MONEY Financial Planning

A Simple Tool for Getting Better Financial Advice

financial advisor with couple
Ned Frisk—Getty Images

If a financial adviser doesn't know what's going on in a client's life, the advice will suffer. Here's one easy way to fix that.

True story: Many years ago, I was meeting with a married couple for an initial data-gathering session. Halfway through the three-hour meeting — the first stage in developing a comprehensive financial plan — the husband excused himself for a bathroom break. As soon as the door shut, the wife turned to me and said, “I guess this is as good a time as any to let you know that I’m about to divorce him.”

That’s just one example of why exploring a client’s financial interior is a worthwhile investment for both the adviser and client. All the effort we had expended on their financial plan, for which they were paying me, was for naught.

So how can an adviser really understand what’s going on with his or her clients?

A great first step is to fully explore the simple question “How are you doing?” Not “How are your investments doing?” or “How is your business doing?” but “How are you doing?”

As financial planners, we are quick to put on our analytical hats. We will gladly examine numbers down to three decimal places, but we often fail to delve below the superficial on a relational level.

Here’s a tool that can help. I include it with permission from Money Quotient, a nonprofit that creates tools and techniques to aid financial advisers in exploring the interior elements of client interaction. It’s called the “Wheel of Life”:

Wheel of Life

The instructions are simple: you rate your satisfaction with each of the nine regions of life listed on the wheel. Your level of satisfaction can range from zero to 10—10 being the highest. Plot a dot corresponding to your rating along each spoke of the wheel. Then you connect the dots, unveiling a wheel that may — or may not — roll very well.

If you’re wondering what value this could bring to your client interaction, consider these five possibilities:

  • It’s an incredibly efficient way to effectively answer the question, “How are you doing?” In a matter of seconds, you know exactly where your client stands. You now have an opportunity to congratulate them in their successes and encourage them in their struggles.
  • It demonstrates that you care about more than just your client’s money. It shows that your cordial greeting was something more than just obligatory. It shows that you recognize the inherently comprehensive nature of financial planning.
  • It helps in gauging how much value you can add to a client’s overall situation. For example, if this is a new client, and all the numbers are nines and tens except for a two on the “Finances” spoke, then it stands to reason that good financial planning could have a powerfully positive impact on the client’s life. If, on the other hand, a prospective client’s wheel is cratering, you might conclude that his or her problems lie beyond the scope of your process. Your efforts may be in vain, and a referral to an external source may be in order.
  • It could tip you off to a major event in a client’s life that should trump your agenda for the day. Many advisers use this exercise as a personal checkup at annual client meetings, sending clients the “Wheel of Life” in advance. Doing so encourages clients to share if they have suffered one of life’s deeper pains, like the loss of a loved one. That’s likely your cue to recognize that now isn’t a time to talk about asset allocation. It’s simply time to be a friend and, as appropriate, address any inherent financial planning implications.
  • You’ll likely find it a beneficial practice for you, too! I don’t recommend putting a client through any introspective exercises that you haven’t completed yourself. So please, complete your own “Wheel of Life” exercise. You’re likely to see this tool in a new light and find valuable uses for it that I’ve not uncovered here.

———-

Financial planner, speaker, and author Tim Maurer, is a wealth adviser at Buckingham Asset Management and the director of personal finance for the BAM Alliance. A certified financial planner practitioner working with individuals, families and organizations, he also educates at private events and via TV, radio, print, and online media. “Personal finance is more personal than it is finance” is the central theme that drives his writing and speaking.

MONEY Kids and Money

You Can Teach a Two-Year-Old How to Save

child's hand with ticket stubs
Frederick Bass—Getty Images/fStop

Worried about your children's retirement? With the help of a few carnival tickets, says one financial adviser, you can get them started early on saving.

A new type of retirement worry has recently surfaced among my clients. These investors are concerned not just about their own retirement, but about their children’s and even grandchildren’s retirement as well.

Much of our children’s education is spent preparing them for their careers. But in elementary school through college, there is little discussion about what life is like after your career is over. Little or no time is spent educating children about the importance of saving — much less saving for their golden years.

