Good financial advice on a budget

By Ismat Sarah Mangla

(Money Magazine) -- After a tough 2009, you may be looking for some help in getting 2010 off to the right start financially. Unfortunately, finding objective, affordable, individualized advice from a live person can be a challenge.

Many "financial advisers" are simply brokers who get paid to push products. And while fee-only planners, who don't earn any commission, may have fewer conflicts, they typically prefer to work on contract with people who are already quite wealthy. Then too, the cost can go well into the thousands per year.

What to do? Below, you'll find some better ways to get the help you need, no matter what your resources.

For free

What you can get: Answers to basic strategy questions, like "What percentage of my retirement money should be in stocks given my age?"

How to find it: Individuals and firms that offer free advice typically have a vested interest in selling you something. But you may be able to get some limited help from a financial pro with no agenda via your employer.

More than 90% of large companies offer investment education as a benefit, says consulting firm Hewitt Associates. Third-party companies are often contracted for group seminars, and some also have trained advisers who will answer questions by phone. Ask your human resources department whether your firm has such a program and what it provides.

For up to $500

What you can get: Two to three hours with a fee-only planner who charges hourly. It's enough time to solve one major issue, such as "How much should I save for college?"

How to find it: While advisers that charge this way are in the minority, it's easy to find them. links you with planners who will answer questions by e-mail or phone for a fee based on an hourly rate of around $150. (You can get a quote before committing.)

Or, if you'd like to meet in person, choose from the 300-plus hourly planners associated with Garrett Planning Network. Gather the relevant paperwork in advance, or you'll end up paying for more hours than you'd like.

For $500 to $3,000

What you can get: A full financial review and workup. While most fee-only planners get paid on a percentage of assets under management, a large number are willing to provide a comprehensive one-time assessment -- on everything from budgeting to real estate to retirement -- for a flat fee, says Bill Baldwin, who is the chair of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

How to find it: Start by visiting and clicking "Find an Advisor." Contact three to five planners in your area, explain that you are looking for a one-time financial review, and ask for a quote. It's likely that many planners will be willing to create a session for you.  To top of page

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