Should I attend an investment seminar after receiving a letter in the mail?

If you are a retiree, there is a good chance you have received in the mail countless invitations to various investment seminars. These seminars often promise a free meal, and the opportunity to learn about a new investment, or ways to manage your retirement account better.

As the old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Just because someone buys you lunch, doesn’t mean you have to buy into what they are saying – or selling. There is nothing inherently wrong with a free meal, investors should exercise caution before attending any type of investment seminar. Remember, someone is offering you a free meal, not out of the goodness of their heart, but rather as an attempt to sell you something.

Here are three things you can do to help avoid being sold an investment that’s not appropriate for you:

  1. Do your homework before the seminar.
    A legitimate financial advisor must have a securities license in order to sell you an investment. You can find out if a person has a securities license by going to At this website, you can also find out information about the person’s experience, work history, and whether they have been the subject of any customer or regulatory complaints. It’s always a good idea to know who you are working with before you buy an investment.
  2. While you’re at the seminar, ask questions.
    Ask as many questions as you want until you are satisfied that you understand what you are buying. What are the risks? How much does it cost to purchase the investment? What, if any, additional or ongoing costs will you have to pay? How liquid is the investment? If you need to sell or cash in the investment, how easily can you do so? What happens if you decide to sell the investment? Are there surrender charges or other fees? If the speaker can’t or won’t answer your questions, or you don’t understand their answers, then the investment is not right for you.
  3. Do more homework after the event.
    Remember, the free meal might be part of a strategy to soften you up. The hard sell might come later during subsequent phone calls from the event sponsor. If the investment has a prospectus, ask for a copy. Also, confirm that the investment has been registered with the SEC or your state’s securities regulator. With very few exceptions, all investments need to be registered.

Some other tips include getting other opinions – perhaps talk to another financial advisor, or discuss the investment with friends and family. Keeping these tips in mind before and after you attend a free lunch seminar can help you avoid some serious heartburn later.