When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, parents want to know two things: One, at what age should they start teaching their children about saving? And two, what tactics or strategies should they use to help their children understand the importance of saving?

While parenting advice can be a very sensitive subject, discussing these questions has always worked out well for my clients and me. I keep the conversation focused around concerns they have brought up. In a world where student debt is inevitable and other bills such as car loans and mortgage payments add up quickly, parents are concerned for their child’s financial future. We now live in a debt-ridden, instant-gratification society, so how can our children live their lives while still saving for the future?

Here is what I tell my clients:

You can start teaching children the value of saving as early as two years old. At this age, most children don’t necessarily grasp the concept of money, so instead I recommend the use of “tickets” or something similar — maybe a carnival raffle ticket. As a child completes chores or extra tasks, he or she receives a ticket as a reward. The child saves these tickets and can later cash them in at the “family store.” This is where parents can really get creative: The family store consists of prepurchased items like toys or treats, and each item is assigned a ticket value. The child must exchange his or her hard-earned tickets to make a purchase.

I’ve seen first hand, and been told by others, that the tickets end up burning a hole in children’s pockets. They want immediate gratification, so they cash their tickets in for smaller, less expensive prizes. This is where parents can begin to really educate kids. Through positive reinforcement, they can encourage their children to save their tickets in order to purchase the prize they are really hoping for.

Eventually, saving becomes part of the routine. As children receive tickets, they stash them away for the future with the intentions of buying the doll, bike, video game or whatever their favorite prize may be.

As the child gets older, parents can transition to actual money using quarters or dollars. Now the lesson has become real. Parents can also implement a saving rule, encouraging the child that 50% of the earnings must go straight to the piggy bank. By age five, most children can grasp the concept of money and can begin going to an actual toy store to pick out their prizes. By starting out with tickets, parents are able to educate children about the power of saving at a younger age. By switching over to real money, children can then begin to learn the importance of saving cash for day-to-day items while still setting aside some money for later.

While this tactic may seem like it’s just fun and games, I have received feedback from several clients and family friends that it does in fact instill fiscal responsibility at a young age. Most importantly, I have seen it work first hand. My wife and I used this system with our five-year-old daughter. She was like most children in the beginning and wanted to spend, spend, and spend. Now, it is rare that she even looks at her savings in her piggy bank. She has graduated to real money and seems to really value its worth. She identifies what she wants to buy and sets a goal to set enough money aside for it. Before purchasing, she often spends time pondering if she actually wants to spend her hard earned money, or if she wants to continue saving it. In less than a year, she developed a true grasp on what it means to save and why it is important.

By implementing this strategy, financial milestones like buying their first car, paying for college, or purchasing their first home could potentially be a lot easier for both your clients and their their children. And the kids will learn the value of saving for their retirement, too.

———–

Sean P. Lee, founder and president of SPL Financial, specializes in financial planning and assisting individuals with creating retirement income plans. Lee has helped Salt Lake City residents for the past decade with financial strategies involving investments, taxes, life insurance, estate planning, and more. Lee is an investment advisor representative with Global Financial Private Capital and is also a licensed life and health insurance professional.

MONEY charitable giving

Give to Charity Like Bill Gates…Without Being Bill Gates

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Chesnot—Getty Images

You don't have to be rich to set up the equivalent of a charitable foundation — one that can continue making donations even after your death.

One of my clients — I’ll call him Jonathan — came to me recently with concerns about his estate planning. Jonathan was a successful corporate manager who received a big payday when a major firm acquired the company he worked for. With no children of his own, he’d arranged for most of his wealth to be divided between two favorite charities: a local boys club and an organization that helped homeless people train for work and find jobs. Life had been good to Jonathan, and he wanted to give back.

But recently, there had been some management changes at the homeless support agency, and Jonathan was no longer confident that his gift would be well used. He was thinking about removing them from his trust.

We suggested something that sounded to him like a bold plan, but was really quite simple. Amend your trust, we told him, so that upon your death your funds go to a donor-advised fund — a type of investment that manages contributions made by individual donors.

Jonathan knew what a DAF was. He was already using one for his annual charitable giving because it let him donate appreciated securities, thus maximizing his annual tax deduction. Like many people, however, he’d never thought about donating all his wealth to a DAF after his death. He was under the impression that a donor needed to be alive to advise the fund.

