It’s Time to Start Reading Your Brokerage Statements

If you’re like many people, you barely (if at all) glance at your brokerage statements, but that can lead to financial snags down the road, experts warn.

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“You have to understand the statement,” says Drew Horter, founder and chief investment strategist of Horter Investment Management. “You can’t just see if you are up or down. You have to understand each page.”

Brokerage statements not only show how much money you’ve earned or lost in a particular time period, they also provide clues to whether you are paying too much in fees or taking on too much or too little risk.

The importance of looking at these statements grows as you near retirement. While it’s still important not to react to every gyration on Wall Street, experts say “buy it and ignore it” is no longer an effective investment strategy in the current economic climate—especially with interest rates forecast to rise.

“The market has been so volatile the last several years that you need to be looking at the statement,” says Kevin Luss, president of financial planning company The Luss Group. “You want to make sure your broker isn’t unnecessarily costing you money.”

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When reviewing a statement, check to make sure you are properly diversified to meet your risk tolerance. According to Horter, most people don’t truly understand their risk tolerance and as a result, have more than necessary.

Take someone at age 65: Horter says it’s not uncommon to have allocations of 65% stocks and 35% bonds. However, he says it should be more like two-thirds bonds and one-third stocks. By delving into the brokerage statement and not just glancing at it, he says you can get a clear picture of your allocation and alter it if necessary.

Everyone who uses a broker should expect to pay some fees, but the amount can vary drastically from one place to the next. It’s not unheard of for people to unwittingly pay exuberant fees that could easily be stopped if they only looked at their statement each period.

To compare fees, Luss recommends searching online to find out the average cost of your investments and compare how much you are paying in fees. If you are paying higher than the norm, he says not to be afraid to ask the broker what’s going on and to start looking for a new money manager.

The amount of trades your broker makes in any given quarter is also something to track on the statements. After all, you pay fees on those trades and if he or she is making a lot of moves, you want to know why. Horter says investors can find the fees on the back three or four pages of a statement. “You can see all the activity such as how much buys and sells, how much in dividend income was paid and the management fees,” to name a few, he says.

Even if you expect to see losses on your statement, Horter says you should review each loss. He also advises looking at the bond section of your brokerage statement to check your exposure and when bonds mature.

With interest rates on the rise, investors who have long maturity bonds will have a hard time selling them in the future if they’re locked in a lower rate. He says you don’t want bonds on your statement with maturities of longer than five years.

Luss also says to look out for for typos or inaccurate information on the brokerage statements. After all, you don’t want to find out months later that you asked your broker to invest $20,000 in stocks and your money has actually been sitting in cash all that time. Although it doesn’t happen often, mistakes do happen and they can easily be identified if you read your brokerage statement, he says.

“The main thing is to be your own best advocate,” says Luss. “At the end of the day, even the most ethical brokers can sometimes miss something.”

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