SOURCE: Brinton Eaton

Brinton Eaton

June 29, 2009 07:00 ET

Finding a Good Financial Advisor: Ask Tough Questions, Demand Answers

Brinton Eaton's Miccolis Tells What to Ask in "Asset Allocation for Dummies®"

MADISON, NJ--(Marketwire - June 29, 2009) - A new book, "Asset Allocation for Dummies®" (Wiley, May 2009), coauthored by Jerry Miccolis of the wealth-management firm Brinton Eaton Wealth Advisors, offers detailed advice on what to look for and avoid in a financial advisor.

Miccolis says to ask any potential advisor these questions:

Have you ever been disciplined for unethical or improper conduct? Sued by a client? Ask, but don't take the advisor's word for it. Check the advisor's history for violations or disciplinary actions with state and federal agencies and industry organizations. Checking is free and usually can be done online.

What are all your sources of income? "You want objective advice, so you need to know if the advisor has any divided loyalties," Miccolis says. Understand if the advisor is receiving income only from clients ("fee-only"), or is paid by sales commissions, or both ("fee-based" or "fee-plus-commission").

How easy is it to fire you? Don't sign any contracts that obligate you to keep an advisor for a set period of time, Miccolis says.

Who will be the custodian of my assets? Be very wary of an advisor that's its own custodian, a la Bernie Madoff. Choose one that houses your assets with an established third-party custodian.

What are your qualifications and training? Only a handful of the more than 100 financial designations mean much, Miccolis says. Top credentials are CPA (particularly CPA/PFS) for income- and estate-tax work, CFP® for financial planning, and CFA® for investments.

Will you personally handle my account? At a large firm, you may first meet a salesperson you'll never see again. Ask to meet with everyone who will be making decisions that affect you.

How did your clients do in the last down market? "Everyone is a genius in a bull market," Miccolis says. "You also want your advisor to be able to protect you in down markets."

Can you describe your investing approach? Does the firm rely on one or two "stars," or is the approach institutionalized and reliably reproducible over many years?

Are you sensitive to taxes when investing? Some advisors don't care, but one who takes a holistic approach will help you keep more of what you make.

What is your client-to-employee ratio? If close personal attention is what you want, a firm with a ratio of 25-to-1 or less is more likely to satisfy you than one where the ratio is over 100-to-1.

Many more probing questions are included in the book. "Don't be embarrassed by the idea of asking so many questions. It's your money," Miccolis says. The best advisors will welcome these questions because they'll be proud to answer them.

"Asset Allocation for Dummies®" can be ordered through, and Miccolis' interview on asset allocation with a National Public Radio affiliate can be heard on, Brinton Eaton's homepage, www.brintoneaton.com.

Brinton Eaton Wealth Advisors, Madison, N.J., provides integrated financial planning, tax strategy, and investment management services to individuals and institutions throughout the United States. Founded in 1988, the full-service, fee-only wealth management firm is a Registered Investment Advisor with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Miccolis, CFP®, CFA® is a co-owner of the firm.

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