Find out the Cost of Hiring a Financial Planner

An apples to apples comparison on financial advisor fees.
Here's a comparison of financial advisor fee structures. Chris Stein/Digital Vision/Getty Images

 

Financial advisor fees vary. Some advisors charge fees in the form of commissions; others in the form of an hourly rate, or percentage of your account value. Here are the six most common ways financial advisors charge fees.

  1. Percentage of assets that they manage on your behalf, typically anywhere from 1% - 2% per year. The more assets you have, the lower the fee.
  2. Commissions paid to them from financial or insurance products you buy through them.
  1. Combination of fees and commissions sometimes called "fee-based."
  2. Hourly rate.
  3. Flat fee to complete a specified project.
  4. Quarterly or annual retainer fee.

Details on each of these payment options are covered below.

1. Percent of Account Value

This is one of the most common ways that a financial advisor, or investment advisor, will charge.

When you hire an advisor who is compensated in this way, it is important to understand if they are providing investment management and financial planning, or just investment management. Expect to pay a higher fee if they are providing full-service financial planning along with investment management. 

You will also want to ask an advisor who charges in this way if they are fee-only or fee-based. Fee-only advisors are more likely to use low-cost funds in your account, minimizing the overall expenses you will pay. Fee-based advisors may be able to collect commissions, in addition, the percentage fee charged on assets.

With a percentage of assets payment agreement as your account value grows, the advisor will make more money. If your account value goes down, they will make less money. In this way, they have an incentive to grow your account and to minimize losses.

Many clients like this structure as fees are debited right from accounts so no check has to be written and the fees don't have to come out of the monthly budget.

And fees debited from IRAs are being paid with pre-tax dollars which can be great for those in retirement.

A  can range from 2.0% per year on the high side to .50% per year on the low side. Typically the more assets you have, the lower the fee. 

Some planners have come up with interesting variations on this payment option, such as planners who charge a percentage of net worth (with the goal of helping you increase your worth), or a percentage of adjusted gross income (with the goal of offering career counseling to help you boost your income). 

Many online advisor search engines allow you to search by specific criteria such as what type of payment structure the advisors use.

2. Commissions

This is one of the most common ways that a financial salesperson charges for their services. Some of these people are good financial advisors; some are just good salespeople. Their advice can be influenced by the way they are compensated.

Commissions can take the form of a  charged on a mutual fund, a surrender charge on an annuity or commissions may be paid directly to the advisor from the investment company, as in the case of the sale of many non-publicly traded .

Ask for a clear explanation of how your advisor is paid, and exactly how much they will receive if you buy the investments or insurance products they recommend.

3. Combination of Fees and Commissions

Many advisors today can collect fees and commissions. They often use the term fee-based. It is important to understand the difference between a fee-only advisor, and a fee-based advisor. Fee-only advisors cannot collect commissions.

NAPFA, the , has copyrighted their "fee-only" logo and member advisors must submit documentation and take an oath that they do not sell any investment or insurance products. NAPFA can be a great resource to use if you are looking for a fee-only financial planner or investment advisor.

4. Hourly Rate

This can be a great way to pay for financial advice if you are willing to implement the advice on your own.

For example, you may pay a financial advisor an hourly rate to tell you how to allocate the investments in your 401(k) plan. Then you would be responsible for actually making the changes they suggested.

Since an hourly rate is not tied to the value of investments, or generated by the purchase of any specific investment, you can feel confident you will receive objective advice.

Just like attorneys, or accountants,  widely from planner to planner. Expect to pay a higher hourly rate for experienced advisors, or advisors who have an area of specialty. Lower rates will be charged by less experienced advisors.

To find an advisor that charges an hourly rate check out the  which offers a search service to connect you with their network of planners who offer advice at an hourly rate.

5. Flat Fee to Complete a Specific Project

When you need a project completed, such as an initial retirement plan, it may make sense to pay a flat fee to have someone crunch the numbers, and help you understand all the moving parts that go into creating an accurate retirement plan projection.

Since a flat fee is not tied to the value of investments, or generated by the purchase of any specific investment, you can feel confident you will receive objective advice.

The fee should be quoted upfront, along with a clear description of what will be provided for that fee. Ask if follow-up meetings or questions are included.

6. Retainer Fee

If you have a more complex situation, such as ongoing stock options to be exercised, a small business, rental properties, or a need for regular income from your investments, then you may benefit from paying for ongoing advice.

Since a retainer fee is not tied to the value of investments, or generated by the purchase of any specific investment, you can feel confident you will receive objective advice.

After learning about the complexity of your situation, an advisor can tell you what your quarterly or annual retainer fee would be, and what services are included in that fee. A written contract detailing the fee and services is usually provided.

How Can I Know How my Investment Advisor Will be Paid?

Always ask a financial advisor for a clear explanation of how they will be compensated before you hire them. This is one question you would want to ask any potential financial advisor. Look for an honest, straight-forward answer and steer clear of folks who try to avoid the question, tell you not to worry about or imply that services are free.

Also note, in this article, I use the term financial advisor, investment advisor, and financial planner interchangeably, but someone's title may not provide an accurate depiction of the service they offer. You'll need to ask questions to find out the type of planning or advice they provide.