How to Choose a Financial Advisor

You know the importance of saving for retirement, but do you have the time and know-how to accomplish your financial goals? In an increasingly busy world, it’s possible that keeping close tabs on your investment accounts isn’t exactly realistic.

Seeking the help of financial professionals has become more important to investors according to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation, as nearly one quarter (22 percent) of investors report relying more on a professional investment advisor following the recession.

Even if you have a good handle on your investments, you may find that hiring a financial advisor — who can put the time and energy into making sure you and your family plan for a secure financial future — may be a worthwhile investment. By hiring an independent registered investment advisor — commonly referred to as an RIA — you can make sure your investments are managed on a full-time basis by a professional advisor, while still having control.

Of course deciding to put someone in charge of your hard-earned money is not a process to be taken lightly.  Our preferred custodian, TD Ameritrade,  and we offer these tips to consider as you choose an independent financial advisor or RIA:

* Just as it is wise to do research on the background of anyone who would take care of your children, you should investigate the person or company you enlist to handle your money. The Securities and Exchange Commission, Inc. (www.adviserinfo.sec.gov), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (www.finra.org), Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (www.cfp.net), National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (findanadvisor.napfa.org/Home.aspx), and Financial Planning Association (http://www.fpanet.org/PlannerSearch/PlannerSearch.aspx), as well as your own state securities agency all collect background information on financial professionals that can be accessed through their websites. Use these sites to make sure the advisors you are considering haven’t faced disciplinary action for dishonest practices and are in good standing with regulators.

* Know the difference between working with an independent RIA and a stock broker, or other financial services provider. Independent RIAs, for example, are bound by law to act in their clients’ best interest. Brokers, on the other hand, are held to a “suitability” standard, meaning the advice they give must be suitable to that client’s situation. If you are looking for objective, comprehensive money management, you might want to consider an RIA.

* While RIAs are required by law to act in your best interest, there are other ways that you can ensure they will do what is best for you. One is to ask how they are compensated. Fee-only compensation generally minimizes conflicts of interest and means that your advisor is paid only for the management services and advice he or she offers, and only by you, not by investment product providers. When an advisor is paid on commission, there’s a greater chance he or she will make choices with your money that serve not only your interests, but their own as well. That’s not to say that advisors do not work fairly under this model, but potential conflicts of interest are something to consider as you choose an advisor.

* When looking for referrals from friends or relatives, the most valuable referrals may come from those in similar situations. It’s also a good idea to ask potential advisors if they specialize in working with certain types of clients and choose one that fits your unique profile.

* A third party custodian should also handle all your deposits, to ensure checks and balances. An independent custodian like TD Ameritrade can help ensure the safety and security of your assets, and will provide you with a clear, concise statement every month. A duplicate monthly statement is also sent to your advisor. Make sure this is also a legitimate and upstanding business.

Working with a trusted independent fee-only RIA can help you realize your financial goals, while allowing you to spend less time worrying about and managing your investments. If you need help and would like to talk to a fee-only planner with no sales pressure, cost  or obligation, please visit our web site at http://www.ydfs.com or call YDream Financial Services, Inc. at (615) 395-2010 or (734) 447-5305.

What’s Going on With the Markets-March 10, 2011

Since the beginning of last September, the stock markets have enjoyed a nearly uninterrupted bull uptrend which has been unprecedented in market history.  Fueled by improving economics and Federal Reserve actions, the uptrend has withstood many geopolitical, fiscal and news driven setbacks.  But today the political unrest in the Middle East, issues with Spanish debt repayment and a higher than expected weekly first-time unemployment claim number (497,000) were the 1-2-3 punch that the markets could not recover from and therefore we suffered a 1.5-2.5% setback.  Be it stocks, gold, silver or oil today, they were all down today.

Normally, up-trending bull markets such as the one we’re in take rest periods, or “corrections” as they’re called, every couple of months while individuals and institutions take profits on stock positions and reset stock prices back to normal levels. Corrections (usually 10-20% of an index value such as the S&P 500) are healthy for the market and while uncomfortable if you watch them unfold from day to day, allow the markets to set up for the next leg up.  Two years to the day yesterday into this bull run have seen us move up about 100% from the March 9, 2009 lows on the S&P 500 index. Without a doubt, this has been an incredible run and I hope you’ve been participating.

As I’ve discussed with clients and prospects recently, a correction in the market has been long overdue and anticipated.  While today was the first big down day where we really tested key levels in the indexes, there have been several signs of exhaustion in the market. Despite this, I cannot say with certainty whether we’ve definitively entered into a correction period (technically we have, but it needs to be confirmed with follow-through on Friday and next week.)  If the bulls get their act together tomorrow and “rescue” the market by pushing it back up through heavy volume buying, then this decline may be “all she wrote.”  If not, we could head down to test the 1275 level of the S&P 500 index (we closed at 1295 today).  A failure to hold the 1275 level means that large institutions have decided to continue selling and a drop to 1240 may need to exhaust sellers.

