All of this arrives via an email notice within a day or two of the end of the period which then allows me to go online and download any or all of the reports in .pdf format to my computer and they have all of those reports immediately available going back 1 year and the annual reports going back 5 years. Should I wish to compare to compare to any of those various funds I can simply access that information also by internet from the firm's site. Periodically, I take the time to download all of my reports and selected others to compare to, but over time I have gotten to where I spend less time doing so than I did at first because of the track record which has been established. I have been with the same adviser now since 2006, so am pretty familiar with his work. If I have a question, I send an email requesting either information or a call, which typically gets results within a business day from the adviser's staff, or slightly longer if I wish to speak with the man himself.

 

I really don't know what to tell you about how we judge as I am reluctant to share details of our personal financial goals, but I will say that we are past the point of required withdrawals so our degree of risk tolerance is going down, and so to is our expected rate of return, yet over all our funds have consistently reached or exceeded the goals set.

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Keep in mind that over the long term, an 8% return is considered to be quite good so that would mean that $100K would provide $8K in annual income, as an average.

A friend of ours has got us reading Jack Bogle. Are you familiar with any of his books? He seems conservative and was the founder of Vanguard (this is not meant to be a plug for V.)

 

About the 8%, is that what we should expect from here on out over the long run for a "balanced" (whatever that means) retirement account? Here is an interesting, but also depressing video (titled U.S. Retirement System a 'Train Wreck') of Mr. Bogle that does not like the 8% figure. Is he being too pessimistic? http://www.morningstar.com/Cover/videoCenter.aspx?id=571363

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8% is certainly a reasonable goal in the current market for Balanced Funds. My Vanguard Balanced Index Admiral Fund has returned over 10% for the last 5 yrs. But I like many others feel the stock market is currently over valued and will not be able to sustain those returns.

You said "over the long run", that's a much fuzzier picture to forecast. Too many variables to say right now if 8% or 5% is a more realistic goal over the next 20 yrs.

What is a "Balanced Fund" - its a fund that combines holdings of both stocks & bonds (and usually a small cash equivalent). It usually maintains a set ratio like 60% stocks and 40% Bonds. But even within the broad category of Balanced Funds there are varieties of moderate & conservative mixes. You could find "balanced funds" using a 50/50 mix and even a 40/60 mix.

 

About the 8%, is that what we should expect from here on out over the long run for a "balanced" (whatever that means) retirement account? Here is an interesting, but also depressing video (titled U.S. Retirement System a 'Train Wreck') of Mr. Bogle that does not like the 8% figure. Is he being too pessimistic? http://www.morningstar.com/Cover/videoCenter.aspx?id=571363

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The 2010-2013 average gain has been around 16%. Many financial programs and analysts use 8% average. The issue with that over the long term is that a downturn year or two or five can play havoc with your portfolio if you need funds and your timeframe is not 10+ years. So it is dangerous to make an assumption of the averages they tend to use if you are withdrawing funds constantly. If you are on a 30+ year savings plan then it is different.

 

I use a 5% average gain in my planning. And I use a 3% withdrawal rate...although I'm not withdrawing at all at the moment. But eventually I may. Granted that is incredibly conservative.

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In your reply above you seemed to be questioning the return of the stocks used through a FA. Unless you have significant assets to diversify into a lot of stocks single stocks can be risky. More risk than I am willing to take. Most FA's prefer to put people into funds. Most funds do not perform as well as index funds so your index funds are better than most over time. Don't forget to include the dividends. With what you have said about your investments you are likely doing better than most on a risk adjusted basis. If you want a FA you could consider splitting your assets. Keeping some where they are and compare. Another possibility is to use a FA that you pay for advice and just listen to their advice then decide for your self. They will often work with what you have and just recommend tweaks. I generally shy away from advice that up ends an entire porfolio unless they can give reasons for doing it.

Please forgive me but it seems as though you have some good ideas but you are not exactly sure. That is normal. If this is correct you may want to pay a FA to give advice based on your circumstances and risk tolerance. Then decide what changes if any you want to make.

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If this was meant for me, I think you misunderstood my post.

I am not questioning the returns that FA get.

I am questioning what users of FAs determine is a good return vs what they can get by just using index funds.

I am trying to get people to understand that it isn't difficult to do your research yourself, or to read about the market and then make decisions that you allow an FA to do for you at a cost.

I see no reason to use an FA if one takes the time to understand how to use the market for themselves.

Myself, I have no desire to use a FA. I will just stay with indexing/EFTs funds.

