Q: How do I get started learning about personal finance? Is there a book I should read? And where can I find a financial adviser? I have trust issues with the people in those fields because I just don't believe they'll have my best interests in mind. Please help.
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—D.B., New Jersey
A: Of course, you can read our advice from Consumer Reports Money Adviser, which provides objective information on how to manage your personal finances. In terms of getting a basic education in stocks, bonds, and other financial stuff, another good read is "Personal Finance for Dummies" by Eric Tyson. Depending on your age and your background, organizations such as JumpStart work with many organizations to promote financial literacy and provides educational material on the Web. Also, check if your public library, local adult education program, or community college offers free or inexpensive courses on the subject.
There are lots of financial planning tasks you can do on your own. But if you'd like to engage an adviser, check out NAPFA, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. Type your ZIP code into the search box on the left-hand side. NAPFA advisers are all fee-only, which means they don't get a commission for their recommendations. This helps to assure you that they're not getting a kickback from a particular investment company to put their clients' money into certain investments. All NAPFA members also are Certified Financial Planners; they take an oath to put their clients' interests first. It's called a fiduciary duty.
Always ask a prospective adviser how he or she gets paid, and whether he has a fiduciary duty to clients, to put their interests first. Here, the CFP Board, which certifies planners, provides 10 questions to ask a prospective adviser.
If you take part in a 401(k), find out whether the company that manages the 401(k) offers any free or low-cost financial planning services. For example, Vanguard offers a free financial plan drafted by a Certified Financial Planner for people 55 and older (the employer has to agree to this, so not every 401(k) offers it). People under 55 can buy a plan for about $1,000.
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