frequently asked questions
1. What is a financial plan, anyway?
A financial plan is a projection, a model, a forecast of what is likely to happen in the future based on today’s assets, income, liabilities and spending. Using conservative estimates for invest returns [low,] and spending [high,] a financial plan will show you the most likely outcome, so you can judge whether or not you will reach your goals, whatever they may be.
Unlike the calculators available online, which allow for only the most basic adjustments, the financial plans I produce are individualized and personalized. They can reflect the changes you might make in your financial life on a year to year basis. This way you can, for example, judge when you can retire, or switch to part-time status, or start a whole new career.
A financial plan can be 125 pages long, but most people get the detail they need with much fewer pages. And because, most times, we do multiple plans, it’s easy to compare how and where your financial future goes wrong or right, and where exactly course corrections need to be made.
2. My long-term financial situation is really up in the air, and I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve been ignoring the situation, but I wonder what is the best way forward?
Not wanting to face a new financial reality is perfectly understandable, but ignoring the situation is not a productive, long-term strategy. There are no magical solutions at Bob Goldman Financial Planning, and sometimes I do deliver “bad news.” But I’ve never had a client who didn’t appreciate knowing the reality of their situation. What gets to people over the long — and sometimes, short — term is uncertainty.
That’s why I believe that it is better to come to grips with your finances, whatever they may be, and develop a new, appropriate and reasonable plan for the future.
A plan may involve working more, spending less, rethinking your investment strategy, or changing your goals altogether. What is inarguable is the value of starting today. Starting today may not as good as starting a plan twenty years ago, but it’s a lot better than waiting until tomorrow.
3. The stock market makes me nervous. How do I decide whether to jump in or stay out?
Very few people invest in the stock market for the thrill of watching their assets rise and fall. Most people only invest to get the returns they need to reach their goals — returns that are simply not available from a bank.
That’s where a financial plan is an invaluable tool. If a plan tells us you are in good shape to reach your goals, I believe you can and should be a conservative investor — so conservative you may not have invest at all.
But if reaching your goals will require market returns, you have only two choices — change your goals or become an investor.
There is no guarantee that investing will get you where you want to go, but you will know that you are investing because you made an informed decision, and not because some investment guru believes they can see the future.
Will you still have nervous nights? It’s possible, but in my experience, knowing why you are invested is just as important as knowing how you are invested, and, taken together, being informed should make it easier to cope with inevitable market volatility.
4. I’ve been working with another investment advisory firm. They’re very nice, and I think they’re doing a good job, but I’m not sure. How can I find out if I’ve struck gold or is it fool’s gold?
As an hourly planner, who does not sell or manage investments, I am often asked to provide an objective second opinion on portfolios. And usually, these portfolios are the result of an extremely nice person.
But you’re not investing to make friends. You should know how you are invested, the risk you are taking on, and the price you are paying. My process involves analyzing how your advisor has you invested, and asking certain critical questions:
- Are you properly diversified and is the asset allocation appropriate for your age and goals?
- Are you receiving an appropriate return for the level of risk you are taking on?
- Are you paying too much for your investments?
As I probably don’t have to tell you, the cost issue is a critical element in becoming a successful investor. More and more people have realized the affect even a 1% fee can have on their long-term returns — often a reduction in returns over time that adds up to tens of thousands of dollars.
Costs include management fees and transaction charges, but also in internal fees that are built into many mutual funds or individual bond purchases, and rarely disclosed.
In many cases, I can tell a client that they are correctly invested and that their advisor is delivering value for their fees. Other times, I find clients are paying too much and receiving too little in return. In these cases, I will recommend other solutions for managing your investments that cost less and are likely to perform better.
5. What do you charge?
I charge $225 an hour. To develop a financial plan, including investment analysis and recommendations, usually takes between 15 and 20 hours. Included in this cost, can be a number of alternate future scenarios. Investment recommendations are not set in stone, and are often revised based on your input and comfort level.
For many people, the initial project is all they ever need. Once completed, there are no ongoing costs; you are in control as to how much or how little we continue to work together. I think it is good to meet once a year to track your progress, but this is totally up to you.
At any time before or after the completion of the planning process, you can call for advice. If it’s an answer I can give you, I don’t charge. If something changes in your financial life that requires revisions to the original plan, you will be given an estimate and charged the hourly rate.
[Note: According to Section 212 of the Internal Revenue Code, an itemized deduction for tax and/or investment advice is permitted in the miscellaneous section of Schedule A. It is subject to a 2% floor of the adjusted gross income on a personal tax return.]