In case anyone wants to know, my return for the 2010/2013 time frame that Jack posted, was just under 12 %. I am not smart enough to buy/trade stocks so I can't "beat the market".

I suspect that some will think I am bragging, but all I am posting is how easy it is to use the stock market.

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I see no reason to use an FA if one takes the time to understand how to use the market for themselves.

Then I suggest that you not even consider the use of one. The right match between the customer and financial adviser or broker can be very successful. You seem to feel that there is an easy answer to what everyone should have as a goal in simple numbers butI do not agree. Higher returns almost always mean more aggressive investments, which is fine early in life. As one ages the ability to recover from market reversals gets less and so too should the amount of risk taken. A good financial professional does not manage by numbers alone but spends time with each customer evaluating their goals, risk tolerance, and a long list of other factors. There is much more involved in a good financial plan that just numbers. Our current year return rates are about the same as those listed by Jack, but at my age I am far more interested in a consistent return than I am in riding the crest of a good time while hoping to avoid the crash which inevitably comes.

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I think every one has their own easy answer. Kirk's is using an FA and finding the right match, whatever that means. It is very different for different investors. My retirement has nothing to do with my investments. I do however wish the best for both those who use an FA and those who do not. My investment money started out as my last biz petty cash account that had grown quite a bit and was no longer petty. When I retired again, I put it into a performance savings account that was a money market account. Then 2008 came and the banks and credit unions decided to only pay a half percent interest per year which amounted to, depending on the decimals of the day, between $80-100 a year interest paid me per $10k I had on deposit. So I went into individual stock anyway.

 

I neither advise that anyone do that. I am playing with house money now and am just enjoying the volatile ride that freaks others out so much. But not all investors rely on them for their retirement. From the start I did not think I was at risk of losing and that proves out over the long run. But others thought differently. Just be aware that not all investors are holding their money close to the vest. I am spending my kid's inheritance, with their approval.

 

KandJBm,

You did not mention if you can opt out and take your money and roll it into something else. If not then kick back and enjoy the ride. If you can and choose to, I am with Duke. Hey I knew and followed the company I invested in for 7 years before they IPO'd. I was ready and waiting. As I am now saving for my next stock play if he ever IPO's his last privately held company. MY way is not recommended for others. I will be the first to say I know little of the jargon or the constructs. I suspect the more jargon used the less folks really know so do not feel alone.

 

To expand on Duke's post, just pretend you can even if you can't and then learn what you think you'd like to do. I can reads for hours with good comprehension when I am interested and learning for me. Like finding a good mechanic, the only way you know if they weren't a good fit (for anyone) is when it is too late. Many here learned that lesson and decided early on to learn to wrench what they choose, however limited or in depth they chose to learn.

 

It doesn't take a genius to learn to wrench their vehicles and rigs. Some learn others pay. The same applies in finances and investing. One size does fit all of that one size. ;):)

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Then I suggest that you not even consider the use of one.

Where did I post that I wanted to use an FA?

I think you should read what I posted. This is what I posted "Myself, I have no desire to use a FA. I will just stay with indexing/EFTs funds." I don't see any words in there about me using an FA now or in the future.

Of course you agree with using an FA as you use one.

 

The right match between the customer and financial adviser or broker can be very successful. You seem to feel that there is an easy answer to what everyone should have as a goal in simple numbers but I do not agree.

 

All I suggest is that people do some reading and looking at the market and see what index funds can do for them. I think it is implied that after you read about index funds, than you can make the decision to use them or not. Somehow you seem to think that I have suggested that EVERYONE do their own investing regardless.

What I suggested is that one should understand the market by reading about it. Here is my suggestion that I posted before "I am trying to get people to understand that it isn't difficult to do your research yourself, or to read about the market and then make decisions that you allow an FA to do for you at a cost."

 

"There is much more involved in a good financial plan that just numbers." Gee I never knew that.

Where did you get the idea that I am totally in the market or recommend that others be totally in stock funds? I believe I posted that I have both BONDS and funds. Did I post what my split was? NO. It might be 90 percent in Bonds. Also I might have Oil stuff. How about real estate? Is that a good financial plan? It is not for me, but it might be for others.

 

I guess you just take the word of your FA that you are in a good mix. (I don't believe that). So if s/he said that a mix for you would be 90 percent stocks, you would just go along? No, because you have taken the time to learn the market and yourself.

If your FA said that s/he was putting you into 50 percent real estate as the market was surging, What would you say? I suspect because of your knowledge you would drop him immediately. Is that from knowledge or what?

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