(This column originally appeared in Entrepreneur)
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Are you looking for a financial advisor? There are many good ones out there. The best will confirm that they help their clients save by making the right investment choices based on the risks they’re willing to assume. Regardless, it’s still very tough to evaluate a prospective financial advisor.
That’s because most of them are no longer strictly independent. They usually work for well-respected firms like Raymond James, Vanguard and Northwestern Mutual. They get their research from corporate factories of economists and market analysts. They’re told, based on certain risk factors that they assign to their clients, where to put their clients’ money. The reputable ones get paid on asset values, so the more your portfolio rises, the more money they make. The industry is pretty vanilla.
However, everyone should have a financial advisor — particularly if you own a business. That’s because there are too many financial decisions that need to be made, which are likely beyond our expertise. But how to make this choice? What’s the best way to truly determine whether or not your person is the right person?
To me, that’s easy. I just do a simple test. You should try it too. Just ask if the financial advisor if they own or lease their vehicle. If the answer is “lease,” then here’s my advice: don’t use that financial advisor.
Why? Because leasing a vehicle is a straight-up-black-and-white test of a person’s financial acumen. If the advisor owns the vehicle, then that advisor is financially smart. If the advisor leases, then, well, perhaps you should move on. It’s as simple as that.
Sure, leasing has its perks. You get a brand-new car every two or three years. You don’t have to worry about selling it someday. If you own a business, you can usually deduct the entire payment of a leased car, assuming it’s entirely used for business purposes. You may save on repairs and maintenance in the long run. But even with these benefits, the numbers don’t lie: If you lease a car, you’re spending way too much money over time.
To prove it, here are some numbers to consider over a 20-year period using a very simplified approach.
Let’s assume that you buy a new car for $40,000.
Using this calculator, and at today’s interest rates (almost 10%!), a 5% sales tax and a three-year lease (assuming there’s no down-payment), you’ll pay about $1,300 a month. This means that over 20 years, assuming no inflation or change in interest rates, you would be paying 240 months of lease payments for a total of $312,000, exclusive of additional financing fees or mileage charges.
But say you buy the car for $40,000. And let’s say you get a three-year bank loan, just like your lease. Using this calculator and the same assumptions above, your monthly payments would also total about $1,300. However, when the three years are up, you’ll own the car. According to reports like this one, the average lifespan of a new vehicle is about 150,000 miles or eight years. So that means that over a 20-year period, you would be paying 108 months of loan payments or a total of about $140,000.
This means, over the same period of time, you are paying about $172,000 more if you lease. Think about what you could earn on that amount if it was invested instead of handed over to a leasing company.
You could say that the longer you have a car, the higher your maintenance and repairs costs will be as it gets older and there is truth to that. But insurance costs do go down as well. And when you own a car, you own an asset, and even a car with 150,000 miles on it has a resale value that would likely offset a good portion of the extra maintenance costs you would incur. And if you buy the car for your business, you can take advantage of accelerated depreciation rules and realize tax benefits much earlier than making lease payments over time.
To me, it’s a no-brainer that owning a vehicle makes much more financial sense than leasing, which brings me back to your financial advisor. I recently spoke with a financial advisor who pulled up to our meeting in a new BMW. I guess the intention was to show how successful he is. And maybe he is. But after confirming to me that yes, he did, in fact, lease that vehicle, I knew that this was not the guy for me.
I don’t want my financial advisor driving a leased, flashy car. I want my financial advisor to be driving an older, owned vehicle. And so do you.