6. I’ve never worked with a financial planner before. What can I expect?
In most cases, the planning process starts with a free “Get Acquainted” meeting, either through an online meeting, an email exchange, or by phone.
It’s the perfect time for you to tell me about yourself and your immediate- and long-term goals. In return, I will show you the way I would approach your specific financial planning needs. It’s a stress-free, cost-free opportunity for you to learn more about how I work, and to decide whether Bob Goldman Financial Planning is right for you.
I encourage potential clients to take time to consider whether my type of financial planning is right for them. If we do decide to work together, I ask for a $500 deposit when the contract is signed, with the balance due at the end of the engagement.
Once the planning process has begun, I will provide you with a list of the information I will need. Over the next weeks I may ask you for more information, or request clarifications. Depending on my workload, it usually takes 3 or 4 weeks until we have a presentation meeting in which I will take you through the plan and the investment recommendations.
It’s a very information rich meeting, which is why I write a complete report, highlighting what I presented and the conclusions I made from the results. I also provide detailed investment analyses and recommendations, usually including a “road map” to lead you through the next steps required to implement the investment plan.
At this point, I encourage you to take some time to absorb and understand the findings. When you are ready, we will discuss your questions and requests for revisions, either in the planning or the investment recommendations.
I will continue to provide revised plans and investment advice until you have what you need.
7. What kind of planning issues do you handle?
Bob Goldman Financial Planning serves clients of all ages, from all walks of life and from all income levels. Clients engage my services for large or small projects, on a one-time, as-needed or on-going basis.
Typical client engagements include, but are not limited to:
- Creating and preserving personal wealth
- Developing strategies for budgeting and cash flow
- Creating an appropriate investment program
- Planning for a home purchase or refinance
- Funding college costs
- Preparing for retirement
- Managing the assets of a parent or relative
- Organizing investments after a divorce or death
- Right-sizing wealth transfer
- Providing an objective “second opinion” on financial issues
- Discussing life, long-term care, and disability insurance needs
- Deciding when to take Social Security
- Analyzing annuities and life-insurance policies you may own
- Delivering financial seminars for business or civic groups
- Fostering peace of mind through proper planning today
8. What is your investment philosophy?
Quite simply, I do not believe than anyone can predict the future, and, therefore, no one can consistently “beat the market.” There is an endless amount of independent research that shows this to be the case.
Instead of trying to beat the market, I believe that by keeping costs low, staying widely diversified, and limiting investment changes based on news stories, rumors and media predictions, you can benefit from the long-term earning power of the markets.
I also believe it is critically important to have the right asset allocation; that is, a diversified portfolio of investments in equities, fixed-income instruments, and cash. I think cash is especially important. Because I never collect commissions for sales, I have no reason to encourage you to invested every dollar.
Finally, I believe it is essential to stick to your asset allocation, ignoring the fluctuations of the market.
Not to pay attention to your investments may seem counter-intuitive, and it certainly is not always easy, but if you can implement the right portfolio for you and your goals, and leave it alone, history tells us you will do much better than those who try to time the market or constantly fiddle with asset mix.
9. Are you licensed?
Bob Goldman Financial Planning is licensed by the states of California and Washington as a Registered Investment Advisor. I am allowed to work with a limited number of clients outside these states.
Registration does not certify any endorsement, but it does legally allow me to charge a fee for advice. I also holds a NASD Series 65 license, required by most U.S. states for individuals acting as investment advisors.
Choosing a financial planner is an important decision, and while many agree with nationally-known financial columnists like Jonathan Clements, Rob Lieber and Jean Chatzky that an hourly planner represents your best choice, you should carefully study all your options.
10. What if I want or need to change accounts, or sell or buy investment or insurance products? How do I do that?
As an hourly-only planner, I do not sell financial products, or take custody of my clients’ accounts. If I think you need a certain financial product, or believe that you should switch to a different custodian for your accounts, I will recommend resources that I know to be trustworthy and ethical. If appropriate, and at your request, I can also help with plan implementation. The standard hourly fee is charged for implementation.
11. How do I get started?
The best way to start is to schedule a complimentary, sixty-minute “Get Acquainted” meeting. All you need do is email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 415.331.1546.
While taking this initial step may seem daunting, most clients find the financial planning process to be stimulating and enlightening. You may start the planning process with a nervous state of mind, but in most cases, the end result is greater peace of mind.
I look forward to helping you assure the brighter and satisfying financial future you deserve.