GL Advisors – A Review

[Update- 3/31/2015- For those who are unaware, GL Advisors is either out of business or rapidly heading in that direction. Most of their employees have left after their owner was accused of embezzling funds from the private investment fund mentioned late in this article. Numerous readers have informed me that their service rapidly deteriorated over the last year due to loss of personnel in the business.]

I often get readers asking me about a financial advisor or financial advisory firm.  There are thousands of them across the country and I don’t know most of them from Adam.  I often take a quick look at the website, express my concerns, remind them of some things to ask about, and send them on their way.  However, when I start getting a lot of questions about the same firm, especially if the firm targets physicians for clients, I try to eventually find out a little more about them.  GL Advisors is one such firm.  I recently had an interview with Todd Balsley, the Chief Marketing Officer for GL Advisors and had the chance to go direct to the source to get some answers to common questions about the firm.  I have no financial relationship with Todd or GL Advisors, but I’d love to sell them an ad sometime.

Focus On Student Loans


The reason I hear about them so often is that they have exploited a niche and filled a gap in financial information out there- student loan management.  This has never been my strongest point, mostly because I only ever really had one student loan, and it required pretty much no management.  I took out my $5000 loan as a college freshman in 1993, paid no interest on it for the next 17 years, and paid it off with devalued dollars all in one lump sum when I left the military in 2010.  I’d say I managed it pretty well.  Most of my med school classmates who graduated in 2003 refinanced their loans at 1-2% upon graduation and are paying them off about as slowly as they can.  I’d say they are also managing their loans pretty well.

More recent graduates are in a lot worse shape, unfortunately.  Subsidized student loans are no longer available, graduate school Stafford loan interest rates start at 6.8%, and tuition at my medical school has more than tripled over the last 10-15 years.  Many of today’s med students will have $300,000-400,000 in debt by the time they graduate, and that number will increase even more during residency and fellowship.  Managing student loans is becoming an ever-larger issue for physician financial planning.  Enter GL Advisors.  They are a bunch of Harvard Business types who realized in 2003 that many graduate and professional students weren’t refinancing their loans as they should, so for a fee, they began assisting students and graduates in getting the lowest possible rates and best terms.  The student loan landscape has made dramatic changes over the last decade, and GL Advisors has stayed ahead of the pack in managing them appropriately.  They have also added on other services, including tax preparation, asset management, and management of a couple of unique mutual funds.

What’s So Hard About Managing Student Loans?

Judging by the number of questions I get from students, residents, and attending, this is one of most confusing financial issues most doctors deal with.  A med student has to decide what kind of loans to take out and how much.  As a resident, he has to choose between forebearance (no more deferment unfortunately), making regular payments, and Income Based Repayment, or its improved version- Pay As Your Earn or Income Contingent Repayment (ICR-A).  (Hint- go with IBR/ICR-A.)  He must ensure his residency and fellowship qualify as 501(c) institutions. He has to apply initially for IBR, and renew it each year. He then has to decide how to file his taxes to minimize his residency income (married dual earners probably want to file “married filing separately” (MFS) to lower the IBR payments as much as possible.  Upon completion of training, he has to decide whether to pay off his loans (and how fast) or try to seek forgiveness of part of them through IBR, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) or other programs.  He may also have the opportunity to consolidate loans and will have to resolve any issues that occur when loans are transferred from one servicer to another.

The Fine Print

Like most advisors, GL Advisors will meet with you once for free, give you a little information and try to upsell you to purchase the rest of their services.  They also do some educational meetings at residency programs, particularly on the East Coast where most of their advisors are.  Mr. Balsley says the initial meeting basically gives the student enough info to do it on his own, or if they choose to retain the services of GL Advisors, they’ll do the work for the student.

