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Daily money managers can make life easier, but research before hiring
Seattle Times consumer-affairs reporter
Late credit-card payment, $30.
Bounced-check charge, $50.
Paying someone else to get your bills and banking done on time? Priceless.
A new breed of financial advisers, called daily money managers, handle the grunt work of financial chores for the middle class.
For about $50 an hour, a daily money manager will scan credit-card statements, create a budget, even write the checks, lick the stamps and deliver your bills to the mailbox.
Lisa Matzke of Mercer Island felt she was drowning in her own paperwork more than two years ago when she called a daily money manager.
Matzke was overwhelmed with the financial complexities of trying to raise her young son alone after her husband, a businessman who handled the family finances, died unexpectedly without a will.
Hire with care
Before you give someone access to your financial records, take these precautions:
• Get a referral from someone you trust, including other financial professionals, attorneys or friends.
• Call at least two references. Make sure the money manager is insured, bonded and affiliated with other professional groups.
• Check with the state Attorney General's Office or Better Business Bureau to see if complaints have been filed against the person.
• If the money manager claims to be a certified public accountant or financial planner, check with the state Board of Accountancy (360-664-9194) or the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (www.cfp.net; 888-237-6275) to see whether he or she has had disciplinary problems.
• Ask if the initial consultation is free.
• Expect to pay between $35 and $60 an hour. Some money managers require a minimum time commitment each month. Most charge for travel time and out-of-pocket expenses.
• The American Association of Daily Money Managers has an online listing of its members by state: www.aadmm.com. Daily money managers who join the association as active members must agree to a code of ethics and provide three references checked by the association. The association can be reached at 814-238-2401.
Source: American Association of Daily Money Managers, local association members
She started saving everything for fear of tossing out something important.
Matzke's desk and floor were piled with papers when Shannon Ronald, a professional organizer and daily money manager from Tacoma, walked into Matzke's home office. More paperwork had been stuffed in boxes and hauled to the attic. Worse, late payments were incurring finance charges and hurting Matzke's credit record.
Today, Matzke can tell you exactly how much she spent on groceries last month. Her files are neatly tabbed, and paperwork is contained in one file cabinet and a desk drawer.
Ronald created an electronic checklist to help Matzke keep track of her monthly bills. A master list tells her where everything is stored, and important documents are kept in a fireproof safe.
Recently, Matzke passed a personal milestone of sorts — she was able to lay her hands almost instantly on the owner's manual for one of her son's toys that had broken.
"Bottom line, I know where I sit financially," Matzke said.
The wealthy always have had financial professionals to manage their assets. But daily money managers focus on seniors, small-business owners and, increasingly, busy families without the time, inclination or expertise to stay on top of all their money matters.
It's like hiring a personal bean counter to keep tabs on all your financial minutiae. For some, daily money managers are personal-service providers similar to the nannies, lawn service or housecleaners they also may hire.
"I'd let go of my housecleaner before Shannon," Matzke said. "You can look at it as a luxury ... , but it actually saves you money."
Besides handling bills and banking, daily money managers also create a budget, organize tax records, manage health-insurance claims and check for errors on financial statements.
They aren't required to have a specific educational background or license, and there are no state or federal standards they must meet. The American Association of Daily Money Managers, the biggest organization representing them, was established with a half-dozen members a decade ago. Today, it has 450 members, with seven in Washington.
Many say their younger clients, in particular, are looking for someone to bring financial discipline to their lives.
"I like making [money] and spending it, but I hate accounting for it, all the middle stuff," said Kathy Proff.
She and her husband, David, have four children and run several businesses out of their Issaquah home. Proff first hired Jul Ham, a former neighbor, to help organize her office. Soon, Ham was helping manage the family's business and personal finances and even had her own desk in the Proffs' home office.
"If Jul didn't do it, we'd have to, and we don't have time," Kathy Proff said.
Ham recently took on more of a consultant role for the Proffs, who have hired a second daily money manager to work on day-to-day financial chores.
"There comes a point when there is not enough of you to go around," Proff said. "We can either pay the bills on time or just pay the bounced-check fees and late charges. This just eases the load."
"She knows the secrets"
While Proff double-checks statements and bills to keep an eye on things, most of the details are left to her money manager.
Some people, though, prefer working side-by-side with their money managers. It's like making an appointment with a personal trainer at the gym, they say — it compels you to show up, do the work and answer to someone.
Matzke, the Mercer Island woman, had a 2-inch stack of unopened mail waiting when her manager, Ronald, arrived for her monthly appointment.
While Ronald tackled the bills and read the statements, Matzke worked her way through another stack of papers to create a living trust. She saves up such paperwork and takes the day off when Ronald visits so they can work together.
"She knows all the mistakes and secrets," Matzke said.
Working with a daily money manager is like getting a private tutorial on financial management, some say.
Dianne Elliott of Seattle hired Sandi Prince about seven years ago after leaving her job in hospital administration and starting a business as an art consultant. In her first year, Elliott was confronted with a huge tax bill she didn't anticipate, prompting her to call Prince on a friend's recommendation.
Prince found that Elliott rarely balanced her checkbook and was juggling a lot of credit-card debt.
"I'm a very right-brained person," Elliott said. "I choose to spend my time looking at artwork, not at numbers."
Prince got firm with Elliott, putting her on a cash diet and showing her how much she spent on clothes, pets and other discretionary expenses. Prince encouraged Elliott to cut back to one credit card and pay off her debt.
Prince said many of her clients are experts in their professional lives but aren't particularly good at handling mundane financial details.
"I can see people asking, 'Gee, can't people just do a budget?' " Prince said. "I'm finding that no, they can't at all."
Elliott now has successfully eliminated her debt.
"Sandi really provides oversight," Elliott said. "It's made me much more accountable ... more aware of how much I'm spending and where it's going."
Elliott pays her own monthly bills, but every quarter, she takes the statements to Prince, and together they reconcile her expenses and income to keep her finances on track.
"When you see this hard and fast number — this is how much you spend on your hair each year? — there's still a choice, but I do have control over how it's spent," Elliott said.
Jolayne Houtz: firstname.lastname@example.org; 206-464-3122
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company