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How Much Does a Financial Advisor Cost?

Many investors who aren’t comfortable with a “do it yourself” approach to investing decide that they’re better off working with a professional financial advisor.

How much does a financial advisor cost? This depends on several different factors, starting with the advisor’s fee structure. Some financial advisors charge flat annual fees (or retainers), some charge hourly fees, some charge a fee for creating a financial plan, some charge a sales commission (or load) and some charge fees based on the size of your account, or the assets under management (AUM).

An advisor’s fee also depends on the type of advisor you work with. There are several different types of financial advisors including traditional face-to-face human advisors, online advisors and so-called robo-advisors.

What is the Average Advisor Fee?

The average fee assessed by traditional in-person human advisors who charge by assets under management (AUM) is 1% of AUM.

For online advisors who charge by AUM, the average fee is between 0.30% and 0.89% of AUM.

For robo-advisors who charge by AUM, the average fee is between 0.25% and 0.50% of AUM.

Other average fees include the following:

  • Flat annual fee/retainer: Between $2,000 and $7,500
  • Creating a financial plan: Between $1,000 and $3,000
  • Hourly fee: Between $200 and $400 per hour
  • Commission/load: Between 3% and 6% of the investment amount

Other Considerations Affecting Advisor Fees

Since online and robo-advisors typically charge up to half as much as traditional human advisors, it’s important to understand what you do (and don’t) get from each type of advisor so you can decide if the extra cost is worth it.

A traditional human advisor is what most people think of when it comes to a financial advisor. In most instances, you will meet with your advisor face-to-face in his or her office or via telephone or videoconference. In addition to investment advice, these advisors may also offer other services such as tax guidance, estate planning and comprehensive financial planning. The percentage of AUM charged usually goes down once AUM hits certain benchmarks, such as $250,000, $500,000 or $1 million.

Robo-advisors are relatively new. These are computer-based financial advisors that use algorithms to construct and manage investment portfolios based on your investing goals, time horizon and level of risk tolerance. There are usually very low (or even no) account minimums with robo-advisors, which can make them a good choice for beginning investors. However, they usually don’t offer personalized advice or financial planning.

Online financial advisors are kind of a hybrid between traditional human advisors and robo-advisors. Like robo-advisors they operate online or via telephone or video, but they function similarly to human advisors. For example, they may offer full-service, personalized financial planning and investment advice. Some online financial advisors offer direct access to a dedicated CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM (CFP®).

Types of Human Advisors

Breaking things down further, there are three types of traditional human advisors, each of whom charges fees differently.

1. Commission-only advisor

This advisor is compensated only by commissions (or loads) earned on investment products he or she recommends. This can sometimes lead to conflicts of interest if an advisor is tempted to recommend a high-commission product that might not be in a client’s best interest.

2. Fee-only advisor

This advisor can use any of the different fee structures (or a combination of fee structures) described here except commission. A fee-only advisor is a fiduciary, which means he or she is legally obligated to make decisions that are in your best interest. This offers the greatest protection against potential conflicts of interest.

3. Fee-based advisor

This advisor is a hybrid between commission-only and fee-only advisors. He or she may use a fee structure and also be compensated by commissions earned on investment products recommended.

How to Determine Advisor Fees

It’s important to determine how a financial advisor charges for services before hiring him or her. The best way to find out is to ask the advisor for a clear, concise explanation of his or her fee structure.

If an advisor doesn’t want to answer the question or answers in a confusing or contradictory way, I don’t think you should hire this advisor. You need to know exactly how much you’re paying your financial advisor and how the compensation is structured in order to make the best decision based on your financial circumstances.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) offers a search tool that can help you find a fee-only financial advisor. Other helpful resources include the Financial Planning Association and the Garrett Planning Network.

Working with a Personal Capital Advisor

Since inception, Personal Capital has acted as a fiduciary to give clients the best possible financial advice for their situation. As a Registered Investment Advisor, Personal Capital’s team of advisors not only follow the fiduciary standard but embrace it as part of the mission to provide financial advice.

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Personal Capital compensates Don Sadler (“Author”) for providing the content contained in this blog post. Compensation not to exceed $500. Author is not a client of Personal Capital Advisors Corporation. The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money.

Don Sadler is a freelance writer who specializes in business and finance. Learn more at donsadlerwriter.com.
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