Previously, they would charge a resident $495 per year for the financial planning, student loan management, and tax preparation.  However, their new fee schedule is $395 total for all of residency and fellowship.  You could even sign up as a medical student (same price) and have GL Advisors help you choose which loans you actually take out.  This lower fee no longer includes tax preparation (extra fees for that if you want it) but it does include asset management up to $60,000.  In essence, you could get financial planning and asset management for four years of med school, 3 years of residency, and 3 years of fellowship all for $395, or less than $40 a year.  Even this cheapskate has to admit that’s probably a pretty good value.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that you can’t run a viable financial planning business for $40 a year.  Obviously GL Advisors have to make some money from somewhere else to stay in business.  They make some money from the commissions for life insurance and disability insurance that they appropriately sell you, but like most advisors who market to residents, they primarily hope you will stick with them as you become an attending and start making the big bucks.  Financial planning fees do go up as an attending, and once your assets under management are over $60K, you’ll have to start paying additional asset under management (AUM) fees.  They’re cheaper than most, ranging from 0.40% to 0.85% of AUM per year.

Asset Management Services

So it appears that this firm is one of the few out there claiming to be experts at managing your student loans.  That’s a very valuable service, especially for a resident or new attending.  Should you stick with them for the long term?  Their asset management services have a lot of great things going for them.  First, they focus very heavily on keeping fees, commissions, and other costs down.  I love to hear advisors talk about costs, both their own and that of the investments they manage.  In investing, unlike the rest of life, you get (to keep) what you DON’T pay for.  The less you pay your advisor and mutual fund manager, the more you get to keep.  The AUM fees listed above aren’t the very lowest I’ve seen, but they’re far less than average and among the lowest I’ve seen for any type of advisor that focuses on physicians.


They are not a DFA-authorized advisor, instead primarily using the commission-free ETFs available on the TD Ameritrade platform (mostly Vanguard.)  They basically centralize this process, developing a portfolio that is then adapted to an appropriate risk level for each client.  They add in some individual securities for larger accounts and also manage two very interesting mutual funds that they use for their clients.  The first is composed primarily of the consumer debt of their clients (not their student loans unfortunately) and currently has a yield of 9%.  It’s a little bit like Peer to Peer Lending that way I suppose.  The second used to be a successful hedge fund, but has recently morphed into a regular mutual fund that still follows a Global Macro strategy.   Regular readers know I’m not a fan of active management (and GL does do some active management of the entire portfolio), but I do like low-cost advisors who focus on fees.  One reason the fees are so low is that they do a lot of work over the phone, via email, and via Skype, so their “brick-and-mortar” costs can be minimized.  They’re more than willing to work with you even if you don’t live in a city with one of their branches.

A Few Last Words

Would I hire them for myself?  Probably not.  If I had taken out student loans I would become the world’s biggest expert on IBR and PSLF and figure out the process myself.  I also prefer managing my own investments.   But if I were a med student staring at $300K in loans and didn’t know anything about finances or investing I can think of a lot worse ways to spend $395.  I don’t recommend you turn your financial reins over to any advisor and fail to learn at least a little bit about this stuff yourself.  But I also don’t have a problem with paying a fair price for good advice.  With GL Advisors the price is more than fair and as near as I can tell without becoming a client, the advice is good.

What do you think? Have you used GL Advisors? Was it a positive or a negative experience? Comment below!


Comments

GL Advisors – A Review — 47 Comments

  1. I used GL Advisors when I first when into IBR. They were helpful, but I also learned everything I need to know for the future so I didn’t re-sign the next year.

  2. Does GL stand for Graduate Leverage? If so, then I used them to consolidate my student loans back in 2005. They had quite a different business model back then, however, but the consolodation worked out quite well.

  3. The one thing not covered was one thing about advisors that you have made an important in evaluation. That is, do they offer hourly-fee service? Or, because of the rarity of hourly advisors, are we just giving up on the idea? I’ve still got an eye out for one, hopeless optimist that I am.

