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Getting help from the finance experts: accountants, lawyers, advisers & brokers

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Finance can be really confusing. While it’s often cheaper and far more empowering to learn it for yourself, that’s not for everyone and there’s only so much time in a day. Plus, tax law is a beast and not something you can pick up from one Youtube video!

This article breaks down the main professionals you might utilise when it comes to your financial affairs, what they can help you with and some key questions to ask them.

Financial counsellors

This is the only professional that doesn’t cost a cent on this list, and they’re miracle workers when it comes to helping you out of debt and other challenging financial situations.

Getting financial help in Australia is not the easiest task, and for most people, talking openly to someone else about your finances is understandably a daunting process.

Thankfully our hard-working financial counsellors can listen to your financial issues, propose solutions and even advocate on your behalf to banks and debt collectors

For more resources, check out these links:

Financial advisors

In Australia, if you want someone to look at your personal financial situation and give you advice on which investments to make, where to put your super and what insurances you need, you’ll need to get the help from a licensed financial adviser

Financial advisers can help you with a range of areas, but here are a few significant ones:

  • Working with you to identify your financial and life goals
  • Assess your current financial situation and look at your assets and liabilities
  • Work with you to prepare a financial plan that meets your needs and goals, including:
    • Superannuation/SMSFs
    • Tax
    • Life and TPD insurance
    • Investments (ETFs, shares, managed funds, bonds etc.)
  • Help you implement your financial plan and provide regular reviews
  • Refer you to other professionals for assistance with wills, estates, property, tax 
The number one thing to consider when choosing an adviser is making sure they’re appropriately qualified to provide you with personal advice. 

The Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA) recommends looking for a financial planner who works for a firm that holds an Australian Financial Services License (AFSL) issued by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). 

5 questions to ask your financial adviser

When you meet a financial adviser for the first time, think of it like a job interview. They’re assessing whether you’re the right fit for them and you should be doing the same as well.

Here are five questions to throw at them during your initial meeting, to see if they’re a good fit for you.

  1. What are your qualifications, previous roles, experience with clients like me, testimonials and specific areas of interest?
  2. What is your approach/philosophy towards finance and investing? What type of investment products (e.g. ETFs, managed funds, index funds, property, REITs) do you typically recommend to clients?
  3. What are your various fees and charges for the Statement of Advice (SOA), implementation and ongoing support? 
  4. Am I able to contact you with questions about my finances at any time or do I have to schedule a meeting?
  5. What education and ongoing support will you provide me, so I can feel more knowledgeable and confident about my financial future?

Accountants

Accountants play a large role in our financial system, but a common reason you might use an accountant as an investor is for help completing your tax return each year. When you start selling shares and receiving dividends, there’s a few extra things to consider at tax time!

In Australia, a registered tax agent is most often an accountant who can advise you on your requirements under the law and help you prepare and pay your taxes.

In addition, some tax accountants are also financial planners. That means they can detail your tax requirements and design and implement strategies for you and your family.

A basic tax return might not be too expensive, but make sure you’re comfortable with the accountant and how they explain things to you, and double check they have a high level of attention to detail, so nothing gets forgotten!

Lawyers

You might be wondering why lawyers have anything to do with your money, but in reality, most aspects of the financial services industry are regulated by lawyers.

  • Need a will? Speak to a lawyer!
  • Need to split assets after a divorce? Speak to a lawyer!
  • Want to set up an investment trust or company? Speak to a lawyer!
  • Off-the-plan property dispute? Speak to a lawyer!
  • Who wrote that Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) you were just reading? A lawyer!

Key questions to ask really depends on the field of law you require, as a family lawyer is quite different to a corporate lawyer. In general, it would be best to always get an idea of pricing up front, check their past client track record and make sure you feel comfortable talking with them.

Mortgage brokers

In this video from our free Property 101 course, Chris Bates explains exactly what a mortgage broker is, what mortgage brokers do, how mortgage brokers are paid, and when to get one.

A mortgage broker is the middle-man or middle-woman between you and the banks. While you can go directly to a bank and apply for a mortgage, 60% of loans in Australia now go through mortgage brokers. A mortgage broker makes it easier for you to put your best foot forward, get all of your documents together and find a good mortgage for you.

A good mortgage broker will give you the personalised service needed for a mortgage that best suits your circumstances and form a relationship with you. They can also help you negotiate the best deal by working with your situation and goals.

The broker receives his or her payment from the bank which means the fee for their expertise doesn’t come out of your pocket initially. A typical upfront commission on a loan might be 0.6% of the loan value, then 0.16% ongoing. This is based on the amount of the loan (e.g. $500,000 x 0.6% = $3,000 commission).

Before committing to a mortgage broker, consider doing the following:

  • Make sure you shop around, call at least three mortgage brokers, tell them about your situation and ask them if they can help (they might tell you straight away your situation might not work).
  • Consider whether you feel comfortable with this person? Ask them some technical questions: do they answer in a way that’s simple but not condescending or wrong?
  • Are they punctual — if they say they’re going to do something, do they do it?
  • Get a second opinion from another real estate professional, friend, or former client.

Buyer’s agents

Here’s a quick run down on buyer’s agents and how they can help you according to our resident buyer’s agent and mortgage broker in our free Property 101 course

For anyone who hasn’t heard of a buyer’s agent before, it’s kind of like the opposite to the real estate agent who sells properties. They are a licensed real estate agent, but work for the buyer in a property transaction. 

Think of a buyer’s agent like your own private investigator. 

Buyer’s agents can help you to define your goals and the type of home you want to own. Then, they’ll contact agents, search for on-market or even off-market properties, help you conduct your due diligence and basically manage everything from inspections to negotiations/bidding to settlement (the day the money is paid and you receive your keys).

Key questions to ask your buyer’s agent

Before signing on the dotted line, consider asking your buyer’s agent the following questions:

  • Are you independent or receiving commissions from someone else?
  • Do you charge a flat fee or a percentage based on the sale price?
  • Can you show me some examples of recent purchases you’ve made for clients?
  • Will you bid and negotiate for me at auction?

Real estate agents

In this video from our free Property 101 course, Chris Bates explains what a real estate agent is, who they work for and whether or not you can trust them.

In Australia, as compared to the USA, the real estate agent is paid by the vendor or seller of a property — not the buyer. A good real estate agent is typically a great salesman or saleswoman. Often they are paid a percentage such as 1% – 2%, and occasionally a ‘bonus’ for selling above the “reserve price”.

Learn more about real estate agents in our free expert-led, Property 101 course.

What about free expert-created resources?

To finish off, I’ve included some free expert-created resources to get you started, if you’re not ready or in a position to use these experts right now.

  • MoneySmart – Government website dedicated to independent, factual, personal finance information and a great starting place for the basics.

  • SuperGuru – An independent source with all the essential information and tools you need to understand and manage your superannuation.

  • LegalAid – Head to the LegalAid website specific to your state to access a range of resources covering everything from paying rent to divorce.

  • Rask Education – And of course, how could I forget all of the expert led and independent free courses offered by Rask Education.
Kate Campbell

Kate Campbell

Kate Campbell is the founder of How To Money (HTM), a personal finance platform for young Australians. Kate created HTM from a passion to help young Australians start talking about money, and share the resources she finds along her financial education journey. This led Kate to start her own journey to financial independence a few years back and she now works in the Australian financial services industry.

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