You know when you walk in to your first meeting with your retirement adviser that he or she will give you a long list of questions to answer. But what about your list of questions? Do you have one? More importantly, are you asking the right questions?
Too many times, a client will come in and ask variations on one question: “How can I grow my retirement fund faster?” And, for many of them, that’s the wrong question. Why is it wrong? Well, because the answer to that question would be to put your money in riskier investments on the market, and that kind of risk is not what most retirees and pre-retirees need at this stage of the game! Instead of asking that question, try asking these seven questions when interviewing a new adviser (or deciding whether to keep your old one).
1. How can I structure my portfolio to keep my money relatively safe, while ensuring I have enough to live on for the rest of my life?
This question is the heart of your retirement strategy because, at the end of the day, our goal is to make your money last as long as you do. When you phrase your question this way, it lets your retirement adviser know that your priorities are in the right place. And, your adviser’s answer will give you insight into his or her approach.
2. When should my spouse and I take our pensions and/or Social Security?
Often, married couples can choose to stagger when they take their pensions and/or Social Security benefits to take the most advantage of each. Does your adviser’s plan account for that?
3. Is there a gap between my projected retirement income and expected expenses?
You’ll want to know as soon as possible whether you’ll have to cover a gap between your income and expenses. Hopefully, the answer will include a plan that allows you to avoid taking money out of your principal savings.
4. How can we cover changing income needs and unexpected expenses?
There are a lot of right answers to this question, depending on your individual situation.
5. How much does my retirement plan cost?
You need to know what fees are associated with your 401(k), products and investments, and if it’s worth making changes to reduce them.
6. How are you paid?
Your adviser should be very transparent with how he or she answers this question. If the adviser refuses to answer, or obfuscates the answer, find another. Commission-based brokers make money on commissions from your investments and products. Fee-based planners charge by the hour and can get commissions on products. Then there are fee-only planners, who give you a price list up front, and aren’t eligible to make commissions on anything.
7. How can we make my retirement plan as tax-efficient as possible?
Your retirement adviser may, or may not, be legally able to answer this question – because this is really a question for an accountant. However, your adviser should have the ability to at least bring in an accountant to double check your strategy to ensure that everything is as tax-advantageous as possible.
When you bring in a list of the right questions, you’ll not only get some valuable answers, you’ll have insight into your planner’s philosophy. When your philosophies match, you’ve likely found someone you can work with for life.