It's tough to find affordable finacial planning

Find me a financial adviser who doesn't believe everyone could benefit from meeting with one. Then find me an adviser willing to meet with you -- unless you happen to make six figures or have at least that much for them to manage for you. My No. ...

Find me a financial adviser who doesn't believe everyone could benefit from meeting with one.

Then find me an adviser willing to meet with you -- unless you happen to make six figures or have at least that much for them to manage for you.

My No. 1 question from readers is how to find a financial adviser they can trust and afford. My gut response to such queries: Good luck finding one.

Fortunately, there are advisers like Sheryl Garrett.

Garrett began her career in Kansas City with IDS Financial Services in the 1980s. She loved giving advice but was a terrible saleswoman. "In the second year I made $883," she said during a recent trip to the Twin Cities to speak tothe American Association of Individual Investors' local chapter.


Keynote speakers aren't typically professional failures, and 44-year-old Garrett is no exception. After her two years with IDS, she spent much of the 1990s making rich clients richer working for a smaller firm doing more planning than cold calling. She was making great money but felt unfulfilled.

"When I really stepped back and asked myself why was I in financial planning, it wasn't to help a multimillionaire get an extra 10 basis points of return a year," Garrett said. "It was to help those people who really couldn't afford to make a mistake avoid those mistakes and be on the right path."

So she opened her own practice, charging $120 per hour, a far cry from the $4,000 minimum yearly fee she was used to. She modeled the fee structure after a dentist's office.

"You go to the dentist twice a year, which you've been trained to, and you go if there's an emergency," she explained.

"You're talking about spending $200 to $300 a year for your dental health" unless fillings or braces require additional visits, she said.

Some in the planning industry found the concept peculiar and, frankly, stupid. Garrett acknowledged she could have made a lot more money sticking with one of the two traditional ways advisers get paid -- a fee based on the percentage of a client's assets they manage or commissions they earn for selling products and investments. But she was on a mission "to make competent, objective advice accessible to anyone," she said.

Despite her location in a Kansas City suburb, word of the 30-something adviser choosing the middle class over the multimillionaires spread across the country, and like-minded advisers came out of the woodwork to ask her how she made it work.

Seeing a need, she began to bottle and sell her experience through the Garrett Planning Network in 2000. For an initial $7,500 fee, advisers get training, marketing tools and the brain trust of the network's 274 advisers. Garrett expects that number to reach 450 by the end of next year, as baby boomers seek advice about impending retirement and the financial world increases in complexity.


Burnsville, Minn., financial adviser Ken Downer joined the network because, like Garrett, he wanted to work with "everyday folks." While he said he's had offers to go work for firms focusing on millionaires, he's committed to this model of fee-only planning. "I'm not going to be a millionaire doing this," he said, "but it's really satisfying."

Garrett advisers in Minnesota charge between $150 and $250 per hour and say it's hard sometimes to persuade people to pay for their expertise when a commission-based adviser down the road is telling them he or she gives advice for free. An overall financial plan that goes over insurance needs, savings, cash flow and more can cost as much as $2,500. But a meeting to go over the investment choices in a 401(k) can cost $500 or less.

Timothy Brown, a member based in Woodbury, Minn., believes in the network's mission but says it's difficult to make work. "My experience with hourly planning is that you cannot make a professional wage doing hourly planning alone," Brown said. "You've got to pump out those plans so fast because that's what you're selling. It's just very stressful."

In addition to hourly advice, he now manages clients' money for an annual retainer.

Paying for advice is a psychological hurdle for many Americans. "They're willing to spend $1,200 a year on their cable bill, but they're not willing to spend that kind of money on making sure their personal finances are as healthy as they should and can be," Garrett said.

Perhaps there's a middle ground where advisers are more accessible to more people, and people are willing to pay them at least as much as they cough up to watch television.

Kara McGuire writes about personal finance. Write to her at or at the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55488.

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