How Your Age Matters: Questions Every Generation Asks a Financial Advisor

Debbie Carlson


Financial advisors can help people reach their monetary goals, but the type of advice people need depends on their age and present life situation.

Not surprisingly, the needs of a single 25-year-old are different from a married 40-year-old with two kids in high school, as are the needs of someone who is 65.

There are a few questions everyone seeking advice from a financial planner should ask, such as inquiring if the advisor is a fiduciary, how are fees calculated and if the advisor can help with an entire financial plan or just investments, but some queries will be unique to certain life stages.

[See: 7 Stocks to Buy for the Baby Boomer Retirement Wave.]

"It's always a matter of figuring out people's goals," said Wade Pfau, professor at The American College of Financial Services and chief planning strategist at inStream Solutions, who is based in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. "Retirement may be a goal for a 25-year-old, even if it's not the first goal. The main question (for the advisor) is asking what is going through the person's mind."

Ages 20-30. People who may be single and just starting their first jobs could be starting to build their portfolio, says Timothy M. Steffen, director of financial planning for Baird's Private Wealth Management in Milwaukee.

They may have a difficult time finding an advisor who works with smaller portfolios, he says, so ask the advisor if he or she has a minimum threshold for portfolio size.

Usually financial advisors are paid according to percentage of assets, but some will be paid by a flat fee or an hourly rate. Ask about how the advisor is compensated. Pfau says in the past many financial advisors wouldn't take on younger clients with a small net worth, but organizations like XY Planning Network cater to this group.

Josh Giuliano, certified financial planner at Citizens Securities in Cranston, Rhode Island, says younger people may want to ask how to prioritize saving or paying off debt, especially when trying to pay off student debt, save in a 401(k) or buy a house.

Melody Juge, founder and managing director of Life Income Management in North Carolina, says at this age, many people may not even need an advisor.

"If you have a 401(k) plan at work, put in as much money as you can to meet the company match. If you have money left over, put it in an IRA (individual retirement account) or a Roth IRA," she says. "Open the IRA at Vanguard or another low-fee fund family. Go to Morningstar at look at their Fantastic 48. They look at the returns of mutual funds, the risk assessment and what they charge."

Ages 30-50. At this age, people may be married, have higher-earning jobs and may have children. With more factors to consider, this is when a "holistic" fiduciary can assist, says Steve Lewit, chief executive officer at Wealth Financial Group near Chicago.

A holistic fiduciary is someone who can recommend products that may include stocks, bonds, insurance and other vehicles to help with planning, and is someone who can look at a potential client's entire financial life, from taxes to estate planning.

"Make sure not only do they (the advisors) have an unbiased approach to product selection, but consider all the pieces of the puzzle, depending on (the client's) age. Holistic planning is not only about where the money will go, but also the process of where they will go in life," he says.

[See: 8 Times to Talk to a Financial Advisor.]

Scott Tucker, president and founder of Scott Tucker Solutions in Chicago, says people with college-bound children may want an advisor who specializes in collegiate financial planning.

"Ask if they can help with fill out the FAFSA -- Free Application for Federal Student Aid," he says. "A financial planner can look at how parents can move money slated for college into vehicles that won't be counted against the student, such as fixed index annuities or other life insurance products. If they have $300,000 sitting in the bank that means their student will most likely have to get loans and not grants."

Steffen says people with upper management jobs may have executive compensation questions, so ask the financial planner if he or she has worked with stock options and can explain how the client's employee benefit programs are structured.

Ages 50-65. People about 15 years from retirement should start to see a financial advisor to ensure they're on the right track to retirement, the sources say.

"Until then you can use the online calculators because a good financial planner doesn't work for free," Juge says. "When you're around 45 to 50 we can look at everything you do, we look at your lifestyle, are you living within your means. As we get closer to 63, we start looking at Social Security."

This is also the time to talk about income planning, Tucker says, and looking at what income can support the person's lifestyle in retirement, including Social Security, savings and pensions, if available.

Giuliano says the key question here to ask is, "What should I be doing in the last few working years to ensure I have the best chance for success in retirement?"

Ages 65-plus. After a lifetime of saving money, now it's important to know how to spend it carefully, the sources say.

Steffen said ask the financial advisor if he or she has experience turning accumulation into distribution. "How do I take this money I've saved and tax-efficiently withdraw it? How do I make sure I'm not doing too much or that I'm running out of money," he says.

It's also time to ask about wealth-transfer discussions, he says.

Meeting the client's children is important, Juge says, not only because of wealth-transfer issues, but also in case the financial planner needs to talk about issues like power of attorney, especially for older people.

Using a family advisor can also help children get professional advice for early life planning when they otherwise might not meet the minimum thresholds other advisors might charge, Steffen says.

[Read: How to Know When You Need a Financial Advisor.]

"Your kids may be getting in the workforce and they may need help, so ask 'can someone on the team meet with my kids and help out,'" Steffen says.


Debbie Carlson has more than 20 years experience as a journalist and has had bylines in Barron's, The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @debbiecarlson1.