Not so. Jonathan just needed to establish clear rules on who the future adviser or advisory team would be and how he would want them to honor his philanthropic wishes. With a DAF, he could arrange for a lasting legacy of continued giving beyond his own life. Another plus: Because no organization’s name is written into trust documents, changing your mind about what charities to give to is quick and simple. With a trust, changing a charitable beneficiary often requires a trip to your lawyer.

People tend to think that leaving an ongoing charitable legacy is exclusively for uber-wealthy people such as Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation gave away $3.6 billion in 2013. While there is no defined level under which a foundation is “too small,” Foundation Source, the largest provider of foundation services in the US, serves only foundations with assets of $250,000 and up. While foundations offer trustees greater control over investing and distribution of gifts, they are costly to set up and run, and have strict compliance rules.

DAFs offer an alternative. Their simplicity, relatively low cost, and built-in advisory board make them an ideal instrument for securing a financial legacy. Unlike foundations, there is no cost to set them up. And the tax advantages are better. The IRS allows greater tax deduction for gifts of cash, stock, or property to a DAF, compared with a foundation. Foundations have to give away 5% of their assets annually, but there are no distribution requirements for DAFs.

All DAFs have a board of directors as part of their structure. Many of them are willing to maintain the gifting goals of a donor after their death and insure that the recipient charities are eligible for the grants each year. At my firm, we have been asked to serve as part of clients’ DAF’s adviser team, to which we have agreed. Upon Jonathan’s death, we will continue to monitor his charitable recipients for quality of services, efficiency, and results — all very important goals of Jonathan’s.

You have many options to choose from. DAFs come in many shapes and sizes, from local community foundations to national organizations. Most of the independent brokerage firms have their own funds, with minimum initial contributions as low as $5,000.

With a little research, a family should be able to find a suitable home for their estate and leave a lasting legacy — whether they are rich, Bill-Gates-rich, or not wealthy at all. To learn about finding the DAF that fits you or your loved one’s vision and values, one way to get started is to check out the community foundation locator at the Council on Foundations.

———-

Scott Leonard, CFP, is the owner of Navigoe, a registered investment adviser with offices in Nevada and California. Author of The Liberated CEO, published by Wiley in 2014, Leonard was able to run his business, originally established in 1996, while taking his family on a two-year sailing trip from Florida to New Caledonia in the south Pacific Ocean. He is a speaker on investment and wealth management issues.

MONEY financial advisers

When It’s Time for the Adviser to Fire the Client

Pink Slip of termination
Tetra Images—Getty Images

The relationship between a financial adviser and a client can be like a marriage — sometimes a failing one.

Sometimes there’s a client relationship you sense is no longer as functional or effective as it once was.

Perhaps the client engagement was never ideal in the first place, but you took on the client even when your gut suggested it wasn’t an optimal fit. Or, in some cases, the client did once fit the ideal client description in your practice, but your own practice changed rather than the client. In other cases, the client chemistry changed just like it can between two spouses. Life circumstances sometimes prompt this shift, but other times you can’t even put your finger on why things aren’t quite like they used to be.

How do you decide if it would make more sense to discontinue the relationship? When do you make the change? And how do you do it? I have sometimes struggled with the ifs, whens and hows.

I think it is part of the DNA of advisers to want to serve our clients no matter what, and thus very difficult to see that it is not always best for each party, even if it seems obvious. I give a lot of credit to a financial coaching firm I worked with many years ago for encouraging us as advisers to try to recognize when it’s time to say goodbye. They told us if we could recognize that the relationship was not working for everyone, it might be time to consider parting ways. In the end, they said, it’s often better for the client, better for the adviser, and better for the other client relationships.

Years ago, I had a client who, at the beginning of the relationship, fit the description of my ideal client. This person even added services over the years to the point where he was one of my highest revenue clients. In time, he began making requests that I felt were unrealistic and unreasonable. But, for a time, I stretched and successfully responded to each request, even though I was stressed by them. He persisted and made the same request again and again, also saying he was going to reach out to other advisers to get other quotes.

