Should I accept a free financial consultation?



A few months ago, I signed up for a new money management website called Personal Capital. It’s a competitor to and apparently was founded by the former CEO of PayPal. I decided to give the new guys a shot and set up all my accounts shortly after they launched. After a few weeks of use, I decided it wasn’t for me and that I’d just stick with Mint. Haven’t logged in to the site for a couple of months now.

Personal Capital (PC) was out of sight and out of mind… until yesterday, when a financial advisor from the company left me a voicemail. Apparently PC prides itself on its investment portfolio analysis tools, and as a benefit to new members they offer a free consultation with one of their financial advisors.

I find this both intriguing and creepy. I haven’t called the advisor back yet because I’m kind of skeptical of what can really be accomplished in a 30 minute phone call. Me thinks it will be more of a sales call, than a productive advising session.

But then another part of me figures “What the heck, it’s free.” Might as well give it a shot right? Even if the guy is super sleazy and just tries to sell me on more advising sessions or investment products, I’ll at least get to write an epic blog post about the call, right?

I’ve never consulted with a certified financial planner before. I’m definitely open to the idea (especially if that consultation is free), but I don’t want my first experience to be a bad one and I fear this could be exactly that.

If someone from Personal Capital, Mint, or your bank called you and offered a free consultation on your investment portfolio, would you take them up on it? Or should one only consult with a neutral, third-party, financial advisor? Should I return the voicemail? Anything I should ask the advisor if I do?


24 thoughts on “Should I accept a free financial consultation?”

  1. I agree with Jane Savers. That said, if you do want to call back — the first questions should be “What is your commission from my transactions? Do you work on commission, or straight salary?”

    If commission in any way, or a hem-haw about how they get paid, thank them for their time _AND HANG UP_. They will, in general, not be trying to help you. They will instead be trying to get the bigger commission whether or not that is the right investment for you.

  2. If I have nothing better to do I will sit down with anyone who wants to try to advise me on my finances. I like hearing what ideas they have. If I am in a jerk mood I like to counter with low cost funds to their high cost ones and ask why I would go with them. Of course as I get older I almost always have something better to do.

  3. Definitely going to be a sales pitch. I wouldn’t waste my time. Blog post or not, I just don’t think it’s worth it. Instead, you can use that time to convince Girl Ninja to do a special guest post…..

  4. I tried the Personal Capital site last year, and I too was stunned to receive a phone call from an adviser! I mean, I had no idea that call was coming! I answered the phone when she called. She was very polite. I put her off (it was during work hours). After a day or two of contemplation, I deleted my Personal Capital account. I never did have that conversation with my “adviser”.

  5. You lost me at “Paypal”. They are a disgusting co. in my opinion (one of their reps. blamed me for having my ID stolen a few years ago). She actually told me IF my id was stolen it was because I didn’t do a good enough job at protecting my info. Guess I shouldn’t have put my SS# on that billboard over the NJ Turnpike! Long story short…they will not stop hounding me for a debt they claim I owe even though I have the police report/court docs. showing it was a family member who stole my ID and ran up like 30K in debt (including some how overdrawing a paypal account) and was prosecuted and sentenced for it. I even wrote the then CEO of Paypal for help and nothing.
    Sorry! I know, totally off topic but that is what happens when I hear Paypal. Anyway back to your question..HELL NO! Stay away from anything even remotely associated with Paypal 🙂

    • My sister-in-law worked for paypal for a couple years, in their customer service department, and I would second your recommendation to stay away from them. Awful company.

  6. If it was free I’d probably call back. Most likely it will be a sales call but you never know, there is that 1% chance you might learn something. Besides, if the call was horrible it would make an awesome blog post.

  7. So I work at a bank and have worked very closely with two personal financial advisers. Honestly they are amazing people who’s goal is to not let the bank take everything but to actually earn money for the client and set them up for retirement. That being said, if you do go with a Financial Adviser it’s got to be one you trust and like, these people have your money you have to know their lifestyle and habits too. It’s pretty much a job interview when you met them. Both sides are trying to decide if you are the right fit for each other.

  8. Long time reader, first comment. I say make the call and blog about it. The only thing I’m torn about is if I were you, would I tell the financial advisor I am the author of a widely read personal finance blog or not? I’m leaning towards not.

    I would also like more guest posts from Girl Ninja, please.

  9. There are two types of financial advisers/planners out there: real ones and ones just trying to sell you something. It’s really difficult to tell the difference between the two without talking to them. One of the first questions I would ask them is what they invest in personally. If they don’t invest in any of the suggestions they offer you or that you’re interested in, it might be a better idea to talk to someone else.

