Editor's Note: Retirement-planning in normal times is like home maintenance with a little bit of effort and expense, applied regularly over time, you keep your structure sound. But planning right now is like figuring out what to do after a tornado blows your kitchen and garage into the next county. Despite the market s recent rally, many people s nest egg portfolios remain mangled beyond recognition. In this special report, SmartMoney features advice that can help investors roll up their sleeves and rebuild.>
Terry Rich thinks> of himself as pretty self-sufficient. For 35 years he did sales and marketing, living out of a suitcase for weeks at a time. But when the Dayton, Ohio, native retired last summer, he realized he wasn t sure what to do with the retirement portfolio that he and his wife, Lin, had built and the choppier the markets got, the more uncertain he became. So for the first time, he began working with a financial adviser, Doug Kinsey. Kinsey s first suggestion: Move Lin s savings out of two aggressive stock mutual funds and into a bond fund. Not long afterward, the stock market went into free fall, but the Riches portfolio lost only about 5 percent. Terry says it s a move that he probably wouldn t have thought of himself. It makes you wonder, he says, if we made it through all those years on pure luck.
To an independent-minded investor, the idea that anyone needs a financial adviser may sound like heresy. And indeed, many investors can do just fine without hand-holding. In an era when even toddlers using E-Trade could make money swapping stocks (or so the ads suggested), low-fee brokerage accounts made an awful lot of sense to many people even after the impact of the 2001 tech bubble. About one in six investors traded stocks online in 2008, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the number of online accounts has risen sharply since the crash began.
Still, there s no denying that as the market plummeted last fall, many do-it-yourselfers got hammered. Such investors often hook their wagon to a single big financial firm and invest mostly in that company s funds, thus simplifying paperwork and keeping costs down. And some popular fund families did particularly poorly last year. At fund giant Fidelity, for example, 36 percent of the company s funds finished 2008 in the bottom quartile of performers. Of course, plenty of investors who hired planners also had a lousy year. Recent surveys suggest that investors with advisers haven t been any more satisfied with their performance than those without.
If anything, an adviser may offer the most help to investors who are too emotional about their financial decisions. One study by Financial Research Corp., a research firm, looked at data from 1990 through 2000 and compared investing patterns of independent investors with those getting professional advice. The do-it-yourselfers did slightly worse, mostly because they traded more frequently, trying (and failing) to time the market. Unassisted investors were also more likely to buy a fund immediately after it experienced its best performing quarter buying high, instead of low. Shlomo Benartzi, a behavioral economist at University of California Los Angeles, says that an investor with a good adviser can be insulated from some bad investing impulses, like obsessing over short-term losses and failing to diversify. Lots of the benefit of having a financial adviser is the hand-holding and counseling, he says.
If Benartzi s list of bad impulses sounds like your modus operandi, it may be time to get help. Experts say it s often best to choose a fee-only adviser they re less likely to steer clients into certain funds or annuities just to earn a commission. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors has a list at www.napfa.org that can be a good starting point. Naturally, it s always worth talking to an adviser s other clients to get a sense of how they work. The most useful advisers also have strong ties to tax experts and estate-planning attorneys. John Bowen, CEO of CEG Worldwide, a coaching firm for planners, suggests that investors with smaller portfolios choose an adviser who s paid hourly, instead of compensated by taking a chunk of assets under management. As Bowen points out, the hourly fee gives the good advisers motivation to work with you.
Read the rest of our special report: