Jewish World Review August 2, 2007 / 18 Menachem-Av, 5767
Advice is free, if you look
By Vicki Lee Parker
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) Would you like some free financial planning advice?
Call your credit union, insurer or bank.
Many of these businesses have financial specialists who help customers set retirement goals, manage assets, consolidate debt and understand basic financial matters - all for free. And it's not just a one-time deal. Some companies will provide free consultation for as long as you like.
"We will work with you anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 years," said Doug E. Robertson, agency owner of Allstate Insurance in Raleigh, N.C.
As competition among financial institutions and insurance companies intensifies, more companies are trying to attract customers by offering free one-on-one financial counseling.
The problem is that few people know these services are available, or they worry that there will be a catch.
"Most people are hesitant to ask for help," said Kirby Parrish, senior vice president at the North Carolina State Employee Credit Union in Raleigh. "They think everyone has got an angle."
Of course, they usually do. Financial institutions want your business - and your money.
If you're the type of person who will feel pressured to buy something or invest money simply because you got some free advice, these consultations probably aren't for you.
Even savvy consumers should be ready to fend off the hard sell. You don't want to get pressured into moving your money into an account or buying an annuity before you have a chance to research it.
If the salesperson turns up the heat, just say you need time to think it over. If you have a hard time telling someone "no" face to face, ask whether a phone consultation is possible.
But if you go in with the right mind-set, the advice can be valuable. You can learn more about financial terms and products, find out about new options and compare information from different companies to determine what's best for you.
Parrish said the State Employee Credit Union, which has about 1.3 million members, has been offering free financial counseling for about two years. In April, it expanded its program to include brokerage services. And the State Employee Credit Union is a nonprofit organization: Its employees are paid the same, no matter what the customer does.
In some cases, you don't have to be a customer to meet with an adviser.
Christine Shaw, a spokeswoman for Wachovia, said people looking for a new bank are encouraged to meet with its financial expert.
On Tuesday, I met for more than an hour with a financial specialist at Robertson's Allstate office. Sure, she told me about products the company offers, but the majority of the conversation dealt with my financial planning needs. I got some great tips, and she gave me other contacts to help me with financial needs that are outside her area of expertise.
To get the most out of these meetings, it's best to go in armed with questions. Chances are you'll find that people are just as serious about helping you improve your finances as they are about selling you something.
"It's obvious that someone would like for you to buy their services," said Janet Fox-Kreielsheimer, a financial consultant and broker with ACH Investment Group of Raleigh, who doesn't charge for an initial consultation.
Fox-Kreielsheimer recommends that people take advantage of as many of these free consultations as possible. "If someone does not indicate that they offer the initial consultation at no charge, you probably don't want to work with them," she said.
To get the most out of your free sessions:
And remember that sometimes, the best things in life are indeed free.
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Vicki Lee Parker is a columnist for The News & Observer. Comment by clicking here.
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