The stress on my business grew as the demands continued, even though each time he apologized afterward. After four of these anxious experiences, I realized that if it happened again, I would need to let the client go. Remembering the coaching, I thought it through on all fronts.

It would be better for my client to find another adviser who might provide a better overall fit, and thus my client would be better served in the long run. But also, I’d be less stressed as a result of no longer attending to requests that seemed inappropriate. And I’d be that much more fully available to help out my clients who were still with me. Ultimately it would be a win, win, win for all.

If realizing the need for a break up is tough, working through the breakup can seem worse – but try to remember the end result of things getting better for everyone.

Such was the case when I informed this particular client — in an email followed by a phone call — that I was resigning from our work together and that I felt I wasn’t the financial adviser to take him through the next phase of his financial life. As could be expected, he was at first upset and unhappy. I don’t know what happened with that client and his next advisers, but I do know that I slept better the first night after that conversation and went into the office the next day feeling much more relaxed.

And despite having to make some adjustments when that client revenue ended, in time, the loss of that client actually propelled me to make some major changes to my practice that took me to new professional heights. In the end, the move helped me better serve my remaining clients, add more ideal clients, and pursue other professional and personal goals for myself.

How to end a client relationship depends on the client relationship. Sometimes a letter is sufficient. Other times a phone call is best. And from time to time, an in-person meeting is the way the go. The breakup can be awkward, no doubt, and I don’t think there’s a template to follow. But it’s best to formalize the end of the relationship so the client knows his or her next steps, your staff knows what is happening — when and why — and everyone can go forward with eyes wide open.

In the end, this is all about the client and making sure your client is well served…even if you have decided you no longer want to be the adviser serving him.

———–

Armstrong is a certified financial planner with Centinel Financial Group in Needham Heights, Mass. He has guided clients since 1986 in matters of financial planning, insurance, investments, and retirement. He currently serves on the national boards of the Financial Planning Association and PridePlanners. His website is www.stuartarmstrong.com.

MONEY financial advisers

Get in Touch With Your Prejudices…About Money

Tipped scale
Steven Puetzer—Getty Images

Financial planners need to understand that their feelings about wealth are in fact their feelings — not necessarily their clients'.

It’s only human to hear and see a situation through the lens of our bias and experience. And that’s often where we tap into when we speak.

So, when years ago, a client of mine expressed how she and her boyfriend were “freaked out” by his sudden and very dramatic jump in income, I can forgive myself for bungling my reply. I don’t remember exactly what I blurted out, but it was probably something along the lines of “What do you mean freaked out? Most people would love to be in your situation.”

I saw their situation through my lens: If he were well paid for work that had been his life’s passion, that could only be a good thing. I just couldn’t relate to the stress they were feeling and the cascading dominoes of what that high income now meant for them.

The reality is that their stress was related to the change they were experiencing, the change that psychologist Jim Grubman, in his book Strangers in Paradise, likens to what immigrants experience upon arriving in a new land. With both my client and her boyfriend having earned modest incomes up until then, how would this high income change each of them? How would it impact their relationships now that they had arrived in the Land of Wealth? Could they adapt in a healthy way? What if they bungled it?

Because of my lens and the money scripts playing in my own head, my ears focused just on the part about their jump in income. It was only because I asked her to elaborate on her “freaking out” that I understood the stress they felt. It’s now easy to see that I should have known that wealth and stress often go hand in hand.

This experience reinforced how important it is to bring my own biases to the surface and identify the lens I wear. It also reiterated that while it’s essential to learn about tax strategies and portfolio design, it’s equally important to continually study the cultural and psychological aspects of money. These go hand in hand too.

It’s from this place of deeper self-awareness and deeper understanding of the psychological side of money that I can truly be present with my clients who experience a windfall, to anchor them as the tidal wave hits, and to move forward with them after the wave passes.

Here are some resources I’ve found helpful in understanding my own biases surrounding money and getting a better idea of what my clients are thinking:

  • The Soul of Money book and workshop with Lynne Twist (www.lynnetwist.com). This was very useful for me at the beginning of my financial planning career; it helped me let go of a lot of mental baggage related to money.
  • Money Psychology teleclasses with Olivia Mellan (www.moneyharmony.com). Taking her classes, along with being coached by her, increased my understanding of gender and money, and how couples communicate about money.
  • Facilitating Financial Health: Tools for Financial Planners, Coaches, and Therapists by Brad Klontz, Rick Kahler, and Ted Klontz. This important and accessible textbook for financial planners includes useful exercises to use with clients.
  • Strangers in Paradise by James Grubman (www.jamesgrubman.com). This book about generational wealth transfer among the superrich made me think more about what clients at all income levels go through when they become wealthier.
  • The Challenges of Wealth: Mastering the Personal and Financial Conflicts by Amy Domini, Dennis Pearne and Sharon Lee Rich. I read this when I had my first client who inherited wealth. It has exercises to help clients who feel knocked over by the experience.
  • Sudden Money: Managing a Financial Windfall by Susan Bradley and Mary Martin. Written for the general public, it has advice for dealing with specific types of windfalls, whether it results from the death of a parent or winning the lottery. One important lesson: In these situations, it’s as normal and helpful to have a therapist as it is to have a lawyer or accountant on the client’s financial team.

——————-

Jennifer Lazarus is a certified financial planner and the founder of Lazarus Financial Planning, an independent, fee-only firm specializing in the financial planning needs of socially responsible investors in their 20s to 50s. She most enjoys helping people reach a place of empowerment and financial calm.

MONEY Financial Planning

Here’s What Millennial Savers Still Haven’t Figured Out

Bank vault door
Lester Lefkowitz—Getty Images

Gen Y is taking saving seriously, a new survey shows. But they still don't know who to trust for financial advice.

The oldest millennials were toddlers in 1984, when a hit movie had even adults asking en masse “Who you gonna call?” Now this younger generation is asking the same question, though over a more real-world dilemma: where to get financial advice.

Millennials mistrust of financial institutions runs deep. One survey found they would rather go to the dentist than talk to a banker. They often turn to peers rather than a professional. One in four don’t trust anyone for sound money counseling, according to new research from Fidelity Investments.

Millennials’ most trusted source, Fidelity found, is their parents. A third look for financial advice at home, where at least they are confident that their own interests will be put first. Yet perhaps sensing that even Mom and Dad, to say nothing of peers, may have limited financial acumen, 39% of millennials say they worry about their financial future at least once a week.

Millennials aren’t necessarily looking for love in all the wrong places. Parents who have struggled with debt and budgets may have a lot of practical advice to offer. The school of hard knocks can be a valuable learning institution. And going it alone has gotten easier with things like auto enrollment and auto escalation of contributions, and defaulting to target-date funds in 401(k) plans.

Still, financial institutions increasingly understand that millennials are the next big wave of consumers and have their own views and needs as it relates to money. Bank branches are being re-envisioned as education centers. Mobile technology has surged front and center. There is a push to create the innovative investments millennials want to help change the world.

Eventually, millennials will build wealth and have to trust someone with their financial plan. They might start with the generally simple but competent information available at work through their 401(k) plan.

Clearly, today’s twentysomethings are taking this savings business seriously. Nearly half have begun saving, Fidelity found. Some 43% participate in a 401(k) plan and 23% have an IRA. Other surveys have found the generation to be even more committed to its financial future.

Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 71% of millennials eligible for a 401(k) plan participate and that 70% of millennials began saving at an average age of 22. By way of comparison, Boomers started saving at an average age of 35. And more than half of millennials in the Fidelity survey said additional saving is a top priority. A lot of Boomers didn’t feel that way until they turned 50. They were too busy calling Ghostbusters.

MONEY stocks

How to Stay Calm in a Rollercoaster Market

Man in business suit in hammock
PeopleImages.com—Getty Images

After a five-year bull market, investors worry that a big drop is right around the corner. Here are some ways advisers ease clients' fears.

Market swings are top-of-mind for people who still can’t relax, five years after the 2008-2009 stock market meltdown. Investors worry that the five-year bull market in stocks could suddenly turn.

Clients of financial advisers worry about market swings even more than they fear running out of money in retirement, according to a Russell Investments survey.

