The Center For Debt Management
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Get The Facts On
Saving and Investing

Ask Questions!

You can never ask a dumb question about your investments and the people who help you choose them.

Here are some questions you should ask when choosing an investment professional:

  • What training and experience do you have? How long have you been in business?

  • What is your investment philosophy? Do you take a lot of risks or are you more concerned about the safety of my money?

  • Describe your typical client. Can you provide me with references, the names of people who have invested with you for a long time?

  • How do you get paid? By commission? Amount of assets you manage? Another method? Do you get paid more for selling your own firm’s products?

  • How much will it cost me in total to do business with you?

Your investment professional should understand your investment goals, whether you’re saving to buy a home, paying for your children’s education, or enjoying a comfortable retirement.

Your investment professional should also understand your tolerance for risk. That is, how much money can you afford to lose if the value of one of your investments declines.

An investment professional has a duty to make sure that he or she only recommends investments that are suitable for you. That is, that the investment makes sense for you based on your other securities holdings, your financial situation, your means, and any other information that your investment professional thinks is important.

The best investment professional is one who fully understands your objectives and matches investment recommendations to your goals. You’ll want someone you can understand, because your investment professional should teach you about investing and investment products.

Steer Clear of Trouble

Stop:

Broker not registered with state or SEC

Beware:

Promises of quick profits

Watch Out:

Pressure to invest

Danger:

Broker has been in trouble before

How Should I Monitor My Investments?

Investing makes it possible for your money to work for you. In a sense, your money has become your employee, and that makes you the boss. You’ll want to keep a close watch on how your employee, your money, is doing.

Some people like to look at the stock quotations every day to see how their investments have done. That’s probably too often. You may get too caught up in the ups and downs of the "trading" value of your investment, and sell when its value goes down temporarily—even though the performance of the company is still stellar. Remember, you’re in for the long haul.

Some people prefer to see how they’re doing once a year. That’s probably not often enough. What’s best for you will most likely be somewhere in between, based on your goals and your investments.

But it’s not enough to simply check an investment’s performance. You should compare that performance against an index of similar investments over the same period of time. You should also compare the fees and commissions that you’re paying to what other investment professionals charge.

While you should monitor performance regularly, you should pay close attention every time you send your money somewhere else to work.

Every time you buy or sell an investment you will receive a confirmation slip from your broker. Make sure each trade was completed according to your instructions. Make sure the buying or selling price was what your broker quoted. And make sure the commissions or fees are what your broker said they would be.

Watch out for "unauthorized" trades in your account. If you get a confirmation slip for a transaction that you didn’t approve beforehand, call your broker. It may have been a mistake. If it happens more than once, or if your broker refuses to correct it, call the SEC or your state securities regulator.

Remember, too, that if you rely on your investment professional for advice, he or she has an obligation to recommend investments that match your investment goals and tolerance for risk. Your investment professional should not be recommending trades simply to generate commissions. That’s called "churning," and it’s illegal.

How Can I Avoid Problems?

Choosing someone to help you with your investments is one of the most important investment decisions you will ever make.

While most investment professionals are honest and hardworking, you must watch out for those few unscrupulous individuals. They can make your life’s savings disappear in an instant.

Securities regulators and law enforcement officials can and do catch these wrongdoers. But catching them doesn’t always get your money back. Too often, the money is gone.

The good news is you can avoid potential problems by protecting yourself.

Let’s say you’ve already met with several investment professionals based on recommendations from friends and others you trust, and you’ve found someone who clearly understands your investment objectives. Before you hire this person, you still have more homework.

Make sure the investment professional and her firm are registered with the SEC and licensed to do business in your state. And find out from your state’s securities regulator whether the investment professional or the firm have ever been disciplined or have any complaints against them. You can get that number by calling the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) toll-free at (888) 84-NASAA.

You should also find out as much as you can about any investments that your investment professional recommends. First, make sure the investments are registered. Sometimes a simple phone call to your securities regulator can prevent a lot of heartache.

Be wary of promises of quick profits, offers to share "inside information," and pressure to invest before you have an opportunity to investigate. These are all warning signs of fraud.

Ask your investment professional for written materials and prospectuses, and read them before you invest. If you have questions, now is the time to ask.

  • How will the investment make money?
  • How is this investment consistent with my investment goals?
  • What must happen for the investment to increase in value?
  • What are the risks?
  • Where can I get more information?

Finally, it’s always a good idea to write down everything your investment professional tells you. Accurate notes will come in handy if ever there’s a problem.

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