With the “Day of Rage” demonstrations scheduled for Friday in Saudi Arabia, rocketing oil prices and sovereign debt issues, the odds of avoiding a deeper correction are not very high.  Besides, this correction is long overdue and may occur regardless of how peacefully the Middle East situation is resolved or even if oil prices come back down to earth.

What do I think? As I’ve mentioned before, the Federal Reserve has made investing in anything but the stock market earn near zero returns. That is, the government wants us to buy equities, push the stock market (and IRA’s and 401(k)’s) higher, to make us feel richer and more confident and therefore spend more.  Spending more creates demand which in turn creates jobs and so on.  So I believe that the gentle (if somewhat invisible) hand will come in to help support the market and avoid a protracted decline that might scare off the latest entrants into the market. While my crystal ball is still in the shop, I believe that a decline beyond 1275 in the S&P 500 (another 1.5%) is a stretch.  While that would make it a very shallow correction, it may be enough to breathe new life into the stock market and help resume the uptrend.

So what should you do now in light of a possible correction?  Basically, you shouldn’t do much if anything since nothing is confirmed.  If you’re investing on your own, trying to time your “in’s and out’s” of the markets is nearly impossible and not recommended unless you’re an experienced trader.  If you have a profitable position and worry about it turning into a loss, you may decide to sell a portion or all of it.  More savvy investors may be able to hedge their positions with options or inverse ETF’s if the decline proves to be protracted.  From our end for our clients, I’m watching the market technical levels on a daily basis like a hawk and already have begun to harvest some profits and protect some positions. If a protracted downturn does materialize, I may also hedge portfolios with inverse ETF’s and selectively liquidate partial positions.  But we’re not there yet and I’m not making any recommendations.  And by no means do I think we’re entering another bear market (by definition, a bear market begins when we decline 20% from the last peak in a major index).  Non-clients should consult their current advisor (or me) if you’re unsure what to do in the event of a protracted decline and should not treat this as a recommendation to buy or sell anything (see disclaimer below).

Last year we declined nearly 15% from May through August amid sovereign debt worries and economic uncertainty and then proceeded to push up nearly 25% over the next six months. I still believe that we will end 2011 with double-digit gains in the markets as this economy matures from recovery to expansion.  All economic indicators point positively and last month we even added nearly 200,000 new jobs.  We may even see housing perk up a bit later this year.  Without a doubt, sustained oil prices above $125 per barrel and $4 gasoline for an extended period (6 months or more), will put a crimp into the expansion, but I don’t believe we’re heading for a long term spike in oil prices.  Let’s just say that the oil producing countries learned what supply constraints and speculation did to oil demand the last time oil spiked to $145 a barrel. More electric and hybrid cars is just one example of how we are learning to live with less demand for foreign oil.

I hope this message helps alleviate any anxiety over the recent down days in the market.  Remember that the media loves good negative stories to help sell newspapers and advertising. Avoid the noise and try to keep your sanity during the days when it seems like there’s always something bad going on in the world.  Middle Eastern concerns have been a worry for decades, if not centuries now, and likely won’t be resolved during our lifetimes.  Like every other world incident, the markets get back to normal and we get through them.

Enjoy the upcoming weekend and don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any help.  If you’re not a client, your consultation with me is complimentary, no-pressure and with no obligation.  I’d love to talk to you whether or not you’re considering hiring a financial planner or money manager.

Sam H. Fawaz CFP®, CPA is president of YDream Financial Services, Inc., a registered investment advisor. Sam is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Certified Public Accountant and registered member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) fee-only financial planner group.  Sam has expertise in many areas of personal finance and wealth management and has always been fascinated with the role of money in society.  Helping others prosper and succeed has been Sam’s mission since he decided to dedicate his life to financial planning.  He specializes in entrepreneurs, professionals, company executives and their families.

All material presented herein is believed to be reliable, but we cannot attest to its accuracy.  Investment recommendations may change and readers are urged to check with their investment advisors before making any investment decisions.  Opinions expressed in this writing by Sam H. Fawaz are his own, may change without prior notice and should not be relied upon as a basis for making investment or planning decisions.  No person can accurately forecast or call a market top or bottom, so forward looking statements should be discounted and not relied upon as a basis for investing or trading decisions. This message was authored by Sam H. Fawaz CPA, CFP and is provided by YDream Financial Services, Inc.

My no-nonsense no-spam policy: If you’d prefer not to receive future updates, just reply and let me know by typing “unsubscribe” in the subject (please don’t hit the spam button-it just puts me on a universal spammer’s list which is tough to get off of.)I’ll take you off my list immediately and permanently.  I will never sell, share, rent or give away your e-mail address to anyone.  Period.

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