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I first got into investing back in 1997 when I had a summer job that paid a few more bills than I needed to pay, in a town that had too few things worth paying for. So I opened up a ROTH IRA in the first “investment” branch I could find which was both a good and bad thing…
I walked into Edward Jones that day knowing nothing about investing, but that I had $4,000 that was sitting in my savings account at the bank making around 0.17% interest and doing pretty much nothing with those numbers. The guy I talked to seemed much more knowledgeable about investing than I did and wooed me with numbers of grandeur when I would be worth several million by investing in a ROTH IRA.
How WOULDN’T I get excited about it? Yea, we’re talking 40-50 years in the future, but he is saying I’m going to be worth several million. Granted, we didn’t talk about expense fees, and the funds he was putting me in were front-load funds that he was getting a bite out of, but we talked about millions and that’ll impress ANY 18 year old!
Yes, I was maybe a bit naive, but really the experience wasn’t all that bad. I continued to put money in that ROTH IRA for almost 4 years (and 5 administrative changes at the branch) until I cooked up bad decision # 4 and took it out to fund a land deal. The land deal still may pan out, but with the way the market is right now, I’m not holding out hope for it to cash in any time soon.
When my Mother got harassed about her investment decisions from a financial advisor and nearly dumped in a loaded fund, I had to step in and say something. The point was that she could keep that person on the hook and ask someone else, to which she replied, “isn’t that unfair”?
“ABSOLUTELY NOT! It’s your $. They don’t know anything that awesome about it that you couldn’t find on your own,” I said.
They’re just trying to pull the wool over your eyes and convince you that they know something that YOU don’t know, which may be true for something, but as far as investing, they don’t have a magic ball. They may have more tools at their immediate disposal and boards and meetings and do it for a living, but their crystal ball is as gray as anyone elses is; with the exception of loaded funds. That’s a very clear crystal ball for some of them, 5% front load means 5% of your money is their money as soon as you give it to them.
So the next thing Mom did was to find 5 or 6 other advisors in the area and ping her situation off them to see what they had to say. Most of them had the same to say and tried to get her into loaded funds, but there was one person that wasn’t too bad with it and gave her some mediocre no-load funds that I recommended she still talk with, but maybe not buy everything from him.
I, myself have a contact or 10 that I’ve run into through the years. For instance when I opened up my ugly Universal Life Insurance policy. The lady there is very nice, but tries to tell me that my next good step is funding an annuity; which I promptly disregarded.
My NEW Edward Jones ROTH IRA guy stuck me in a “B” shares fund that didn’t suit my needs and has consistently told me that the best funds are from American Funds (of which he gets a healthy chunk of my $) until the “B” shares turn into “A” shares in just 10 short years (at which point he’s siphoned a new car out of my front loads I’ve been paying). I’ve since stopped funding this account and am just letting it sit for the next 10 years until we convert to “A” shares and won’t have a backend load to take them out. I’ve only got 2k in there.
So next I hit up Charles Schwab, of which I’m very happy with right now and just dumped another 1k in last week. They give quasi-unbiased information on funds that they’d recommend. I say quasi-unbiased because clearly SWEGX is a fund of funds that has mostly Schwab funds in them. But the performance is pretty good, and the expenses are very low and they give me a deal and tell me up front who and what I’m investing in and how they’re turning a dollar on me. Honesty will go far with me.
Next in line for racking up free financial advice, how about RIGHT HERE! I’ve more than once said that I’m happy to review your funds that you’re in or interested in and give you a quick no-cost analysis on what I think they are or how I’d deal with them (See FreeFromBroke’s analysis HERE). Again, as my disclaimer says, I’m no professional, but I have a pretty good grasp on where I should be and clearly, where I’m going.
The whole Personal Finance blogosphere has hundreds of good posts on what REAL PEOPLE are investing in. Trimming it down to a group you trust is a good start, but I’m sure 95% of them would offer the same service I would if you asked them – keep it real, you’d be surprised what you can get if you ask.
Ultimately the point is to hammer it out. If you have absolutely no clue about finances, it’s NOT a bad idea to walk into the first investment firm in your area and ask them what they think. Just don’t be so gallivant as I was and just dump the $ in there immediately. Get some opinions elsewhere. They usually don’t charge you anything to take a look at your portfolio, or lack thereof; and if they DO charge to just look, I think that is a clear enough sign to get out.
Shop around, ask an Edward Jones rep, ask Schwab, ask around the blogosphere, there are dozens of resources out there, but with anything you just have to put some time in on it to get a good return on your investment mentally and physically.