    • It isn’t difficult at all, Kyle. You simply ask “Are you a fee-only CFP?” Anyone at all may call themselves a “financial adviser” or “financial planner”. But Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is a real designation with a real credential. If you’re going to pay for advice, you want a fee-only CFP.

  10. I’ve done this with Charles Schwab before, and it was somewhat helpful. Most of the stuff was information I already knew. If Mint called me I’d be more creeped out because they have so much of my information.

  11. Return the call. Then find out about the credentials of the ‘financial planner’.

    If they are a CFP, you can likely learn some interesting things (for example: tax implications for transfer of wealth should, in a terrible scenario, something fatal happen to either girl ninja or yourself). Any CFP, regardless of how they are paid, should use third party tools to see how your portfolio / funds are doing vs. others in the same class. They can also come up with pre-emptive, creative solutions to issues you may have down the road.

    If they aren’t a CFP, terminate the phone call, close the account, and lesson learnt. (Or, Blog about it to make it highly entertaining for the rest of us 😉

  12. It never hurts to get another set of eyes to look over your portfolio and give you options. If it makes you a little nervous because you haven’t done this before, just have an exit strategy in mind when you start. A polite, “thanks for your time, I’ll have to give this some thought” if you’re interested. Or “I’m a DIY kind of financial guy. I’ll keep you in mind if I ever need help.”

    I’ve met with several brokers/CFP’s/accountants over the years, and the one I liked best was from Morgan Stanley. He gave me a very detailed financial plan (totally free) and keeps in touch with me to this day. If I were to use a broker, I’d go with him. I liked an Ameriprise experience least, they called out of the blue a few years ago and once they knew what I had they seemed to run with the idea that the assets were theirs & I was crazy to get in the way of the great job they would do. On the other hand, I recently met an Ameriprise broker I liked, who offered me a ‘wrap’ account with a 1% annual fee. I think that’s a great rate, btw!

    I’ve never talked to a broker/advisor who wouldn’t give a free once-over. OK, so that’s because I wouldn’t talk to anyone who doesn’t offer a free consult. Never mind that. Whoever you talk to will need to see your assets to determine whether they want you as a client! Yes, some may not want to handle you, for an assortment of reasons, most often because they don’t want to handle small accounts. So always ask for a free consultation, find out how they get compensated, and then go with the guy/gal that you trust/like the most.

    The retire by 40 blog post was great. It wouldn’t hurt to capture your experience as it will be current.

  13. I actually spoke with a Personal Capital adviser a few months ago. I had an initial phone conversation where he gathered some information, and then a 2nd conversation where he provided specific advice with accompanying suggestions on a few powerpoint-like slides. I didn’t find it pushy at all, and it actually got me to think a bit more about mutual fund expense ratios.

    I did not end up utilizing their services though, primarily because I wasn’t keen on buying stocks and prefer my current portfolio of mutual funds.

  14. Yeah, it would be difficult to believe that something is free. Although here are still some that doesn’t cost anything, I doubt that it would come from a “sales call”.

  15. I would view that as a 100% sales call and just take a pass. The agent isn’t working for free so he is either going to try and sign you up for something or sell you something. It sounds like you really don’t need what they are offering.

  16. 100% guaranteed: you will get a sales pitch.

    I totally distrust places like Mint and Personal Capital. I find it incredulous that some people do. Do you think entering all your personal financial information at some company’s website is a safe thing to do? I don’t. You are one shady employee or one hacker away from having your financial life ruined. Just plain too dangerous in my view.

    I initially signed up at Personal Capital, but I quickly ditched it before entering any information about my financial accounts. A few days later I got the unsolicited call from them. I said “Not interested,” and immediately hung up.

    I am not against getting financial advice. I think many people, me included, need it.

    The mutual fund company where I have my IRAs and some non-IRA accounts offered to give me free financial review and advice, and I took advantage of it. It was a place that I have trusted for some years, and they have a vested interest in helping me. No, I did not give them trading authority over any of my accounts, I handle it all myself.

    But to give all my financial information to some company that offers a “free” service… well, that is asking for trouble, IMHO.

    • I think you might be a little confused about how Mint and Personal Capital work. Although they pull data from your bank accounts if you give them that access, they can’t actually move money. So if a hacker gains access to your mint account all they can do is see your account transactions, but they wouldn’t be able to withdraw money from your checking account per se.

      I get the hesitations, I had them too, but then realized I do all my banking online anyways so my information is by default susceptible to hackers.

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