7 Tips for Choosing a Financial Advisor

Financial AdvisorLooking for some professional help with your finances? Try these tips to help you choose a financial advisor.

There are many financial professionals willing to answer money-related questions: Where should I invest? What should my portfolio look like? How much do I actually need to save for retirement? These are all great questions, but not every financial advisor will provide the same advice. So, who should you trust to give you answers to these crucial questions?

First, determine what you need. Are you trying to prepare for retirement, get out of debt, accumulate wealth or just get some tax breaks? Further, are you looking for one-time advice or do you want ongoing assistance?

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) website includes “Seven Steps to Take When Choosing a Financial Advisor.” Below is a summary. Additional information is available at aarp.org/money/.

  1. Do a credential check. Make sure a prospective financial advisor has current credentials and hasn’t been disciplined by a regulatory authority. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission lists the major regulators online at smartcheck.cftc.gov. However, brokers can get negative marks removed from their records, so just checking the site may not be enough. To learn about advisors who sell insurance products such as annuities, contact your state’s division of insurance.
  2. Ask about fees. Is the advisor being compensated on an hourly basis, by commission or as a percentage of assets under management? If it’s a percentage, fees should be under 1 percent annually. (That’s on top of fees the mutual funds charge.)
  3. Beware of performance promises. Many advisors use the success of their past returns as a selling point, but past performance is no guarantee of future gains. Make certain they discuss current practices and steps they take to avoid financial ruin for clients.
  4. Ask for recommendations.If the advisor refuses or can’t provide them, consider walking away. Local advisors typically have local customers. Also, talk to people you respect and ask who they use.
  5. Get it in writing.Ask your advisor to put in writing why an investment is best for you. Many advisors also provide an investment policy statement, which outlines how he or she will meet your investing objectives.
  6. Know what you’re buying.Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If your advisor can’t explain an investment to you in terms you understand, don’t buy it.
  7. Remember – there’s no free lunch.If an advisor promises returns that are much better than the market average, walk away. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In addition to these tips, University of Illinois Extension provides a list of questions to ask a financial advisor, and suggests you interview at least two people. Visit web.extension.illinois.edu/financialpro/interview.cfm for information.

This article was written by Kathleen Riggs, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor, 435-586-8132, kathleen.riggs@usu.edu

Quick Financial Tip // Preparing to Spend your Tax Return

Tax Return.jpgAre you one of the lucky Americans who gets a tax return? Check out this quick financial tip from USU Extension Family Finance Pro Amanda Christensen and learn how to use that extra money wisely.

Ask an Expert // Are Holiday Layaways Worth It?

layawayWhat’s the deal with  layaway programs? Learn how to assess if layaway is a good option for you and how to set up your own layaway savings plan from USU Extension finance pro Amanda Christensen.

Layaway Highlights:

  1. Read the fine print
  2. Look at the cancelation policy
  3. Will the payments fit into your budget?
  4. Is there a sale price credit?
  5. Will you be tempted to overspend?

Set Up Your Own Layaway Savings Plan:

  1. Set a goal and stick to it
  2. Make a plan
  3.  Set up an automatic transfer
  4. Watch sale prices
  5. Stick to your list


Be sure to watch the video for the details on each tip.

Amanda Christensen is an Extension Assistant Professor for Utah State University. Follow her on Twitter: @FamFinPro, Facebook: Fam Fin Pro, Instagram: @FamFinPro.

25 Holiday Money Wasters


It can’t hurt to spend a little extra during the holidays because, “Tis the Season.” Right? Wrong…it can and does hurt. No matter how caught up in the spirit of Christmas you may get, being wise and careful is the name of the game to keep your finances in good standing when January rolls around. Avoid these 25 holiday money wasters.

