What Fees Do Financial Advisors Charge?

Discover five ways financial advisors charge for their services

A financial advisor provides financial advice or guidance to customers for compensation. This includes a number of services such as investment management, tax planning, and estate planning. Because there are various ways financial advisors can charge for their services, new clients are often perplexed by how much they should expect to pay. Here we explain the five most common ways financial advisors charge for their services.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial advisors charge fees for providing their clients with guidance on a number of services such as investment management, estate planning, and retirement planning.
  • Commission-based advisors receive fees when their clients purchase financial products that the advisor recommends.
  • Some financial advisors charge by the hour or by the project for their services.
  • Financial advisors whose fees are based on assets under management (AUM) will charge a percentage based on the client's net assets they manage.
  • Fee-only financial advisors do not accept commissions for products sold; instead, they charge by the hour, by the project, by assets under management, or some combination of these.

Assets Under Management (AUM) Fees

Financial advisors who charge based on an assets under management (AUM) fee structure will charge their clients a percentage based on the total dollar amount of the assets they manage. The more assets clients have, the lower the percentage they pay for advisory services, although the total dollar fee they pay increases.

Setting Expectations: AUM Fees

Traditional in-person financial advisors typically charge at least 1% of AUM for advising services. This rate is much lower for robo-advisor services.

Hiring an AUM financial advisor is usually the most expensive route for clients. However, the benefit for clients is that this fee structure gives advisors an incentive to not take huge risks or ones they would not take with their own money. Since advisors receive a percentage of the clients' assets, they have an interest in managing their clients' portfolios very well.

Commission-Based Fees

Financial advisors who are commission-based receive a fee or compensation based on product sales. They receive fees when their clients make a specific financial transaction that they recommend, such as purchasing a stock or other asset.

Setting Expectations: Commission Fees

Investors typically don't pay the commission fee to their advisor. Instead, the product sponsor pays the commission. Insurance products may pay double-digits for the initial contract with 3%-5% per year as long as the contract is active. Mutual funds may pay up to 1%, and annuities range from 1% to 10%.

For some commission-based advisors, providing financial planning services or advice to their clients may be secondary to selling financial products. A common criticism of commission-based advisors is that they have a conflict of interest that leads them to recommend financial products that may not always be in the best interests of their clients.

Hourly Rates

Advisors can also charge clients per hour rather than commissions or a certain percentage of assets under management. It all depends on the type of advisory services a client needs. 

Setting Expectations: Hourly Rates

Advisors will often charge at least $100/hour as their hourly rates. It is not uncommon to see more experienced advisors charging hundreds of dollars per hour.

Rates can vary depending on the experience of the advisor and if the advisor has a highly valued area of expertise. The total fee could range from $2,000 to $5,000 on various projects such as generating an estate plan for a client.

Flat Fees

Financial advisors who charge a flat fee will frequently provide their clients with a list of services and the fees they charge per service. Self-directed investors tend to pay advisors flat fees or go with hourly rate payment plans. They often only seek suggestions from advisors or the option to use complicated asset allocation models.

Setting Expectations: Flat Fees

Flat fees vary on the level of service you are seeking. For simple suggestions and general oversight, an advisor may charge between $1,000 to $2,000. A greater level of service will warrant higher fixed fees or a blend of fee types.

Another set of investors may want advisors to take control of their portfolios and make all the decisions for them. These investors tend to have less of an understanding of financial matters.

Fee-Only

Fee-only financial advisors do not accept commissions or compensation based on product sales. Fee-only advisors can structure their fees in a variety of other ways. They can charge by the hour, by project, by assets under management, or some combination of these. Because their income does not come from selling financial products, fee-only advisors are often seen as being less biased and more focused on giving clients personalized advice based on the client's financial goals and best interests.

What Is the Typical Cost of a Financial Advisor?

The cost of a financial advisor will greatly vary on the firm, the fee structure, and your geographical location. It is not uncommon to see hourly fees in excess of $100/hour, commission percentages 1% or greater, or annual fixed fee retainers for high-net-worth individuals greater than $1,000.

Is It Worth It to Hire a Financial Advisor?

Every investor is different - for some, it may make sense while for others it might not be worth it. If you are struggling with not knowing how to get started or want to explore opportunities of potentially having your investments generate greater income, it can be worth discussing with a financial advisor.

Can You Negotiate Financial Advisor Fees?

Yes, financial advisor fees are negotiable. Be prepared to demonstrate why you feel the advisor's fees are too high. You may have more leverage over the fees you are charged depending on the size of your investment portfolio.

The Bottom Line

A good rule of thumb for investors to consider when reviewing the fee structures of various financial advisors is to first consider exactly what you'll want your advisor to do for you and the amount of involvement you expect to have in the process.

If you have a simple project in mind—such as getting advice on portfolio management as you get closer to retirement—you might be fine with hiring a financial advisor on an hourly or flat fee basis. On the other hand, if you require comprehensive wealth management services and hope to establish a long-term relationship with a financial advisor, you might consider an AUM or fee-only arrangement.

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