In one particular chicken-and-egg debate, what comes first is clear: It makes sense to hire a financial adviser only after you can afford one — not in the hopes of building wealth someday.
Financial advisers often require a minimum amount of investable assets (for many advisers that amount is at least $250,000), and their fees can place financial planning out of reach for many. Fortunately, there are less expensive — even free — resources that make financial planning accessible to most people.
Because time is a powerful ally when it comes to building your money, it's important to get started as soon as possible. Here's how to begin.
Find quality free advice
A good financial adviser asks questions to understand a client's finances and goals; do-it-yourselfers can find tools to replicate those steps. The internet is awash with information, including tools for creating (and keeping to) a budget, seeing how much home you can afford, and calculating loan payments or your readiness for retirement.
The following sources of free financial advice can help you navigate this journey:
It's hip to talk about personal finance, and you may have access to tools and other useful information from your current providers. Many banks and credit unions have free budgeting and financial-planning tools. Employers and 401(k) providers offer retirement-planning tools. Online brokers have a variety of educational resources related to investing — TD Ameritrade and Ally Invest are among those that offer such information to anyone for free, with no customer login required.
Whether you consult a blog or a bank, look for a policy of editorial independence that ensures you are not getting biased advice. Search for disclosures about how a company or blog makes money, whether content is sponsored by an advertiser or business partnership and for assurances that the people writing reviews aren't influenced by such affiliations.
If you have been derailed by a financial issue (such as bankruptcy or tax problems), a number of organizations offer free, or nearly free, advice. For example, the IRS' Taxpayer Advocate Service can help you resolve tax problems, while the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education offers affordable financial coaching to help you to solve money challenges.
Build your foundation. Strive to master these basics as soon as possible:
- Setting a budget.
- Funding a rainy-day account to cover emergency expenses. Aim for $500 to start, then gradually build toward covering a few months' expenses.
- Saving for retirement. If your employer matches part of your 401(k) contributions, grab that free money.
As your financial situation becomes more complicated, you may eventually decide that working with a human adviser will best help you to achieve your goals. In the meantime, because time is key to growing wealth, it's important to begin planning your financial future as soon as possible.
Compound interest — when you earn interest both on your initial investment and the interest it's already earned — is why you want to begin investing as early as possible. If you invest $1,000 in your 20s, it will grow to nearly $10,300 after 40 years assuming a 6 percent rate of return. But wait until your 30s to start and, with only 30 years to grow, that $1,000 will be just under $5,750.