The reason? Many investors can’t erase memories of 2008, said Scott E. Couto, president of Fidelity Financial Advisor Solutions. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 54% between October 2007 and March 2009. After that dive, the market has risen 133% from March 9, 2009 to Sept. 29, 2014.

“Losing hurts worse than winning feels good,” Couto said. Many older investors are particularly cautious because they are taking retirement distributions, or will need to do so soon.

Relaxation Strategies

Advisers can ease clients’ fears by describing market swings in a long-term context, Couto said. For example, advisers can share statistics with clients to show how long it typically takes for markets to rebound after a downturn, and how stocks have yielded decent long-term returns, despite fluctuations.

Other strategies include holding the equivalent of a “Back to School” night for advisers to tell clients what to expect for the year, said John Anderson, a consultant for SEI Advisor Network in Oaks, Pa., who counsels advisers on running their practices.

Advisers can also prepare clients for future risk, Anderson said. For example, advisers could show estimates of how much money clients would lose if the S&P 500 stock index dropped 20%, 30%, or 40%. That could prompt clients to switch to less volatile investments or at least assess their risks.

That type of groundwork is part of every first meeting with new clients for Robert Schmansky, a financial advisor in Livonia, Mich. Most clients, as a result, never ask about market fluctuations, Schmansky said.

Schmansky’s strategy uses stocks to maximize growth, while balancing portfolios with less volatile assets such as Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) and short-term bonds.

The approach eases clients’ minds because they know that part of their portfolio is safe from market swings and always available for income, he said.

Such strategies have grown more popular since the 2008 crisis, said Couto. Some advisers now pitch “outcome-oriented” investing that focuses on clients’ objectives, such as having a certain dollar amount for retirement or putting kids through college, instead of returns. The adviser may speak of dividing assets into “buckets,” each designed for certain objectives, such as achieving growth, hedging against inflation, or preserving capital.

Some advisers go even broader when adding investments to clients’ portfolios. They may include commodities, such as gold or timber, which could move in a different direction from stocks, or market-neutral funds that claim to do well regardless of the direction of the market. Couto cautions, though, that the risks and fees associated with some such strategies may overwhelm the benefits.

He suggests advisers build stability into portfolios by adding less-volatile bonds, shares of dividend-paying companies and quality big companies with market values over $5 billion.

More importantly, having conversations about risk and volatility can separate the great advisers from the average ones, says Couto. “One of the best things advisers can do is help clients understand their long term objectivesand stay focused on their ‘personal economy,'” he says.

MONEY 401(k)s

5 Ways to Get Help With Your 401(k)

Most 401(k) plans now offer financial advice, often for free. Workers who take advantage of these programs tend to earn higher returns.

UPDATED: OCT. 7

When Chris Costello wanted to test his new online 401(k) advice service called blooom, he asked his sister if she would let him peek under the hood of her account.

What Costello found was typical of workers who do not pay much attention to their accounts—it was allocated badly, leaving her behind on her retirement goals.

In his sister’s case, she had put her funds in a money market account when the recession hit in 2008 and never moved them back into the market.

“It’s been like four or five years of recovery, and she had made like $10,” says Costello, who is co-founder and chief executive of blooom.

Overall, workers have more than $4.3 trillion invested in 401(k) plans, according to the Investment Company Institute. Yet many of the 52 million workers who participate in 401(k) are not good at making their own investment choices, experts say.

Studies show that workers who get investment advice from any source do better than those who receive no advice.

The difference can be more than 3% a year on returns or up to 80% over 25 years, according to a recent study by benefits consultant Aon Hewitt and 401(k) advice service Financial Engines.

“Left to their own devices, people either do nothing at all or pick poorly,” says Christopher Jones, chief investment officer at Financial Engines, the largest provider in the advice sector as ranked by assets under management.

So where can employees turn for guidance?

1. Start with your human resources department

You might already have access to advice, says Grant Easterbrook, an analyst who tracks online financial services for New York-based consulting firm Corporate Insight. He says even his own colleagues do not know they have access to free financial advice as an add-on benefit.

If you work at a big company, you might be one of the 600 clients of Financial Engines. Their free services include allocation advice and performance data. Other companies may employ consultants to give advice during open-enrollment periods or give access to calculators and other advice through the website of the 401(k) provider.

