*Note: This is NOT a sponsored post (emphasis on the not). You can read the bolded lines and the five point summary at the end if you want to save time.
Last week I read this article in the New York Times about a company called Learnvest.
Learnvest used to just post articles about personal finance — now they sell financial advice. I read their articles regularly. Some are like personal finance candy. A few are informative — like this one about retirement.
When I first learned of their financial services, I thought maybe it would be a good way for people with limited means to get access to financial planning. I considered sending a link to my sister. After reading the NY Times article and the public comments, I’m having second thoughts about Learnvest.
So I started doing more research. According to the NY Times and TechCrunch, one of their investors is American Express. Which may explain why I’ve seen them more in the news recently. The founder was just profiled in the NY Times a month ago.
I started looking closer at their articles. Some are sponsored posts from credit card companies trying to get you to spend more money (can you spot how?).
Some background: Financial planners typically get paid through fees only (for their time), commissions (for recommending and selling you products), or a combination. Advice from a “fee-only” planner may be the most objective because they’re usually not trying to sell you a product that wouldn’t fit your needs.
But planners who are “fee-only” typically require their clients have a minimum of $1 million in net assets (savings minus debts). And they typically charge an annual fee of at least 1% of those assets. This is why you only mostly see older people with strong finances hiring them. They’re not worried about saving for retirement anymore, but making sure they are withdrawing the right amount and have the right asset allocation for their investments. They don’t want to run out of money for themselves or heirs. Their finances are complicated.
Most of us, especially millennials, do not have the kind of money that fee-only planners require to take us on as clients.
Even so, the financial planning industry is looking at millennials (Gen Y). Technology is making it easier and less costly for financial planners to provide their services — so companies are now expanding their reach. I was suspicious about this for a while but the NY Times article confirmed it for me. As a generation, we have the most student loan, credit card, and car loan debt. But we have access to easy credit and we’re stressed out — a perfect combination.
Following this trend, Learnvest is targeting people who want basic personal finance help, with minimal savings and investment knowledge. I don’t want to link to it here but if you want to see their pricing chart, google “learnvest pricing.”
How much would it cost? According to their pricing chart you can pay an up front fee for three different coaching packages: learning how to invest ($399), creating a financial plan to meet a savings goal ($299), or help with developing a personalized budget ($89)… and then $19 per month until you cancel.*
Before you pay for any kind of financial advice, ask yourself and the internet these two questions:
1) Have I tried learning what I can on my own (for free)? List all of your goals. Google what you need and you will find it. There are tons of resources like blogs, books, friends, family, and non-profits to help you. Open your own investment or retirement account. Learn how to make a personalized plan to get out of debt (the primary goal of most millennials). Accomplish a savings goal.
2) Have I tried using free online tools to manage/organize my money? Learnvest uses a format called their “money center” where you can link your financial accounts and track progress toward goals. There are other free tools for this: Personal Capital and Mint. I’ve used both. Mint’s interface is friendlier but the privacy/security protocols of Personal Capital seem intense (a good thing).**
Bottom line: The advice most people need for basic personal finance goals is out there for free.
Learning new things takes time but it’s worth it. Learnvest is offering financial coaching — not asset management services. You will still have to learn and do things on your own but with someone else’s “guidance.” And that someone else has American Express as an investor.
I thought I was a careful person — but this experience taught me to be more careful about my sources of personal finance advice. When it comes to personal finance, you have to know the basics yourself before you can know when to trust anyone’s advice. Good financial planners are out there. It took me a long time, but I found one and am being mentored by him.
As The Silver Maple Leaf says, “No one cares more about your money than you.”
Here’s a summary of this post:
- Start reading and learning what you can about basic personal finance (see two questions above).
- Then you will develop clear goals.
- And you will gain confidence in yourself and your ability to handle your personal finances.
- Eventually, you will have more important things to worry about than manage your money — and hopefully more saved and less debt.
- At that point, you’ll know that you can learn and handle anything. Or if you still want or need professional help, you can hire a financial planner with confidence. You will know exactly what services you need and where to get it from. You will know who to trust.
Other resources: (I moved some extra info here because the post was getting way too long)
*The most expensive package from Learnvest will cost $627 after one year and teach how to invest. Learnvest’s pricing chart calls investing “the world’s hardest game.“ No. It’s not. Learnvest is trying to build a culture of dependency under the guise of fostering independence in their clients. You could actually invest that money you would have paid them on your own in a low-cost index fund (example: VTSMX) at Vanguard, a non-profit investment firm. Or start a savings account to buy a fund later if you don’t have the minimum amount you need to start one. Assuming 7% annual growth, you would have $662 in your account at the end of the year (but minus a fraction of a % in expense fees, the lowest in the industry)… or $627 plus some interest if you just saved it in a savings account. Not bad either way. Just don’t give it to someone else to give you that same (or probably worse) advice.
**Note: Aside from their free website, Personal Capital also offers financial management services that you would have to pay for. I don’t know how much they charge or the quality. They focus on people with at least $250K in net assets, so people in Generation X (those in their mid-thirties to late forties). And believe it or not, lots of people in this bracket been left out of fee-only financial planning too.