So now what? If the government can't protect you from unscrupulous conflicted advisers, what can you do to protect yourself? Here are a few simple steps to take.
- First, ask your adviser whether he or she is a fiduciary.
- If she is not a fiduciary, ask her about the fees associated with the investment she's recommending, and how those fees compare with other investments. Ask whether she will earn a commission if you choose the investment.
- If she is a fiduciary, you may be paying a management fee in addition to fees charged by the investment funds you select. Over the course of time, those fees will eat up the lion's share of your account balance. Unless your adviser is consistently beating the market by at least as much as you are paying in fees, you are wasting money — lots and lots of it.
- If you don't want to choose between conflicted advisers or high fees, consider investing in index funds through an online brokerage. Index funds automatically invest in broad swaths of the market — for instance, the Dow Jones industrial average. They make money when the market is up and lose money when the market is down. But, because they don't have to pay a superstar fund manager to pick stocks for the fund, their fees tend to be much, much lower than actively managed funds.
That's just my 2 cents worth of advice, but it's free for you.
AARP personal finance expert Jane Bryant Quinn also gives her take on trusting your financial adviser and things you should avoid.
Jean C. Setzfand is vice president of the Financial Security team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She leads AARP's educational and outreach efforts aimed at helping Americans achieve financial peace of mind in retirement. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JSetz.
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