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May 31

When Someone Asks for Free Financial Advice

Posted by: Steve Marr

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I have written before about the pitfalls of giving unsolicited or free advice. Recently “Connie” asked me to provide advice to an elderly lady about how to invest $150,000.  When I hear requests like this my first thought is they don’t want to pay an investment advisor because they don’t want to disclose all aspects of their finances.


In this instance I gave Connie a detailed list of what I required before I could consider offering a perspective. The list included:


Net worth not counting home

Home equity after a sales commission

Income from Social Security

Income from any pensions

Annual income from investments

A detailed list of investment assets

Documentation of monthly expenses

A copy of the will and trust

A life expectancy calculation

Most people do not want to provide this type of information. What they really want is free advice. If the advice works out for them you get a little credit. However, if you’re wrong for any reason; you’re going to be held responsible.

Connie said she didn’t think she could get me all this information. I told her, “I can’t really assist you without this detail, so I don’t have an opinion to offer about the investment.” That seemed to be the end of the matter for me. 

Unfortunately in today’s environment with low interest rates many elderly people are beginning to outlive their money. This is a harsh reality. I personally do not want to be the bearer of this bad news, nor do the people want to hear it from me. I will refer them to somebody, but I have a personal policy not to offer free advice on finances.

In my business consulting work when someone asks for free advice, in most instances I ask them to read a book or two and get back to me. The phone almost never rings because they never read the books I’ve suggested.

King Solomon wisely observed, “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” (Proverbs 26:17, ESV) When I read this passage, I get the picture that when you grab a dog by the ears you’re asking for trouble.  That’s what I feel is happening with free financial advice.  It is a dog waiting to bite.

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