  4. GL was in the right place at the right time for us, they gave a guest talk to the graduating med class and it seemed well worth the price not to deal with IBR while we had to worry about moving, my job, housing, and schools. For $500 they took care of IBR and did our taxes, which was nice as we were just married with six figure income. But when they did our taxes I found a tax mistake by their CPA, which didn’t impress me. We also used them to buy life insurance, which I wouldn’t do again. This past year they’ve had some technology/phone issues that have really pissed off some residents in my wife’s program for having a hard time getting a hold of people, long support call wait times, the new pricing structure, and more. I have personally had at least 3 account managers in two years, I lost count, which suggests they have staffing/turn over issues. $500 seemed like a good deal with IBR and taxes, but the new pricing structure not so much as we don’t need money mgmt services. If I could go back in time with all my knowledge I’d beg the med school to get the WhiteCoat Investor to speak instead of GL.

  5. Who needs GL advisors when you have white coat..haha. Many of my classmates took on GL, I found that doing the paperwork myself was a lot cheaper and faster. IBR is not that difficult to figure out. I even consolidated all my loans to one company…just takes maybe an hour of your time to figure out how to fill out all the forms for IBR.

  6. They fixed my monthly payment problem. I was had budget trouble last year and almost borrowed again, which would only compound my total debt to over 300k with tamped up interests.

    Like any financial advisor they know the law and I didn’t, so they were able to take advantage on my behalf to lower my payments during residency. I am in private practice now and seriously thinking of investing with them.

  7. Like some mentioned above, I had some issues with GL. I would call multiple times a day, leave emails, even send faxes to the numbers I had used before. I finally got ahold of someone almost two months later and got most of my issues taken care of, but it took some time. I was told that when they changed their business model, “some clients were left behind”. Instead of having one advisor that I dealt with for my loans and taxes, they merged the clients into groups and somehow forgot to put me in one of these groups. By the time they figured this out, my loans weren’t in IRB and they hadn’t started my tax return, which was due in less than a week. I had to file for an extension and they still have not been completed. They continue to promise me that they will be done soon. Besides my taxes still being an issue, they have fixed everything else I had problems with. I just hope this doesn’t happen again.

  8. They get you to think of debt management as an investment strategy. They really like MDs because of the prospect of big salaries after residency. I hardly call them except during last tax season when I’m on the phone with them every day after hearing they might be swamped with clients. Really didn’t want to miss the deadline this year.

  9. Going with GL Advisers goes against the grain of becoming a resident/physician who understands their personal financial situation and takes control of it. I think it also gets people on the hook to stay with financial advisers after residency.

    I follow moto that no one cares about your money more than you do. Educate yourself.

  10. I set up a free consultation (whatever they call it) to see what information they had. They got back to me promptly but I just wasn’t impressed with their advice or knowledge. It is very basic stuff that anyone could figure out with google and a few hours. I would submit if you are truly interested in your own financial education and independence then you probably will find little help from these people.

    For those who are doing it for the sole purpose of taxes and IBR, I still think you are just choosing to pay for convenience. To each their own. I would keep my 500 bucks and do a little bit of diligent studying that will without a doubt pay huge dividends in the future.

  11. the payoff for their work is well worth it. They are knowledgeable and the savings they realized for me will go on and on through my career. I heartily recommend them

  12. my husband signed up with them and it was a mistake. you can figure out how to do this stuff on your own. plus they did our taxes for us (took forever) and we got back nothing compared to others in our class. also, my husband still receives mail asking for payment and he spends >30min each time with GL advisor to sort it out. a bunch of inefficient idiots that don’t know what they are doing

  13. Nope, you probably forgot to submit information and then neglected to check your email for a notification from them. They probably need a phone app to solve this problem, but having been with them two years, I can only add they’ve had some technical issues that better companies would’ve remedied a long time ago.

  14. I initially used GL Advisor before I graduated medical school in 2011. Since that time they have been a constant disappointment and never actually consolidated all of my loans into ones eligible for PSLF and IBR programs. I just recently consolidated all my remaining unconsolidated loans into the eligible programs (4 years into residency) and told GL Advisor that I was no longer interested in their services. They informed me that in order to fully sever my ties with them that I would owe the remainder of the monthly fees that had not been collected. I sent them a formal letter informing then that I would be taking them to court for the $100,000 they cost me for their delay in processing my loans and they quickly deferred my payments and closed my account. I would NOT recommend their services for any reason. You can do all of the consolidations yourself through your lender who will be happy to assist you and get your loans into the correct programs that you want. I would also like to note that the customer service from GL Advisor has dramatically decreased since they first began. I believe it has now become a scam in an attempt to have you sign up for their other financial programs in the future.