Employees at smaller companies might have to venture further to get help. “Three out of four participants don’t have access to an employer-based advisory tool,” says John Eaton, general manager of 401K GPS. “But there are a lot of DIY solutions out there.”

2. Get free advice on the Web

The Web offers a lot more these days than standard retirement calculators. You can obtain detailed advice on allocating funds in your specific retirement plan from several providers.

At FutureAdvisor and Kivalia, to name two, all you have to do is type in the name of your company and the system will generate a sample portfolio. You will then have to take that allocation advice and implement it on your own.

3. Pick managed funds or target-date funds

If you do not want to get too involved in the process—even to just pick a simple selection of index funds—your company will typically offer some kind of managed fund or target-date fund, a diversified fund linked to a future retirement date that gradually gets more conservative as you age, in their mix of choices.

When you allocate your money into these types of funds, you are buying the management expertise that comes with them, timed for a retirement date in the future. Sometimes that comes with stiff fees, so be sure to check the fine print, says Easterbrook.

“Absent engagement, it’s a reasonable approach to take,” adds Shane Bartling, a senior retirement consultant for benefit provider Towers Watson & Co.

4. Pay to have somebody manage it for you

Financial Engines has 800,000 subscribers who pay a percentage of their assets under management to monitor their 401(k) accounts and make changes accordingly. Others are GuidedChoice, which offers its services through providers such as ADP, Schwab, and Morningstar, which reaches 99,000 different plans.

Start-ups are emerging as well, either charging a flat fee such as $10 a month or a fee based on how much money you have.

401K GPS, which launched in 2011, operates primarily through investment advisers and small employers. There is also blooom, MyPlanIQ, Co-Piloted and Smart401k.

5. Do not opt out of auto-enrollment

The majority of people will still do nothing, but that may be a savvy option. Financial Engine’s Jones says some companies are making workers re-enroll in 401(k) plans and defaulting them into managed accounts to get them to diversify.

“When we do that, about 60% of population will stay in these programs,” says Jones. About 15% of active investors will opt out because they are already getting advice.

UPDATE: In the auto-enrollment section, the default allocation was corrected.

MONEY financial advice

Schwab Readies Low-Cost Robo-Broker Service for Millennials

Within weeks, the brokerage may introduce free, automated portfolio management to lure younger investors.

Charles Schwab is weeks away from introducing an automated investing service aimed at winning business from novice investors it does not currently serve, company officials told Reuters.

The service is being developed in-house and likely will be free, giving the San Francisco-based discount brokerage pioneer a leg up on a slew of upstart firms known as robo-brokers that charge management fees of 0.15% to 0.35% of a client’s assets.

It would position Schwab as the first conventional brokerage with its own robo-broker offering. In automated investing plans, clients fill out questionnaires about investment goals and risk tolerances. Their answers automatically determine the portfolios of exchange-traded funds or other assets they buy.

Executives at some large broker-dealers, which typically charge 1% to 3% of client assets in managed account programs, have said they do not feel threatened by robo-brokers because they make money offering more sophisticated wealth-planning and investment services to wealthy clients.

But they also want to nurture younger investors to replace affluent but aging Baby Boomers, the bulk of their client base.

Schwab is betting young investors in early stages of wealth accumulation will remain in-house and use more sophisticated advisory services as they prosper or as markets become complicated, one source said. Like other brokerage firms, it receives payments from mutual funds its clients use as well as interest that accumulates on cash held in their accounts.

The automated service is expected to include features such as automatic portfolio rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting that some robo-brokers recently introduced.

Neesha Hathi, head of technology solutions for independent investment advisers who use Schwab services, told Reuters on Thursday the program would likely be introduced this month. She did not comment on details, but a person familiar with the plan said it would be introduced without fees.

In July, chief executive Walt Bettinger told investors Schwab was working on “an online advisory solution,” but declined to provide details on timing or whether it would build or buy a robo-service.

A Schwab spokeswoman said Friday she could not comment further.

Schwab currently offers almost 200 commission-free exchange-traded funds, including several managed by the company.

