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How to Vet Your Adviser

Don McDonald

As the investing advice industry moves from commission-based to fee-based, you need to be even more careful about who you choose. Thankfully, fee-based advisers must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and my file an annual "plain-english" disclosure document call the Form ADV Part Two brochure.

You can find every registered investment adviser's (RIA) ADV online at:

To search for your adviser click on the "firm" button and type in the firm's name (for example; Merrill Lynch). The larger firms often have many RIAs filed (Merrill's client service is buried on page two). Then find the plan you've been pitched (the big firm's have several) and head right to the fee section (it's in the table of contents). Finally, click on "Part 2 Brochures" in the left column:

In this case, we chose the "Merrill Lynch Investment Advisory Program." The fees are spelled out on page 16 of this 43 page document:

If you have less than $1 million being managed by Merrill in this account, the total annual fee charged will run over 3% per year. What a fee that high means is that your Merrill advisor would need to beat the market consistently by an average of 3% every year, forever, or provide a level of services that are the price of a decent car every year (for those with $1 million or more invested).

In the spirit of fairness and for comparison purposes, here is the fee section from Vestory's (our RIA firm) Form ADV Part Two brochure:

Like other Merrill and others, we use mutual funds – in our case, Vanguard, Schwab, and Dimensional Funds – to create our individualized investment portfolios. Yet, we are able to charge exactly 1/3 the amount Merrill Lynch charges for investment management and our fund (manager) expenses average just under 0.4% annually.

Let's assume a $1 million dollar portfolio with mutual fund or "style manager" expenses of 0.4% annually, invested in identical portfolios averaging a 7% gross return per year. How much difference do fees make over 20 years:

The person paying RIA fees of 2.7% per year would have almost $2.4 million.

While the one paying an annual fee of 0.9% per year would have just under $3.4 million.

Fees matter, to the tune of one million dollars. Is friendship or even a family relationship worth that much?

These Gifts Really Keep Giving

Don McDonald

The best gift you can give is a financial future. So, here is the Talking Real Money Building Brighter Futures Gift List (in no particular order):

Talking Real Money's Real Investing 2016 Calendar

The best investing calendar ever made. It's fun, informative, and id perfectly laid our for keeping track of your busy life. It's only $10 with $5 going to the Merriman Financial Education Foundation's effort to improve financial literacy.

Best Investing Books

There are a lot of investing books and MOST of them stink. We have read most of them so you don't have to and have created this very short list of the very best REAL investing books

Best Investment Plan for College


Give a Comfortable Retirement

If your child or grandchild has earned income don't give them something that will soon be forgotten and sold for pennies on the dollar at a future garage sale. Instead, give them a comfortable secure future.

Help Them Learn Where They are Now and Might Be Later

If you have someone on your list who has been saving and investing, but may not be sure just what they own, their level of portfolio diversification, and how much they are paying, give them a Future Blueprint. Until December 25th save $100 on the gift of My Future Blueprint with the Discount Code: FUTURE

Pay Less, Get More?

Don McDonald

Is it possible to get the ongoing service of a dedicated fiduciary fee-only advisor and make more than working with a commissioned salesperson? In many cases, the answer is yes.

This chart illustrates the difference between a very typical broker-sold mutual fund and Vestory's Focus Global 100% Equity portfolio assuming both portfolios returned 8% gross (before fees) every year for 20 years. Here are details on the two funds:

Oppenheimer Global A
oad: 5.75%
Annual fees: 1.14%

Vestory Focus 100% Global Equity
Load: none
Annual fees: 1.32% (includes advisory fee)

$10,000 invested from 20 years at hypothetical 8% average annual gross return (before fees and commissions) Results are for illustration only and do not represnet actual investments. Vestory's account minimum is typically $250,000.

Gathering Assets Isn't Advising

Don McDonald

Investors need to understand the underlying motivations of their financial "experts." Are they true professional advisors or are they salespeople (or asset gatherers). The VAST majority of those who hold themselves out as financial "advisors" are really financial "asset gatherers." This is particularly true of "Main Street's Advisor," Edward Jones as explained in this 2012 article from the Motley Fool.

Read the Motley Fool Article


Delusional Salespeople

Don McDonald

Yesterday, I posted a peice in our online newsletter, Vestories, pointing to a Bloomberg investigative article on the evil perpetrated, on those rolling over 401k plans, by many in the financial sales industry. The report points out that far too many of those who claim to be investment advisors are nothing more than slightly greedy, poorly informed product pushers for giant firms like AIG, UBS, and Met Life.

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Sources of Sage Advice

Don McDonald

Why do we seek out bad advice promulgated by most of the money media? We want to know the unknowable. So, where do those who know that knowing the unknowable (the future, for instance) can’t be known (that was fun to write) turn for helpful financial and investing advice?

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Other Advisors - Seattle

Don McDonald

There are far too many bad investment advisors out there. We believe that we are one of a very few firms who take their responsibility to you as seriously as it should, but we are not the only ones. Here are a few in Seattle area that manage money in a similarly responsible fashion.

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A Better Retirement Plan

Don McDonald

Tom and Don will analyze some select 401k, 403b, and 457 plans, at no cost and with NO obligation, help you find the best choices and learn how to use them to build the best possible retirement portfolio.

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