Here's exactly how to tell if you need a financial advisor, a robot, or nobody at all

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do I need a financial advisorWillie B. Thomas/Getty

Money can be complex and intimidating, no matter how much or how little you have.

If you've considered seeking professional financial help but don't know where to start, first identify exactly what it is you want to accomplish. Do you want to start investing or invest more money? Do you want to know how much you need to save to retire at 65? Do you need advice for paying off debt? Are you wondering how much life insurance you need?

The truth is that some financial decisions call for reinforcement; others, you can probably handle on your own - at least for now.

Financial advisor is a catch-all term that usually includes financial planners and investment advisors. It's imperative to look for financial advisors who follow the fiduciary rule, meaning they operate in their clients' best interest, and are fee-only. This means client fees are their only compensation and they don't earn commission when you invest in certain funds or buy financial products.

A good certified financial planner can help organize your overall financial picture, including setting up a retirement saving and investing strategy; planning for big expenses, like buying a house or having kids; everyday budgeting and spending; plus tax and estate planning.

Considering a financial advisor? SmartAsset's free tool can help you find a licensed professional near you »

You may also consider hiring a financial planner if you're too overwhelmed or confused by your money to make big financial decisions, including how to balance multiple financial goals, manage a business, get out of crushing debt, or establish a retirement savings plan. If the alternative to meeting with a financial planner is decision paralysis, you're better off seeking outside advice.

Investment advisors typically focus on the nuances of your investment strategy, such as what stocks or funds to buy in and out of your retirement accounts and how to minimize taxes. They can also manage your investments, but usually charge a fee of 0.5% to 2% of the portfolio.

You don't have to be a sophisticated investor with millions in the market to have an investment advisor, but you probably don't need one if you just want to know how to invest a few thousand dollars or which funds to choose in your retirement accounts.

A robo-advisor is often a cheaper alternative, and some even provide access to human investment advisors or financial planners for an extra fee.

Robo-advisors like Wealthfront, Betterment, and Ellevest set up and automatically rebalance an investment portfolio for you based on your goals and risk tolerance, and the annual management fee is just 0.25% of your account balance. Robo-advisors can be a valuable tool for the average person with a long-term outlook who truly wants to "set and forget" their investments.

SmartAsset's free tool can help you find a licensed financial advisor near you »

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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