Is it worth it to hire a financial adviser?

@Money August 22, 2011: 2:21 PM ET

NEW YORK (Money) -- Does it make sense to pay a financial adviser 1% a year to manage my retirement savings? I'm thinking that I could just as easily invest in a 60% stocks-40% bonds index fund portfolio and save the 1%. Of course, the adviser says he can do better. What do you think I should do? -- Michael, Chicago.

If you already know that a 60% stocks - 40% bonds index fund portfolio is the right way to divvy up your savings and you don't have any other issues you need help with, then I don't see the point of hiring an adviser.

You can simply go to our MONEY 70 list of recommended funds, pick out a total stock market index fund and a total bond market index fund (or the ETF versions of these funds) and, bingo! You're done.

All you'll pay are the annual fund expenses, which come in under 0.25% a year. So the 1% you would have paid to the adviser can stay in your pocket, or better yet, go into your index funds.

As far as the adviser saying he can do better, well if by that he means earn a higher return on the same portfolio without taking on extra risk, I doubt it. A low-cost index fund portfolio is very efficient. So I'd say the chances of an adviser beating it are small, especially after tacking on an extra 1% a year in fees.

But that doesn't necessarily mean an adviser might not be worth considering.

'Is my financial adviser the next Madoff?'

For example, you've framed the question as if it's a given that you should be in a 60% stocks-40% bonds portfolio. But how did you come to that conclusion? Through rigorous analysis? A hunch?

Fact is, the right asset allocation can vary depending on such factors as your age, the size of your portfolio, whether you're collecting or will be receiving a traditional check-a-month pension and how much you're willing to see the value of your savings dip and dive in a tumultuous market like this one.

And while settling on an appropriate stocks-bonds mix is certainly important, it's hardly the only issue you need to address to be sure you're planning correctly for retirement.

Worried about your finances? Send the Help Desk your questions.

When you're young, it's crucial that you save enough to be sure you'll be able to build an adequate nest egg. As you near and enter retirement, the big issue becomes how much you can reasonably draw from your retirement stash without depleting it too soon.

Believe me, the last thing I want to do is shill for financial advisers. I think most people are capable of handling their finances on their own.

So what you need to do is realistically assess your situation and decide whether you're comfortable going it on your own. If you decide you're okay with flying solo, fine. Go for it.

But if upon further reflection you feel there are some areas where you might need some assistance -- or you just want another opinion as a reality check -- then you might want to seek out an adviser.

Is my financial planner making me enough money?

There's no shortage of choices. You can work with an independent financial planner, who can do everything from helping you create an overall plan or strategy to assure you're on track to a secure retirement to recommending the right investments to carry out that plan.

Or you can check out the investment advisory services of large investment firms like Fidelity, Schwab or Vanguard. And if you decide you want help but not the annual fees that go with an ongoing relationship with an adviser, at least one firm has planners who are willing to work on a project basis for a flat fee or an hourly charge.

Whichever route you go, you want to be sure that the person you're dealing with is not only competent, but trustworthy. For more on how to do that, click here.

You especially want to be on guard against people who brandish impressive-looking credentials that give the impression they're some sort of retirement gurus, but who in fact may be little more than glorified salesmen.

If you do end up hiring an adviser, be sure to evaluate his or her performance periodically to make sure you're getting value for whatever you're paying.

Ultimately, though, the issue of whether to go with an adviser boils down to this: How confident you are that you'll make reasonable decisions about your retirement planning and investments on your own? Only you can answer that question. To top of page

Help! We need a makeover
Young dad, $15,000 in credit card debt
Readers' Choice

Carlos Rodriguez is trying to rid himself of $15,000 in credit card debt, while paying his mortgage and saving for his son's college education.

$400,000 portfolio, too many holdings
Readers' Choice

Susan Carson and Laura DeLallo make $225,000 and have half a million in retirement savings, but their sprawling portfolios is proving hard to manage.

Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.80%3.88%
15 yr fixed3.20%3.23%
5/1 ARM3.84%3.88%
30 yr refi3.82%3.93%
15 yr refi3.20%3.23%
Rate data provided
View rates in your area
Find personalized rates:
  • -->

    Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.