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Lonesome pining

I am an IT consultant and like to look after my finances myself. Last year, however, I made losses on most of my investments. I want to continue to have control of my money and make decisions myself but I think I may need help. What can an IFA offer me and what should I do about this year&#39s Isa?

As you know, the internet is the natural starting place for you to manage your finances. This is where you can research, buy, sell and monitor your investments. Other financial services products can also be transacted online.

A number of websites provide financial information to consumers including analytical tools that were previously only available to investment professionals. Some of the facilities available include discussion boards, news and price alerts, portfolio construction facilities and relevant articles on investment.

Certain sites also have dedicated Isa centres. Some sites you may wish to check out are www.ft.com, www.iii.co.uk, www.moneyextra.com and www.fool.co.uk.

There are also sites that provide detailed statistics on investment funds and performance where you can compare sectors and funds. You may wish to check out www.lipper leaders.com, www.funds-sp.com, www.reuters.co.uk, www.morningstar.co.uk and www.citywire.co.uk.

If you know which fund you want to invest in but need to find out about the provider, look at their website. There are financial directories such as www.find.co.uk that list most, if not all, companies.

You may like to consider a fund supermarket that can consolidate your investments in a secure environment.

Fund supermarkets offer online trading to allow you to buy or sell units or shares of hundreds of investment funds from dozens of different providers and also to view your portfolio&#39s valuation with automatic price feeds. Be aware that some valuation systems do not have price feeds for every investment type.

There are around 20 fund supermarkets, some of which are only available through an IFA&#39s website. There are also websites run by discount brokers which offer cost savings. The important things to look for are the number of investment companies and funds available – as no site includes every provider – as well as the online facilities and charges.

Why use the services of an IFA? An IFA can look at your overall financial situation, then make recommendations that suit your circumstances. He or she can recommend when is the right time to buy and sell your investments and advise you on your tax position.

An IFA will point out where you could be saving tax by maximising use of the tax-efficient investment opportunities open to you. One way to do this is to make pension contribution. If you are self-employed, it is sensible to make pension contributions in a tax year when you have made reasonable profits to reduce your taxable income. There are hundreds of ways that an IFA can provide added value to you.

Alternatively, you could use an IFA as a sounding board to check that you are investing in an appropriate sector with a leading company. You can do the fund research via the internet as outlined earlier. Say you are attracted to the Japanese smaller company sector. How will you know which is the best way to invest for your circumstances? An IFA will act on your behalf to provide advice that you can act upon or not.

You need to make it clear from the outset whether or not you want to pay fees to an IFA for advice. If you do pay fees, you will be able to transact your investments through the IFA, who himself may prefer to deal through a paper process or the web, as many IFAs now use portals to deal with provider companies. Or you can walk away and set up the investments yourself. It is worth considering the merits of IFA versus DIY.

As we have seen with TMT investments that did so well in the short term then plummeted, it is important to know when to buy and sell. An IFA can be invaluable as they have access to market information that in many cases you do not.

Depending on your attitude to risk and the length of time that you want to invest, an IFA can point you towards good quality fund managers that can use thematic analysis in order to achieve investment returns in line with your risk outlook.

IFAs can look at the whole market with over 30,000 financial products. They can negotiate discounts for you and, if you cannot easily afford fees, an IFA can take commission from the product providers instead. There is no obligation on your part to stick with same IFA firm but, over time, the benefits of having consolidated holdings or account aggregation are valuable.

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