  1. Shopping without a budget. Before you make any purchases, figure out how much you can afford to spend, stick to your budget and track your spending. Don’t make purchases you haven’t budgeted for. 
  2. Not sharing the cost of entertaining. While it is tempting to just cover all of the costs yourself, share your entertaining costs by assigning such things as food and game supplies with guests. 
  3. Putting purchases on a credit card. Most of us tend to overspend when using a credit card.  We are also less likely to do as much price comparison when we think we will just get it now and be done, then pay for it later. We rationalize that the few extra dollars aren’t that big of a deal breaker. 
  4. Using out-of-network ATMs when shopping. Those fees can add up, so plan carefully. 
  5. Shopping at the last minute. This can be a tricky one. Sometimes in a rush, we buy too much and spend too much. With that said, sometimes there are still some “perfect” items at a great price later in the game. The trouble is, things are generally picked over, and the frustration may not be worth the savings. 
  6. Buying “little” gifts for too many people. In fact, consider an alternative to gift exchanges. Determine a set amount that you donate to a charity, then tell all those would- be-recipients of your gift what you have done. 
  7. Buying party supplies at grocery stores. Try discount stores and dollar stores for the majority of your party supply needs. 
  8. Not comparing prices. There are a number of great ways to check prices on things, so use them — they are free. Some websites/apps include: www.fatwallet.com (they even have a Black Friday app); www.pricehistories.com; www.consumerworld.org; Google Shopper app, www.pricegrabber.com. 
  9. Buying new decorations every year. Cut back on the decorations this year, and use last year’s decorations as much as possible. Get creative and put some time and effort into making decorations. 
  10. Getting new holiday clothes. We don’t need new holiday attire for a family photo, gathering or night out. Learn how to dress up the basics…like a black dress that can be used many times with just a simple switch of less expensive accessories. 
  11. Not taking advantage of free activities. 
  12. Buying too many specialty foods or drinks. Carefully plan menus for simple and economical meals for the majority of your holiday dining. Also, carefully plan your special occasion meals watching for sales. 
  13. Not shopping a year in advance, when things are considerably reduced at the end of each season. 
  14. Not using coupons. This time of year there are some really good deals and promotions…so if there are discounts on items on your list, don’t pass them up. Try www.retailmenot.com for online discount codes at checkout. 
  15. Buying overpriced wrapping paper just to make your gifts look extra special. 
  16. Splurging on meals away from home, or tipping too much when you do go out. 
  17. Paying for warranties on appliances and electronics. Odds are that you won’t need the extra coverage because most major appliances don’t break down during the extended-warranty period. Or you might already be covered. The four major credit card networks — Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express — provide up to a year of extended warranty protection for some cardholders, according to credit card comparison site www.cardhub.com. 
  18. Not clearly planning your charitable contributions. We all want to help out those in need during the holidays, but we usually either go overboard, don’t plan a set amount or get carried away with everyone who approaches your help. This can add up quickly. 
  19. Paying full price for gift cards. It is possible to find gift cards at a discount. Try these sites: www.giftcardgranny.com or www.cardkangaroo.com for up to 50 percent savings sometimes. 
  20. Buying “bad” gifts. Be thoughtful well in advance regarding gifts you plan on giving. 
  21. Going overboard for your kids. It is an easy thing to do, out of desire to make the season magical and a desire to grant their every wish, but be careful. Stay the course on your predetermined amount of money available for gifts, and live within the reality of your budget. 
  22. Running too many errands through poor planning. 
  23. Paying too much for shipping. Try www.freeshipping.org for shipping coupons and the date for free shipping for online purchases this holiday season. 
  24. Spending too much on greeting cards. There are many places to access e-cards. Or better yet, design your own letter/card in a simple program, and send it electronically. You will save on postage and the card. 
  25. Buying for yourself. While you may be worth it, no matter how good the deal, pass it up.  On average we spend about $130 on ourselves during the holidays, according to the National Retail Federation. So be careful…that is a lot of money. Imagine what an impact that extra money will make on your gift list. Only a couple more weeks of abstaining from unnecessary personal purchases and you can get back into the swing of spending on yourself at the first of the year, if you have the money.

This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker, USU Extension family and consumer sciences educator, Weber County

Ask an Expert// 5 Steps to Financial Freedom


Financial freedom is something that most people want, but only a few learn how to master.  While it does take some up-front planning, in the end the payoff is substantial.  Here are five things that can be done to ensure more financial freedom.

  1. MAKE SURE THERE IS MORE MONEY COMING IN THAN GOING OUT. It is amazing how many Americans are still struggling with this basic concept.  Yes, that does mean being more conscientious about assigning every dollar, and dealing with needs first and wants later…but it works!  It is a proven concept that if you ignore, you will never have money to save, which leads to financial bondage rather than financial freedom.


  1. DISTINGUISH BETWEEN WANTS AND NEEDS. How much of your daily and weekly expenditures are purposeful, planned expenses for the basic needs of life?  It is not hard to find plenty of things to spend money on, but do you NEED it?  If you try to rationalize these expenditures (WANTS) as a need, your financial freedom will be a very long way away.


  1. BE PATIENT, FLEXIBLE AND PREPARED FOR EMERGENCIES. If you and your partner are both working, can you try to live on just one income?  The extra money can then be put away for a rainy day.  This cushion will give you flexibility and financial freedom that so many others cannot enjoy when the unexpected happens.  In fact, the best motto to follow here is, “Expect the unexpected.”  Big ticket emergencies hit all of us at one time or another.


  1. EDUCATE YOURSELF ON FINANCIAL MATTERS. The sooner you master the game of money management, the sooner you will enjoy more financial freedom.  Find good, sound sources of financial information.  Read books on financial matters…there are plenty in our local libraries.  Take a class or two – many are offered in the community and often from your local Extension office.


  1. KEEP TIME ON YOUR SIDE. Use both your time and your money wisely over time.  A little bit of money and a little interest in your favor, and a lot of time, can provide you with rich rewards.  A 6 percent interest rate, with $25/month, from age 18 to 65 can mean just over $78,000!  Your contribution?  $14,000.  As difficult as it may seem right now to part with $25/month, the time and consistency do pay off.


