These online tools boost your financial savvy – and they’re free

In addition to helping clients manage their finances, some financial advisors aim higher. They educate consumers – people they will never meet – about personal finance.

These advisors have created free resources that help individual investors make sound financial decisions. These resources can also enhance advisors’ marketing and brand identity, allowing them to reach an audience far beyond their customer base. Some of these online tools have legions of fans.

Consider the year-end capital gains distributions provided by mutual funds. Many investors know that their fund distributes net capital gains realized in November or December, but they may still struggle to manage their tax bill if they hold the fund in a taxable account.

Mark Wilson, a certified financial planner in Irvine, California, created a website [www.CapGainsValet.com] in 2014 following the year-end fund distribution announcements. Consumers can view the distributions of the top 15 mutual fund companies for free. (Separately, it offers advisors a paid service that provides distribution data on about 250 mutual fund companies, and a higher-tier option with more frequent and detailed updates on particular mutual funds.)

“It was an idea in my head 10 years before I started it,” Wilson said. A counselor since 1997, he maintained his full-time practice while launching the website. Capital gains distribution season is limited to the last few months of the year, so that’s when he works overtime to track and collate data.

Wilson’s website helps consumers plan their mutual fund purchases (to avoid buying a fund with an outsized payment that would trigger a high tax bill). Other advisors deploy resources that address broader needs and seek to improve the public’s financial literacy.

Stacy Francis, a New York-based certified financial planner, entered the field in 2002 in part because she saw firsthand how women who lack financial education can suffer. “My grandmother stayed in an abusive marriage because she didn’t have the skills to manage money effectively,” Francis said.

Francis started a non-profit organization, Savvy Ladies, nearly 20 years ago. Its mission: to provide financial education and resources to women. The website [www.savvyladies.org] receives about 3,000 visitors per month. Additionally, the group offers a free helpline for women with money questions to speak with a financial expert.

“The helpline has grown over time and we now have 119 volunteers advising women,” said Judy Herbst, the group’s executive director. “We help over 150 women each month connect with [a financial expert] for a free one hour consultation.

Through their parallel efforts, some advisors are reaching even more consumers. Josh Bannerman, a Dallas-based certified financial planner, started a podcast in 2012 with a longtime colleague. He has recorded 1,200 “Stacking Benjamins” episodes over the past decade on topics including retirement planning, home buying and investing.

Although the podcast is popular, Bannerman says the lack of financial knowledge prevalent in the United States is a societal issue. “It’s still not enough [listeners] depending on how many people could gain more financial literacy,” he said. “As planners, we have an obligation to help as many people as possible.”

After: You might insist that an investment advisor have years of experience, but be open to mid-career newcomers with non-financial backgrounds.

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