  15. I began utilizing GL’s services over 4 years ago when I had just graduated veterinary school. At that time their model was great; for a mere $400/year they would shift through all of that paperwork to find me the best re-payment option for my heavy student loan burden, consolidate my loans, and even do my taxes. I was so thrilled with their services I even began referring many of my friends to them. Over the next several years, however, things began taking a dramatic turn. For one, they stopped doing taxes and switched loan advisors on me a total of 5 (yes 5) times in the span of a few years before doing away with personal advisors altogether. I should have seen the red flags there but naively I was talked into having them manage my portfolio through the financial investment side. The same thing began happening on that end as well; several financial advisors would come and go, and I would have to explain my situation to each new advisor who was completely unfamiliar with my portfolio and financial goals. Fast forward to the present, where one of the mutual funds they had praised and had me invest in is now under INVESTIGATION BY THE SEC! I am in the process of transferring out all of my money from them, but that mutual fund (worth several thousand dollars) is in limbo and nobody will give me an answer as to what is going to happen to my hard earned money. Needless to say, I recommend staying away from this greedy, poorly managed company at all costs.

  16. You can figure out all you need to know with resources like AskHeatherJarvis.com. She truly is the best. I was a GL Advisor client from 2010-2011. They started off great, with amazing customer service, but then devolved into a really awful company where even getting a response was like pulling teeth. Their tax services are a joke, and they royally screwed up filing my Income Based Repayment renewal the second year. That’s when I looked at the forms and realized how easy it all is–and what a joke they really are. And, now everything is online through the government. Even easier. Don’t bother with GL Advisor. You’ll only regret it.

  17. IBR and/or consolidation are often used as a fix-all solution for borrowers by many debt relief agencies. This is because this is all they really know how to do!

    Since medical students usually have both federal and private loans, these two solutions are often not the best choice financially.

    A sound financial plan for student loans incorporates both your federal and private loans, as well as your specific financial circumstances.

    In my experience, this creates a beneficial situation for each borrower in which IBR and/or consolidation – if used at all – is only a small portion of a truly beneficial student loan strategy.

  18. Sure thing.

    First, let me say that many borrowers have been calling me lately, and telling me that GL Advisors is no longer answering calls, and has gone out of business.

    One of my clients, who used to work with GL, sent me this link: https://www.sec.gov/litigation/complaints/2015/comp23171.pdf

    As for options, there are a myriad of them available for docs when they enter repayment on their student loans.

    The best repayment strategy (i.e. combination of assistance options) will depend on the individual’s specific student loan portfolio and financial circumstances.

    There are many factors to consider, such as: the ratio of federal to private student loan debt, the interest rate spread between loans, when the loans were originated (some docs were in school so long ago they qualify for deferments that new borrowers do not qualify for!), whether or not the borrower plans on opening a private practice or, for example, going to work for a non-profit in genetics or other career path that may qualify for the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program, the anticipated income growth, potential student loan regulation changes on the horizon for six figure debt borrowers, and, of course, the grand total of how much you owe vs. how much you can afford to pay.

    Given the amount of variables, it is difficult to give straightforward guidelines!
    However, I can make a few general suggestions:

    #1 IBR/PAYE with consolidation is appropriate for borrowers with only federal student loan debt, and who are likely to qualify for forgiveness under the PSLF program, due to employment with a government agency or non-profit.

    #2 For docs with significant private student loans with higher interest rates, there are likely payment targeting strategies that will save far more money than will be forgiven.

    #3 IBR does not fit within payment strategies for docs trying to accelerate the payment of their student loans. IBR without PSLF qualification many times only serves to extend the term to 25 years, thereby doubling the amount of lifetime interest that accrues on the loans.

    Many docs have an income that increases quickly enough to take them out of the hardship payment criteria at some point, and the loan is then subsequently paid off before any forgiveness can be realized.

    • On your # 2, I’m curious what you consider a “payment targeting strategy.” Are you saying pay off the high interest loans first?

      On your # 3, IBR/PAYE allows you to make extra payments. Most high earners such as physicians will be making full payments as soon as they come out of training. So if they don’t qualify for PSLF, the loans should be gone long before 25 years. If they do qualify for PSLF, the difference between full payments and IBR payments for the years in training plus interest should be forgiveable. That could still be the majority of the amount borrowed for medical school if their post graduate training period is 5-7 of those 10 years.

  19. 2. With student loans, a payment targeting strategy usually means paying the highest interest rate loan first. With student loans, in most circumstances, there a ways of completely isolating the highest rate loan or loan group instead of first paying the minimum on all loans and then sending the extra to the desired loan. Payment targeting may also mean that you target private loans because a parent is cosigned or if they have a low balance. All loans considered, on debt that exceeds six figures, this adds up.

    3. While you are in the IBR/PAYE program, you can make extra payments. However, the extra payment does NOT count towards the necessary total of 120, 240 or 300 payments required for forgiveness. If a borrower is in a position to pay extra, then there is no purpose to be in the income driven program. Extra payments during a PSLF qualified periods is equal to throwing money away.
    Since the income driven payment will never exceed the 10 year standard payment, any qualified payment made during the program that does not equal the 10 year standard will result in a balance remaining after the 10 years to be forgiven. This is why I recommended above that those who expect to qualify for the 10 year PSLF program to jump into the IBR or PAYE program and consolidation with confidence. However, the PSLF program and the IBR program have two different sets of qualifications. For those who do not qualify for PSLF, there may be better options

    • I don’t think we really disagree on anything here. My standard advice to docs, who should have made 36-84 qualifying IBR/PAYE payments toward PSLF by the time they finish training, is to decide upon training completion what to do with their loans. If their post-residency employer will also be a 501(c)3, then they should go for forgiveness. If their employer will not, they should refinance their loans with a private company assuming they can get a rate lower than they have. Then they should “live like a resident” for 2-5 years, putting extra money toward the loans to eliminate the debt completely.

      Are you suggesting there are other strategies for doctors that are a better idea than these two? If so, I’d like to hear about them and would welcome a guest post about them.

  20. Yes, I agree, we are on the same page.
    Refinancing is great when it works. However, it may take many years before the doc will be approved for a lower rate, if at all. Last week I had a client with a 780 trans union and an income of $300k denied by Sofi and CU Student loans. Wells approved it at a less than desirable rate. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Private student loan consolidation has a very low approval rate and great credit is not enough.
    What I am saying is that if PSLF appears not to be in the cards early on, and there is either a large interest rate variance between loans or there are high rate private loans in the mix, it may pay to be more creative than the IBR program.
    There is that little thing called life that happens more than we would like, as well. In a perfect world, you get the job you want that pays what you were promised it would and your career goes just how you’d like. Or, you may be like one of my clients named Sandra who owes $570k ($230k fed/340k) private and she ended up being a podiatrist in Florida and makes 65k/year.
    Are their special instructions to submitting a guest post?

  21. Watching GL’s demise without communicating issues to their clients has been of the most frustrating things I’ve ever witnessed. Clients of GL who are unsure where things stand should contact their loan servicers to obtain the status of their accounts; many likely have Nelnet as their servicer, who is known for excellent customer service and will provide guidance.

    As for the discussion above regarding the utilization of IBR/PAYE during residency/fellowship (specifically those programs that qualify for PSLF), if you’re $200k+ in debt, making about $50k/year and have no external financial support… you NEED payment relief. I believe this relief best comes in the form of IBR/PAYE during a PSLF-qualified training term for three reasons:

    1) Subsidy. While this has diminishing in value for graduates since the Budget Control Act of 2011, many doctors have undergraduate or pre-2013 subsidized loans on which interest would be at least partially covered.

    2) The maximization of available loan forgiveness at 10, 20 or 25 years.

