NerdWallet: You CAN do your own financial planning. Here are some tips and resources

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

In one particular chicken-and-egg debate, what comes first is clear: It makes sense to hire a financial adviser only after you can afford one — not in the hopes of building wealth someday.

Financial advisers often require a minimum amount of investible assets (for many advisers that amount is at least $250,000), and their fees can place financial planning out of reach for many. Fortunately, there are less expensive — even free — resources that make financial planning accessible to most people.

Because time is a powerful ally when it comes to building your money, it’s important to get started as soon as possible. Here’s how to begin.

Find quality free advice

A good financial adviser asks questions to understand a client’s finances and goals; do-it-yourselfers can find tools to replicate those steps. The internet is awash with information, including tools for creating (and keeping to) a budget, seeing how much home you can afford, and calculating loan payments or your readiness for retirement.

The following sources of free financial advice can help you navigate this journey:

Financial institutions. It’s hip to talk about personal finance and you may have access to tools and other useful information from your current providers. Many banks and credit unions have free budgeting and financial-planning tools. Employers and 401(k) providers offer retirement-planning tools. Online brokers have a variety of educational resources related to investing — TD Ameritrade and Ally Invest are among those that offer such information to anyone free, with no customer login required.

Reputable resources. Whether you consult a blog or a bank, look for a policy of editorial independence that ensures you’re not getting biased advice. Search for disclosures about how a company or blog makes money, whether content is sponsored by an advertiser or business partnership and for assurances that the people writing reviews aren’t influenced by such affiliations.

Specialized organizations. If you’ve been derailed by a financial issue (such as bankruptcy or tax problems), a number of organizations offer free, or nearly free, advice. For example, the IRS’ Taxpayer Advocate Service can help you resolve tax problems, while the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education offers affordable financial coaching to help you to solve money challenges.

Build your foundation

Strive to master these basics as soon as possible:

  • Setting a budget.
  • Funding a rainy day account to cover emergency expenses. Aim for $500 to start, then gradually build toward covering a few months’ expenses.
  • Saving for retirement. If your employer matches part of your 401(k) contributions, grab that free money.
Then, bring on the robots

Next, focus on investing money you won’t need to tap within five years. Automated services called robo advisers offer an easy way to get started. The services use computer algorithms to select and manage a portfolio for you. They’re attractive for beginner investors for two important reasons: low fees and low minimum balance requirements. Many robo advisers charge fees ranging from 0.25% to 0.50% of invested assets, and several providers don’t require a minimum amount to open an account.

Robo advisers offer additional perks, including educational resources for help with planning for retirement or other financial goals, like buying a house. Many of these companies recognize that customers also want hands-on assistance — and they’ve included access to a human adviser in the fees you’re already paying. Wealthsimple and SoFi Wealth, for example, offer access to human advisers while still meeting low-cost and low-balance thresholds.

Capitalize on compound interest

Compound interest — when you earn interest both on your initial investment and the interest it’s already earned — is why you want to begin investing as early as possible. If you invest $1,000 in your 20s, it will grow to nearly $10,300 after 40 years assuming a 6% rate of return. But wait until your 30s to start and, with only 30 years to grow, that $1,000 will be just under $5,750.

As your financial situation becomes more complicated, you may eventually decide that working with a human adviser will best help you to achieve your goals. Meanwhile, because time is key to growing wealth, it’s important to begin planning your financial future as soon as possible.

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Anna-Louise Jackson is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: ajackson@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @aljax7.


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