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How do I know what my adviser is charging me?

March 26, 2012: 5:30 AM ET

I currently work with a financial adviser and I have no idea what he is charging me for his services. I have seen some fees come out of my small cash account that I have with him. I know there must be more than that, but the statements are confusing. Should he provide this information to me annually?
—- Name withheld

The short answer to your question is yes—an adviser should provide a client with the amount of fees charged at least annually, says Jane Marchand, a financial planner in Jacksonville, Fla. "Unfortunately, most people have no idea what they're paying their adviser," she says, even though "fees can have a significant effect on total performance."

There are a variety of ways to interpret statements and charges and figure it out yourself, but the easiest approach is straightforward: Ask him. Ask your adviser how much you paid him or his firm last year, both in dollars and as a percentage of your portfolio. "It's a fair question," Marchand says. "I don't know why people are embarrassed to ask what the fee is. When you get your car repaired, you don't hand them your credit card and say, 'I trust you, here you go.'"

If you're feeling skittish about the direct question, blame your accountant, because in certain situations, some of what you're paying in fees may be deductible on your taxes. "Say, 'my CPA asked me to ask…,' " Marchand says. Also, keep in mind that advisers typically charge between half of one percent and one percent, so if yours is billing significantly more, you may want to look elsewhere.

-- Kate Ashford

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