    3) NO CAPITALIZATION OF INTEREST. This is an often over-looked benefit that warrants examination. While you have the hardship that qualifies you for IBR/PAYE (ie during training), interest isn’t capitalizing. For this reason, residents who can afford to pay more than required could still maximize PSLF by saving their additional liquidity in a savings or money market account. For example, a resident whose PAYE payment is $250/month, but could afford up to $500/month, should set the additional $250 aside to equal $3000/year. After 4 years, there would be $12k plus interest in savings available to allocate towards accrued interest if they’ve chosen a for-profit job (or PSLF benefits are reduced/compromised legislatively). If PAYE still made economic sense after training (hopefully it doesn’t, but for many in certain specialties or with overwhelming debt loads, it will), these funds would become the tax-liability account (in the hopes that this liability will be removed as suggested in recent budget proposals). If they remained on the PSLF track after training (or were evaluating this as an option), then they’d be maximizing the federal subsidy available to the compensation offered by that PSLF-qualified hospital or entity after (10 – training term) years, and continuing on in PAYE while saving to cover accrued similarly along the way. I’m surprised non-profit teaching hospitals haven’t embraced this retention tool and exercised their collective weight to advocate grandfathering should PSLF befefits be reduced or eliminated in the future…

    By applying the strategy suggested above, a resident/fellow essentially creates a win-win during training which IMHO makes for the best strategy.

    Recent medical graduates having meaningful private loan debt versus federal debt, in my experience, is far more the exception than the rule. I’d be curious to know what programs or profiles are producing the “usual” cases referenced above with private loan debt, as for these graduates obviously IBR/PAYE aren’t options and refinancing/targeting become the only alternatives to mitigate cost. And the refinancing marketplace, while not always perfect, is only becoming more crowded and competitive (and is sticking the feds with the least desirable loan risks, which begs an entirely different forum…).

    Great forum, btw. I used to work for GL and can say that the majority of the talent there working on student loan strategy and management were bright, hard-working, ethical visionaries. I wouldn’t dismiss the value they offered borrowers before imploding in the wake of an asset freeze related to the alleged actions of one bad actor.

    • Thanks for your lengthy comment. The only addition I’d make is that since 2012, medical student loans are no longer subsidized.

      I’m as sad as anyone to see GL implode. I’m a little embarrassed too after giving them this reasonably positive review.

  22. Now that GL Advisor has officially screwed me over, I was wondering if there are any competitors that provide a similar service (or better service!)?

    I’m currently a 4th yr med student just trying to get a head start on future financial aid management

    • I haven’t found another firm so focused on student loan management. Any good hourly financial advisor working with multiple residents ought to be able to help. Email me if you need a referral.

  23. Is there a way to recover from GL Advisors the amounts I’ve given them over the past couple of years? The company clearly did not do anything for me. Thanks very much.

  24. Watching GL’s collapse without notice to clients has been painful. Anyone still being charged their monthly fee should stop those payments with their bank/credit card company. Clients can contact their loan servicers directly to find out their status and when their IBR/PAYE renewals are, or other action items. Many had NelNet as their servicer if they consolidated after graduation; Nelnet has excellent customer service and will be helpful in getting borrowers up to speed on renewals and other action items.

  25. Hello to all. I would like to take this opportunity that I would like to still extend student loan advisory service to you all and discuss your current situation with your loans. Kindly email me directly – audi_50000@yahoo.com.

  26. Hi whitecoatinvestor et al,
    I was actually trying to get in touch with gl advisors to close my account before I graduate residency when I learned about this whole scam because all the numbers have been disconnected and I haven’t gotten any responses to emails.
    How can I officially close my account with a company that has gone under? I worry down the line I may get a huge bill from them, and also would want all my information closed.
    Any advice?
    Interesting that they didn’t give me any warning, just a “we are down to skeletal staff due to the snow storm, try calling back later” in early March.
    Thanks.
    t

    • There are some student loan advisors out there who are trying to sort this stuff out for clients. One is a few guys who used to work for GL but now work for Larson- “Doctors without quarters.” I have another advertiser (or soon to be advertiser) who is picking up the pieces.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>