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"If I was your financial adviser, I would tell you that engaging me is not a good deal for you." I’ve told hundreds of prospects this over my nearly 40-year career as a financial planner.

I can make a good argument that almost everyone would benefit from having a fee-only personal financial planner to advocate for their best interests. Yet it’s not in everyone’s best interest to engage one, especially when they can’t afford one.

While it certainly isn’t in an adviser's own financial interest to turn away business, a true client advocate won’t hesitate to do so. A fiduciary planner’s responsibility to put your interest first doesn’t start when you become a client. It extends to the advice they give you when you are a prospect.

This is quite different from financial advisers compensated solely by commissions earned on the products they sell. They have no fiduciary duty to put your interests ahead of theirs. Their goal is to sell you their product. It’s completely up to you to decide whether you can afford it.

Why does a fee-only planner's fiduciary responsibility extend to even a prospect? Let's illustrate with an example and some (very simplified) numbers.

Suppose Leslie, who is 23 and employed at an entry-level job, inherits $100,000 from a grandparent. Instead of going on a spending spree, Leslie is wise enough to consult a fee-only financial adviser.

Would hiring the planner to invest and manage Leslie's $100,000 be a good idea? The planner's minimum annual fee is $1,500. Mutual fund fees would add perhaps another $1,250. If the investment earned 7.0% a year, Leslie would have $574,374 at age 65.