Should You Use a Financial Planner or an Investment Adviser?

couple-meeting-financial-advisor-916x516From 1998 to 2013, the number of Fortune 500 companies offering pensions to their employees fell from 60% to 24%, according to The Washington Post. With the decline of unionism and loss of employee bargaining power, corporate managements have aggressively replaced pensions with profit-sharing plans, essentially transferring the risk of retirement planning and investment management to their employees. It is possible that the Social Security program will be similarly transformed, making retirees responsible for investing funds through private accounts. However, the truth is that few people are prepared to manage their own retirement funds – as Howard Gold writes in MarketWatch, “Most investors have no idea of what they’re doing.”
In the last half-century, the financial markets have become increasingly complex with new products, new markets, and changing tax laws. Technology makes it possible for investors to remain informed 24-7 about events that may affect their stock positions and to enter trades from the comfort of their home. At the same time, they must compete with robo-trading programs that react to news and market activity faster than any human can. As a consequence, according to Rosalind Resnick writing in Entrepreneur, even people capable of managing their own capital should carefully consider whether a go-it-alone approach to investing makes sense.
Whether due to a lack of training, interest, or time, many individuals are turning to professional advisors to help them navigate the perilous waters of personal finance. In some cases, advice covers the entire spectrum of financial services, ranging from budgeting, to creating specialized trusts and estate plans. In others, the consultant’s primary responsibility is limited to a specific need, such as managing a portfolio of investments or developing effective tax strategies.
Seeking and finding the perfect advisor is not always easy, especially in an industry filled with confusing acronyms. According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), there were more than 160 different professional designations. In addition, terms such as financial analyst, financial advisor, financial consultant, and wealth manager are generic titles and can be used by anyone without registering with securities regulators or meeting educational or experience qualifications. To add further confusion, many consultants add multiple titles and designations to their resumes, making it difficult to determine which services they actually provide.

Do You Need Financial Planning Advice or Portfolio Management Services?

While the terms “financial planning” and “investment advice” are often used interchangeably, they refer to different skill sets. As a consequence, two of the more popular designations – certified financial planner (CFP) and registered investment advisor (RIA) – are regulated under different authorities.
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Is an Extended Warranty the Cost?

“Would you like the AppleCare Protection Plan for your computer?” asked the salesman. I had just purchased a new 27-inch iMac at my local Apple store. The plan, available for $169, would extend the manufacturer’s warranty from one to three years and would include technical support, as needed. The cost seemed reasonable, especially since I was spending more than $2,000 for the iMac. I had to ask myself, “Will I need the extra protection?”

How Extended Warranties Work

An extended warranty is an agreement or contract to repair, replace, or maintain an identified vehicle, residential or other property due to operational or structural failure from a defect in materials, workmanship, and, in some cases, normal wear and tear. It is generally sold as an add-on product, and covers a specific duration of time in return for the premium paid. Extended warranties sometimes offer additional service options or more flexible terms than the manufacturer’s original warranty.
While appearing to be a type of insurance, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners ruled in 1995 that extended warranties were not insurance, but extended service contracts. While the extended warranty industry has been regulated by various state insurance boards, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (established under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010) is expected by many in the industry to replace the various state regulators for a more consistent approach.

Parties to an Extended Warranty Contract

The sale and administration of an extended warranty or service contract requires a combination of separate functions, although a single entity may perform several in some cases. Parties include:

  • Purchaser/Owner. The person or entity who purchases the extended warranty and is entitled to its benefits, subject to contractual conditions.
  • Principal/Obligor. The entity that assumes the risk in the contract and is financially responsible for the costs of repair, replacement, or maintenance. Some principals self-insure (keep the risk), while others purchase third-party insurance to reduce a portion (or all) of the risk.
  • <;i>Service Contract Provider. The entity that actually delivers the warranty services – i.e., repair or replacement of the damaged product – to the purchaser of the extended warranty. This can be an unrelated third-party, manufacturer, distributor, or retailer of the product.

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