Retirement Planning, Elder Law, and Senior Finance

6/21/2023 | By Sandra Block

Micah Hauptman, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America, offers advice for finding trustworthy financial advisors.

Question: The Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, which requires financial professionals who give retirement advice to act in their clients’ best interest, was struck down in a 2018 court challenge. What’s the status of the fiduciary standard now?

Answer: It is on the DOL’s regulatory agenda, and we’re waiting for them to re-propose it. We don’t know what that rule will look like, but we’re optimistic that it will cover some of the loopholes that exist from the 1975 definition of the fiduciary rule.

Question: Didn’t the Securities and Exchange Commission seek to address this issue by adopting a “best interest” requirement for broker-dealers?

Answer: The SEC finalized that rule after the fiduciary rule was struck down. It requires broker-dealers to serve the best interest of their customers, but it never defined what best interest meant. The rule is very vague. There has only been one enforcement case brought by the SEC since the rule was adopted, so it’s tough to see how it’s a significant improvement over the old suitability rule, which requires that investments must be suitable but don’t have to be the best of the reasonably available options.

Question: Certified financial planners are required to act as fiduciaries. What other steps can investors take to make sure a planner or broker is looking out for their best interest?

Answer: Look for a financial professional who has structured their business model to minimize conflicts of interest. In my view, fee-only financial planners are the least-conflicted professionals. A great source for finding a fee-only planner is the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors ( Investors can pay for fee-only advice in a variety of ways — by the hour, for example, or by signing up for a monthly subscription or paying a percentage of assets under management.

Question: Finra, the self-regulatory organization for the brokerage industry, is planning to add a “restricted” designation in its BrokerCheck database to brokerage firms that have a history of disciplinary actions and investor complaints. Will this help investors vet brokers?

Answer: A very small number of firms are going to be restricted — less than 2%, according to Finra’s analysis. But it’s still meaningful information that can help investors make better choices in deciding whether to engage a firm. And brokerage firms will have a strong incentive to clean up their act because they don’t want to stay on the restricted list.

piggy bank with glasses- finding trustworthy financial advisors

Question: Following the collapse of FTX, investors lost billions of dollars in cryptocurrency. What should investors know before investing in crypto? Should retirement plans be allowed to invest in it?

Answer: Cryptocurrencies can be incredibly speculative and volatile investments. We’ve seen prices swing wildly and crash without warning. As the FTX collapse illustrated, crypto-currency accounts are not safeguarded like traditional investment accounts.

As for retirement plans, investing in cryptocurrency exposes savers to excessive risk. One 401(k) provider would allow investors to allocate up to 20% of their savings to cryptocurrency. The employer sponsoring the retirement plan, not the financial services firm offering cryptocurrency, is the fiduciary, which means the employer is required to look out for the best interests of its employees. Employers are the ones that are going to be on the hook for exposing plan participants to the risk of cryptocurrency.

Sandra Block is a senior editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on finding trustworthy financial advisors and many other money topics, visit

©2023 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Sandra Block

Sandra Block is a senior editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit