• Mark Fonville, CFP

How Fee Only Financial Advisors Are Different

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

What is a fee-only financial advisor anyhow?

Advisor compensation and fee-only financial planning can be a confusing topic. These days, it feels like every advisor website touts the fact that they have your best interest at heart.

To further complicate things, there are advisors who call themselves fee-only, and others who classify themselves as fee-based. It’s becoming harder and harder to know who’s who, and what different fee structures mean for you - the one who’s depending on their advice to lead a successful financial future.

What Does Fee-Only Mean?

Fee-only financial planners are only compensated by the fees their clients pay.

Other advisors who aren’t fee-only could be compensated by:

  • Commission from investment sales

  • Commission from insurance product sales

  • Commission just to recommend a specific investment (annuity, fund, etc.), or insurance product

  • Commission from stock trades

Fee-only advisors are generally compensated by :

  • Percentage of assets under management (AUM)

  • Flat-fee (typically a monthly retainer, or up-front cost for a financial plan)

  • Hourly rates

That’s a long way of saying that fee-based or commissioned advisors can get paid by companies to sell you a product where fee-only advisors are only paid by you to provide you impartial advice.

These investment and insurance decisions are often what you’re basing your entire financial future on, and there’s no guarantee that advisors who receive a commission are acting in your best interest. That’s a nerve-wracking thought.

At Covenant Wealth Advisors, we have a fee-only financial planning and investment management practice. We don’t receive commissions from selling financial products or making specific recommendations. We believe this is in our client’s best interest, which is one reason we founded Covenant Wealth Advisors in the first place.

What Other Fee Structures Are There?

There are three different fee structures that advisors typically stick to:

  • Fee-only

  • Fee-based

  • Commission

Advisor Fee Models

This is where things can get a little bit confusing if you’re interviewing a variety of financial advisors.

Fee-only and fee-based advisors aren’t paid in the same way. Fee-only advisors are only compensated by the fees their clients pay them.

Fee-based advisors are paid by the fees you pay them and some commissions.

Commission advisors are paid a commission only based on the sales they make.

Understanding Conflicts of Interest

All of this isn’t to say that fee-based or commission advisors are sharks who are out to steal your money and sell you financial products you don’t need.

Sometimes this is the case - the world is an imperfect place, and not-so-great people exist. This is a big part of why the Covenant Wealth team advocates for fee-only financial planning practices - to defend against those kinds of advisors.

However, to understand why fee-based advisors may not be acting in your best interest (even if they’re fantastic people with good intentions), we need to take a second to go over conflicts of interest in the financial planning profession.

It’s obvious that a fee-based or commission financial planner has a few conflicts of interest that could pose a problem for you. If they’re making financial recommendations but are getting paid more for selling one product over another, they can’t always have your best interest at heart.

Even if they have good intentions as a fee-based advisor, when push comes to shove, they still have a vested interest in using the investments and financial products that they get paid to recommend.

In our opinion, that’s too big a risk to take!

The Fiduciary Standard

As fee-only advisors, we abide by the fiduciary standard. This means that we’re legally obligated to act in your best interest at all times. The fiduciary standard is defined by the Investment Advisors Act of 1940, which is regulated by the SEC.

The rule very specifically states that advisors who abide by the fiduciary standard must always put their client’s best interest ahead of their own, in every situation.

Advisors who are commission or fee-based can’t technically abide by the fiduciary standard because, sometimes, they accept a commission - which is inherently not putting your interests above their own.

When you’re interviewing advisors, you want to ensure that they’re adhering to the fiduciary standard, and that means finding an advisor who reduces conflicts of interest and is paid only by you.

Why Does It Matter?

At Covenant Wealth Advisors, we want to put your best interest first. That’s why we’re fee-only, and abide by the fiduciary standard. We want our clients to know that any recommendations we make are rooted in a desire to help them live their best financial future.

We also encourage you to seek out other fee-only advisors if you’re currently interviewing to find someone who’s an ideal fit for you.

Certain organizations, like NAPFA and Fee Only Network, require that advisors who participate in membership are fee-only. Searching for advisors through these networks can help you to find a fee-only advisor who’s an excellent fit for your financial needs.

Have questions? Reach out! We’d love to walk you through our fee structure, and what it means to be a fee-only financial planning practice.


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Toll Free: (888) 320-7400

Email: info@mycwa.com

Hours of Operation:

Mon - Friday: 09:00 AM - 05:00 PM 



351 McLaws Circle,

Suite 1

Williamsburg, VA 23185

(757) 259-0111



4870 Sadler Road


Glen Allen, VA 23060

(804) 729-5265

Covenant Wealth Advisors is a fee only financial planner and registered investment adviser with offices in Richmond, Va and Williamsburg, Va. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements. *AUM as of June 30, 2018