As the old saying goes, free advice is worth every penny you pay for it. Contrary to this ancient witticism, in some cases this advice could be very valuable. It depends on the source of the advice and what the adviser wants from those being advised.

TUTORIAL: Investing 101

In the wake of the recent financial crisis, a virtual deluge of investment advice, packaged as investment seminars, has been offered free to the public in mailed letters, brochures and flyers, and in other forms of advertising and promotions. The recipient of these marketing messages justifiably wonders: Which among the many seminars offered would be beneficial? Here's how to answer that question.

Investment seminars may be broadly classified in two varieties:

· The seminar with something for sale.

· The seminar with no specific investment for sale.

The most common seminar is the first variety. These something-specific-for-sale seminars are offered by an individual, company, or institution such as a bank, insurance company or brokerage firm. While they do offer investment information, the seminars are designed principally to sell products and or services to the attendees. For every sale made, the seller receives a commission. So keep in mind that while these seminars impart information, they are also sales pitches. (For related reading, see The Sales Commission Dilemma.)

Most Frequently Sold Products/Services
Annuities, sold by financial planners and advisers, insurance companies, banks and brokers. Annuities generally provide the buyer with a lifetime return (with certain exceptions, spelled out in the contract) on a lump sum investment. Bonds of many kinds (i.e. debt, meaning contractual obligations to pay a certain rate of interest on a principal amount over a specified period of time). Stocks and balanced portfolios of stocks. Many seminars will offer a free portfolio analysis - meaning they'll look at all your investments and advise you on what to sell and what to buy for better returns, with relative safety and perhaps a small percentage allocated to a higher-risk, higher-return investment on your investments. As usual, the adviser-seller receives a commission on all sales. (For related reading, see What Is A Registered Investment Advisor?)

Specific targeted investment advice for retirement, for accumulating enough money for a college education for children or grandchildren, and for setting up trusts, among other investments and investment services offered. Brokers and brokerage firms often conduct seminars on trading stocks, stock options, commodities, and foreign currency. These can be high risk speculations for inexperienced investors and special caution is advised before trading in these often volatile markets.

Finally, seminars which offer information about esoteric investments which may yield high returns, should be regarded with a prudent skepticism. Sales pitches may hype certain emerging markets, foreign bonds, private equity firms, copper mines in Africa, derivatives of various types, and similar investment vehicles, suggesting that in best-case scenarios, the returns will be high. These may turn out to be successful investments, but pending regulatory oversight, certified audits and more transparency about the investment, investors are urged to be wary. (For more on emerging markets, see What Is An Emerging Market Economy.)

No Specific-Investments For Sale Seminars
Seminars which offer nothing for sale and are strictly informational or educational may provide the most benefits to attendees. Because nothing is for sale, the information provided is not skewed toward the usual biases which favor certain investments over others of roughly equal returns and safety.

Often, these seminars are given by independent financial advisers, or by authors of books on investments, media columnists or commentators, newsletter publishers, Website writers and other speakers with no specific investment to sell. But the financial advisers want to sell their expert advice, and may invite seminar attendees to make an appointment for a personal one-on-one consultation to discuss their investment goals and how to achieve them. Most likely at that meeting the adviser will try to sell fee-based and or performance-based services.

The writers and publishers who conduct investment seminars will probably try to sell their books, newsletters, Web subscriptions and other forms of information to the attendees.

Here's What to Do and Not to Do at Both Types of Seminars:
If you don't understand something, ask questions. If it's too complicated, ask to see it in writing. If you still don't understand the investment and how it works, steer clear. Ask to see the credentials of anyone purporting to be a certified financial planner. Ask for references. Maintain a high level of skepticism, especially when no-risk, high-return investments are touted. Keep in mind, the higher the projected return, the higher the risk, and in some cases, you can lose all the money you invest. Get a second opinion from an outside, disinterested source if you're considering an investment. Don't be rushed into buying something on the spot because the sales person says the markets are moving quickly and if you don't buy now you'll miss the profits.

If you do invest, experts say don't allocate more than 4% of your total portfolio to any one investment. That way, if the investment produces a loss, you won't be hurt too badly. (Learn how to weed out those who are just out to make a quick buck. For more, see Find The Right Financial Advisor.)

TUTORIAL: 20 Investments You Should Know

The Bottom Line
Investment seminars can be worth your time, but keep in mind that there's usually something for sale at most of them. Nevertheless, like your daily newspaper or favorite magazines or informational website, along with the advertisements of goods and services for sale, there's plenty of useful information and newsworthy stories. The same holds true for most investment seminars.

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.