It’s now possible to put a price on advice in fee-for-service financial planning. If you want a full financial plan, with at least a few sessions with a fully accredited planner and a personalized written report, expect to pay in the range of $1,500 to $4,000 – or even higher.
A most welcome shift has occurred in the financial planning business in recent years. There are more than 100 planners now working with clients on a fee-for-service basis, which means you pay a set hourly or flat fee. Most of these planners do not handle investments – they just do financial planning and, in some cases, coach clients on improving their financial health.
Fee-for-service planning is transparent and conflict-free because planners are paid directly by clients and not through fees or commissions generated by the sale of investments or managing portfolios. Increasingly, this transparency extends to the amount of fees clients should expect to pay.
Check out the website of many planners and you’ll find a link saying something like “fees” or “pricing” or “services” – click on it to get a sense of what they charge for their services.
Natasha Knox of Alaphia Financial Wellness has a calculator on her website – look under “Pricing” – that helps prospective clients get an idea of what a plan would cost. Money Coaches Canada lists services costing from $1,500 to as much as $10,000 on its website, while Spring Plans lists services from $1,800 to $8,500 and up.
The New School of Finance charges $295 to $495 for an individual financial session covering topics such debt repayment, home down-payment planning and budgeting for having a child. For what he calls a typical financial planning engagement, Robb Engen charges $1,500 for one person and $1,800 for couples. You may know Mr. Engen from his personal finance blog, Boomer & Echo.
I asked planners on LinkedIn recently to comment on a question from a reader who had been quoted $4,000 for retirement and investment planning and wanted to know whether this was the average cost. The consensus was this was right in the zone of typical pricing of plans, with higher costs for clients who, for example, own businesses, have family trusts or portfolios of investment properties.
The wide variation on prices suggests two things: that clients have to consider value in terms of services as well as cost, and that pricing is flexible enough to accommodate individual client needs and means.
Fee-for-service planning is ideal for people who are managing their own investments or have an adviser who strictly manages their portfolio. The typical fee-for-service planner isn’t licensed to talk about specific investments, which means investing conversations are limited to matters such as risk tolerance and the optimum mix of stocks, bonds and cash.
Karin Mizgala, Money Coaches co-founder and chief executive officer, says planners at her firm strive to answer two questions for clients: Am I going to be okay in the future, and what do I need to do to be okay?
“In theory, all this stuff is easy,” she said. “You balance your chequebook, you put some money away, you find some investments that are decent. But that’s not how life goes. People don’t want to talk about all of this – they point fingers at spouses, they don’t know why they’re in debt, they don’t want to look at this stuff. If you’re a planner, you’re a counsellor at the same time as you’re doing the math.”
Money Coaches has been doing fee-for-service planning for about 10 years and charges an average of $4,000 for a full plan, Ms. Mizgala said. That amount increased a little over the years as the firm’s coaches realized how much work there is in doing the planning and how many hours are involved.
Planners at Money Coaches average roughly 35 hours of work on a plan, including multiple meetings with the client and time spent working the numbers. The firm’s website lists 14 planners with the definitive Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation, and one who is a Qualified Associate Financial Planner (QAFP). The QAFP indicates someone can provide planning for less complex needs.
Typical Money Coaches clients have household incomes of $150,000 to $200,000 and questions about retirement, taxes, debt and estate planning, Ms. Mizgala said. Clients receive a written plan of 15 to 20 pages, along with accompanying spreadsheets and a one- to two-page action pan that summarizes steps to be taken.
Ms. Knox, a CFP and owner of Alaphia, based in New Westminster, B.C., said her base rate for a full plan is $2,000. The cost goes up from there according to complexity, which could mean cross-border issues, planning for someone with a disability, blended families, multiple properties and uneven or seasonal sources of income.
If you’re interested in getting a plan done, don’t hesitate to contact planners to get a quick idea of rates and services based on your needs. Ms. Knox offers a free consultation – she works virtually – and then presents a proposal that lays out services and costs.
The financial industry has come a long way on disclosure of fees, but a tension about being upfront on costs continues even in the fee-for-service planning world.
“There are two schools of thought,” Ms. Knox said. “One says, don’t list your prices because people then have no context. They haven’t met you and they don’t know what value you offer. And then there’s the other school of thought, the one to which I subscribe to, which is being transparent about pricing. That’s one of my core values.”
Fee-for-service planning has obvious appeal for boomers and Gen Xers looking ahead to retirement and wondering whether they are on track to be financially comfortable. But younger people are starting to take an interest as well.
“The youngest client I’ve taken on was 19,” said Daniel Evans, a CFP with Money Coaches in Vancouver. “It goes up from there to about age 35 or 36. I find that group, millennials, to be my sweet spot as it relates to advice-only planning.”
Mr. Evans said his fee starts at $2,000 to $2,500 for a planning process that includes multiple meetings. That 19-year-old client? He was a high-school grad who got some advice on managing his earnings from work so he could start investing. “Really, it was being a coach on his investing journey.”
A quick primer on fee-for-service financial planning
What is it? Pay a flat or hourly fee for a financial consultation or full written plan.
What makes it unique? Most financial advice is provided by advisers who are paid through fees and commissions on the sale of investments or portfolio management; fee-for-service planning is a transparent service, similar to hiring an accountant or lawyer.
Where can I find a fee-for-service planner? Try this directory created by personal finance blogger John Robertson.
Do planners work virtually, such as through Zoom or Skype? This is the typical way planners and clients interact since the pandemic started. You do not have to be in the same city as your planner
What should I ask about when talking to a planner I’m considering – credentials and what else? You can find suggested questions here.
How much does it cost? Hourly rates typically run from $200 to $350 and up; financial plans usually range from $1,500 to $4,000 but can cost more in complex cases.
Should I compare by price? No – compare price and services with assess value.
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