“Schwab definitely has a track record of entering a market by underpricing or pricing low, but I don’t think it has a proven way to dominate markets,” said Adam Nash, chief executive of Wealthfront, the largest robo-broker with more than $1.4 billion of client assets.

As of June 30, Schwab had $2.4 trillion of total client assets, including $11.5 billion of net new assets gathered in the second quarter.

Nash would not say whether Wealthfront, which charges a flat advisory fee of 0.25 percent and waives the fee on accounts with $10,000 or less, will adjust its fees to compete with Schwab.

Another robo firm, Betterment, “would not alter pricing” if Schwab introduced a free service, said a spokeswoman. “We offer an incredible value.”

Some consultants said Schwab risks antagonizing outside investment advisers who use its services and fear losing clients, but technology head Hathi disagreed.

“There’s more of an opportunity here than there is competition,” she said, noting that most turn away smaller investors and younger members of families that are clients. “What Walt talked about is that here’s a solution for advisers that’s going to allow them to serve those accounts.”

MONEY Financial Planning

How to Be Charitable…and Hold Onto Your Money

Bench in Yosemite Valley.
Bench in Yosemite Valley. Geri Lavrov—Getty Images

You can inexpensively plan for a donation from your 401(k) while retaining access to the account if you need it.

After they got married, I met with Luke and Jane, both 33, to think through how much they are going to spend and how much they are going to save. Luke is a gentle soul. It took him many years to find work that he could feel good about, and he currently has a good-paying job. He wants to keep working forever.

Part of him seemed shocked, although happily so, by his fortunate financial situation. He feels that he and his wife together make a lot more money than they need.

If he knew their finances were always going to be the way they are now, he’d give more money away. He gets a lot of satisfaction from financially supporting changes he feels are positive in the world.

One of the things that Jane loves about her husband is his philanthropic bent. But she’s also concerned they might give a lot of money away and then regret it. They plan to start a family within the next five years. How can they decide to give money away when they might need it later?

I left our meeting somewhat frustrated, because I didn’t have a great answer to their conundrum.

Meanwhile, I was working on a book about connecting all areas of finances with meaning. Previous authors have explored how to consciously spend or invest. But I wanted to write about not only spending and investing, but also taxes, estate planning, and insurance — all areas of personal finance.

The book idea sounded good. Then I had to write the thing. I know a lot about the subject, but when I got to the chapter about estate planning, I drew a blank.

After what I deemed an appropriate length of procrastination, I started writing the dreaded estate chapter. I found myself thinking about Luke. At the same time, I was reviewing everything I do when I talk to clients about estates, focusing on the angle of more meaning. More meaning.

Then some ideas started sparking.

Reviewing 401(k) beneficiaries, for instance, is something I talk about during estate planning meetings. Seems mundane, but wait, there could be something there. This is cool, I thought as I wrote.

What if Luke designated someof his 401(k) — or all, if he really wanted — to charity? Say, the National Parks?

It wouldn’t cost Luke a dime now. Plus, it’s totally revocable before he dies. If and when Jane and he have kids, he’ll revoke the designation. So during his critical period of family financial responsibility, he can leave his 401(k) to Jane and the family. But if it’s just Jane and him, setting aside some money in case of his untimely death is one answer to the conundrum — how to give more without regretting it.

Other details I uncovered when I wrote and researched this strategy: Larger, well-established charities are more likely able than smaller ones to handle a 401(k) donation. The theater company down the street generally won’t.

Setting up this designation doesn’t cost anything; Luke doesn’t have to talk to an attorney. Jane will have to sign off on it, but she’s fine with it.

Other perks? He might be able to designate what his 401(k) donation is used for, in the case of his death, and the charity might recognize him on a plaque at his favorite park. Charities vary on how they recognize these gifts. The recognition isn’t just for ego gratification; it encourages other people to give, too.

Luke doesn’t have to risk their retirement, and I’ve got a good idea for my estate chapter.

————————

Bridget Sullivan Mermel helps clients throughout the country with her comprehensive fee-only financial planning firm based in Chicago. She’s the author of the upcoming book More Money, More Meaning. Both a certified public accountant and a certified financial planner, she specializes in helping clients lower their tax burden with tax-smart investing.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser