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Why Won't We Use Financial Advisers?

Many Americans are jittery about their retirement prospects, but refuse to get the help they need

posted by Richard Eisenberg, November 8, 2012 More by this author

A couple meeting with a financial adviser.

Richard Eisenberg is the senior Web editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Assistant Managing Editor for the site. Follow him on Twitter @richeis315.


A couple meeting with a financial adviser.
iStockphoto/ThinkStock
America seems to have a Whip Whitaker problem with financial advisers.
 
Whitaker is the character played by Denzel Washington in the new film, Flight. He’s an ace airline pilot who also has a serious drinking problem. He knows he’s an alcoholic, but can’t bring himself to do anything about it.
 
The Whip Whitaker problem facing many people in their 40s, 50s and 60s is that they know they need financial advice, but somehow can’t find it or can’t bring themselves to hire a professional to get it. And even when they do, they fail to implement the guidance.
 
That’s my takeaway from the disturbing new Financial Advice Survey conducted for TIAA-CREF, a financial services firm that provides retirement services to academia and other fields.

(MORE: Women and Financial Advisers: A Rocky Relationship)
 
The striking bottom line: 56 percent of respondents age 45 to 54 said, “Now more than ever I need a trusted place for financial advice” — and 45 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds felt the same way.
 
Why People Don't Use Money Pros

But despite acknowledging they need help, boomers generally are not consulting professionals. That’s often because they say they don’t know where to get advice or they fear they can’t afford advisers’ services.
 
Roughly half of those 45 to 64 surveyed said it’s not very easy for them to find relevant financial advice. “That shocked me,” said Dan Keady, director of financial planning at TIAA-CREF, based in Charlotte, N.C.
 
And about 40 percent said, “I think good financial advice will be more than I can afford.”
 
Instead of hiring experts, midlifers are often seeking words of wisdom from friends and family — that’s the case for about 40 percent of people 45 to 54. But those free tips could be extremely costly.
 
“Your friends and family may be in very different financial circumstances than you are,” Keady said. “They also may not have a good grasp of your situation. And they may not have the expertise.”
 
Here’s what I consider the survey’s whopper: Only 25 percent of respondents 45 to 54 who receive financial advice act on it. Without implementation, of course, all the smart financial advice in the world isn’t worth a hill of beans.
 
Retirement Worries Are Sky High

Yet this is all happening at a time when Americans’ fears about their ability to build assets before retiring are at an all-time high — and rightly so.
 
The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College just published the latest results of its National Retirement Risk Index, sponsored by Prudential, which found that 44 percent of Americans 50 to 59 may not be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Worse: A full 55 percent of those 40 to 49 face the risk of a dip in their standard of living in retirement.
 
If you’re jittery about money and retirement, don’t be like Whip Whitaker. Instead, as Keady tells his financial planning clients, “Understand that you’ve got a problem.” Next, he says, realize the impact of not taking action, then figure out how you can shore up your finances so you and your family will be better off.
 
(MORE: Evaluating Your Financial Adviser)
 
Don't cite an inability to find a pro as an excuse. Take the time to find a top-flight one — now. “It seems to me it is easy to find advisers in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet,” says Jack Waymire, founder of Investorwatchdog.com, a consumer-protection site. "What is difficult is finding high quality, trustworthy advisers."
 
In a Next Avenue article, Waymire noted that Investor Watchdog researched 205 certifications, designations and accreditations used by financial planners — and found that 37 percent of them were low quality and 51 percent were mediocre. Only 12 percent of the designations were high quality.
 
How to Find an Adviser

Begin your quest for a top-notch adviser by searching an online directory. The website for the Certified Financial Planners (CFP) Board of Standards, letsmakeaplan.org, lets you sort CFPs by location as well as by the amount of money you have to invest, the way the planner is compensated and the adviser’s specialization. The Financial Planning Association's website has similar slicing methods; it also lets you look for a pro based on your income.
 
Don’t allow the cost of hiring an adviser stop you from taking the plunge. “You don’t need to have a million dollars,” Keady says. “Some Certified Financial Planners will do the work for a modest hourly fee.” (One reputable option is Garrett Financial Network.)
 
And if you’re looking for a professional specifically to help get you on track for retirement, take a look at Jeff Wuorio’s Next Avenue article, Why You Should Hire a Retirement Planner.
 
Now, please, get the financial help you need — and put the advice to work.
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