This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker, USU Extension family and consumer sciences educator, Weber County

Ask an Expert // 7 Ways to Identify Money Wasters

Money Wasters Blog

Have you ever been caught in the trap of wasting money? Find out how you can escape!

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

In a recent article, financial guru Dave Ramsey identified the Top 10 things Americans wasted money on in 2015. His list includes: student loans, Ziosk tablets at restaurants, gym memberships, daily coffee trips, car payments, car leasing, car wash upgrades, name-brand household paper products, timeshares and shipping charges.

While this is his personal perspective, assessing our own personal money wasters over the year is a worthwhile activity. Here’s how to do it.

*Get out receipts or go online to your bank account (or bank statements if you have them) and start adding up expenses in specific categories such as clothing, food, entertainment, gas, etc.

*Total each category for the entire year. This will take some time if you have not been tracking through the year, but it is critical if you want to change the way you handle money.

*This last part is the most useful, and that is to ask yourself some key questions to identify money wasters:

1) Did we need to spend this much?

2) What traps did we fall into?

3) Did we get into loans that, with some planning, we could have saved for to avoid the interest costs? Could we have put more money down or found a better interest rate? (Or avoided a loan altogether?)

4) Did we enter into contracts for products or services that we didn’t realistically think through? (The long-term implications can get us in trouble.)

5) Do we currently have little habits that add up to a considerable dollar amount when multiplied by the frequency?

6) Are we guilty of the “I earned it, I deserve it” mentality?

7) Is the price of convenience being forgotten in our budget and dollar equations?

It can be helpful to assess where we are financially, based on current habits we may have gotten into, then determine if there are better ways our resources could be spent in the coming year. Ramsey’s list provides us some great things to consider for our own budget as well as a path to step down some of our own expenses.

This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker, Utah State University Extension educator, teresa.hunsaker@usu.edu, 801-399-8200

5 Quick Tips for Managing Money as a Couple


These 5 tips will help you manage money as a team!

The Cost That Money Can Have

Successful couples have learned to blend their money styles by being in harmony with the way they build a budget and spend money. So how do they do it?

Everyone has a money style. Many people love to save, others enjoy spending and unfortunately some just don’t want to be bothered with thinking about money, and they are the avoiders.

Often spouses are opposite in their habits, which can work well; but unless they can discuss it and make a successful plan, it can lead to arguments and dissatisfaction in the relationship.

It may have been learned from parents or developed later in life, but everyone values money differently and has a preferred style for handling it. No style is right or wrong, but how it is handled is critically important.

Some regard money as a security and have a desire to save and protect it. Some enjoy spending money because it makes them feel good, and still some don’t want to even open an envelope that might have a bill inside.

Unless you understand how your partner values money, it can cause frustration in a relationship.

When a couple fails to communicate about how each person values money and there is not a financial plan, arguments often arise. Many unhappy marriages and divorces are a direct result of financial issues.

A strong relationship will put the value of money into what makes family members happy and content. Money will be used for meeting goals and planning ahead for the future. When you can build a financial plan, you will have the freedom to work on areas of need for your family.

Consider these tips for building a financial plan:

1. Discuss how you value money and what is important (saving, spending or not discussing it). Visit Olivia Mellan’s website if unfamiliar with money styles. Take the quiz at https://www.moneyharmony.com/moneyharmony-quiz.

2. Discuss your family goals for this year, the next five years and then for future needs and retirement.

3. Make a financial plan (a budget) where you can set aside money to save and money for charity. If things are tight, start where you can. Most financial planners will encourage you to set aside 10 percent for each of these; however, you can begin with less. Even a little can make a difference because it sets a precedence.

4. Set up a plan for your family needs and wants and review it monthly.

5. Be sure to set aside weekly activity nights for the two of you. Spending quality time together can help you discuss your financial plans in a more direct and positive way.

Couples with strong relationships have developed money management skills that work for them. For example, they set aside time each month to go over finances, talk about how they value money and set goals.

Generally one of the individuals will be the money manager; however, both should discuss and look at the plans each month. Both partners must be happy with the spending arrangement.

Understanding the value each person places on money helps build respect in a relationship. Both partners should have input about where the money goes.

Relationships are fragile, and money is a major issue. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have, but how you work as a team to plan and be content with your financial decisions.

This article was written by Carolyn Washburn, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor

Baby Steps to Budgeting

Baby Budgeting

Budgeting can be easy if you take it one step at a time!

Little by Little

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your financial situation? Well you’re definitely not alone! According to the American Psychological Association, money, work and the economy remain the most common sources of stress in Americans.

To help you get back on track and feel confident about your finances, financial expert Amanda Christensen offers three baby steps to budgeting. No matter where you are or what state you’re in, the key to budgeting is taking one step at a time.

Click here or click below to watch the clip from Studio 5!

Amanda Christensen Screenshot