Avoid bad financial advice and see better returns

If you want to make money with your own money, be wary of those who want to take over the effort. After all, personal money managers and financial advisers receive their compensation based on how much you have invested with them -- not on the performance of those investments.

Which, if you think about it, is real-time crazy. Do normal working stiffs get promotions every year for doing below-average work? Of course not -- and neither should your financial adviser.

There are many areas to consider when investing that hard-earned money: how diversified your money is, how long you have until retirement (your "horizon"), how much money you actually have invested and your penchant for taking -- or not taking -- risks.

Always be wary about outside parties that give different advice for investing your money. After all, do they want to generate fees for themselves or put your interests and needs first, even if it does not mean immediate income for them? Ask yourself these questions, and don't let someone put other questions ahead of these:
  • Why should I put my money into this investment, based on how far away I am from my retirement age?
  • How much risk should I take to see potentially higher returns? Can I stomach the stock market's gyrations as they happen?
  • If asking a financial planner for advice, get a detailed explanation of why each suggestion is good for your specific situation. Don't forget to ask about fees, and ask about lower-fee alternatives with similar returns (note: you may get a funny look when asking that question). Don't be afraid to ask about index funds and low-load mutual funds.
Those with millions almost certainly need someone to manage those investments, but they should also do research and ask plenty of questions of their advisers, just like the soon-to-be-retiree with a few hundred thousand in CDs down at the local bank. Thinking about a variable annuity? Make sure you understand the income generation principles. How about stock mutual funds? The fees can eat your returns alive if you pick the wrong ones. Bonds? They may be paying well, but will it be enough?

How about target retirement funds offered by Fidelity of Vanguard? Those are good choices for many, since it takes the guesswork out of all these decisions and there is no "user car salesman" mentality from an adviser who probably does not have your best interests in mind. The mantra always holds -- ask plenty of questions and become informed, regardless of your age and money situation.
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