About Ascend

Partnering with you to develop a path to financial independence.

Located in Columbia, SC, Ascend Financial Planning, specializes in fee-only financial planning. Ascend partners with people ready to create a path to financial independence and to empower them to make smart financial decisions.

We’ll help you prioritize the dreams and goals you find important first, so that your plan clears a path to these goals. We’ll then work together to organize your finances and create a foundation for your future success. And most importantly, you will have an accountability partner along the way. Together, we’ll make wise financial decisions and give you greater peace of mind across all areas of your financial life.

Convenient affordable fees

Paying for financial planning based on your asset levels can be costly. At Ascend Financial Planning, we want to make professional financial advice both accessible and free from conflicts of interest. Our monthly fee is just a way for you to pay us like you pay most of your bills. You will be charged convenient monthly installments based on your unique situation.

Our comprehensive financial planning services start with a one-time engagement fee of $1,500. This covers some of the upfront work required to dive deep into your unique situation and provide an initial plan, action steps, and the financial and investment advice you need to reach your full financial potential.  Ongoing services and support are provided for convenient monthly installments of $200* thereafter. This fee covers the ongoing relationship that provides you with annual checkups, email support, and adjustments to your plan as needed. We meet about 3-4 times our first year, and will typically meet once or twice a year thereafter. You may choose to meet in-person or virtually.

Low cost alternative
Transparent flat-fee pricing
75% lower than the average financial planning firm

Amount invested
Traditional Wealth
Management Fees 1%
Vanguard Personal
Advisor Services 0.3%
Ascend Financial
Planning Fees
$3,900 first year, $2,400 thereafter
$5,100 first year, $3,600 thereafter
*Monthly fees may be higher and will depend on the complexity of your plan, but we will give you a quote after your initial consultation based on your unique situation.
Ascend Financial Planning does not manage assets and does not charge asset-based fees.

About Laura Scharr-Bykowsky, CFP®

My life is centered on my Christian faith, my family, and my love for personal finance.  After a successful career in brand management, I found my passion in managing my family’s finances, and decided to reinvent my career as a financial planner. Today, I serve as principal of Ascend Financial Planning, and find fulfillment in working with couples and individuals to achieve their financial goals and dreams.

As a chemical engineering major in college, I’m still a bit of a nerd: I’m an avid reader of everything from financial white papers to books on quantum physics, and enjoy attending conferences on personal finance, investing, and macroeconomic trends. When I’m not focused on learning, I love walking and pilates, spending time on Lake Murray, and travelling to visit my son who works as a consultant in McKinsey’s Atlanta office.

Laura’s Story

I grew up in a household where money was very tight. It created a lot of anxiety and pain in the family. I vowed at a young age that I would be financially secure.

As I became older and had to navigate investing, obtain loans, and procure insurance on my own, I realized how vast and overwhelming these financial matters could be. I was both fascinated and intimidated by the financial world, and wanted to better understand it.

Determined to grow wealth quickly, I read the Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley. It was a particularly compelling read for me as my husband was just starting his medical career. The book contrasts Doctor South versus Doctor North. I wanted us to be like “Doctor North” and his wife. I did not want to keep up with the Joneses, but rather live frugally so that we could maximize our savings.

Over the years my husband and I saved at least 30-40% of our income and invested it in a low cost way. By my early 40s, I had reached what I believed to be financial independence. Retirement was on track, we had enough saved for our son to attend a 4 year private college, and our dream home on the lake was paid off. We had no debt and sufficient assets for retirement. I suddenly realized that if we could do this, anybody could. My husband was the son of a window cleaner and my dad was in the construction business. We had very little in terms of assets when we started out, but were able to build wealth with a disciplined and coordinated approach.

Eager to help others achieve their own version of financial independence, I completed my CFP® education requirements and passed the board the first time in the fall of 2007. I wanted to work in the industry, but did not want to sell products or work on commission, so I researched various models in the industry. I chose to become a fee-only planner who provides objective, affordable advice.

I continue to enjoy my job and my diverse set of clients who make me want to wake up in the morning every day to do what I do.

Formal Education:

  • BS in Chemical Engineering from Lehigh University
  • MBA from Rutgers University Graduate School of Management
  • CFP® certification program in Personal Financial Planning, USC Moore School of Business; Most Outstanding Student Award

Laura Has Been Featured In

Our Services

Live the life you have always dreamed of by mastering your money.

Whether you want to retire early, send your kids to elite colleges, or transition to a new career, Ascend Financial Planning affordable approach focuses on determining your specific needs and lowering your overall costs.

We Help You Reach Your Financial Goals

  • Objective advice without pressure to buy products with large sales loads or hidden costs.
  • Access to valuable education every step of the way, so you can make informed decisions about your financial future.
  • Simple, efficient investment strategies that save you time, money and taxes.
  • You are in control—you make the trades with our guidance.

Your Financial Planning Services Include:

  • A life planning session to identify and prioritize your goals
  • An assessment of risk personality and determination of your stock market exposure
  • A comprehensive financial plan:
    • Net worth and cash flow statement
    • Estimate of tax obligations
    • Detailed retirement projections to assess your probability of success
    • Investment policy statement and detailed instructions for asset allocation and recommended funds
    • Social Security maximization and distribution strategies to maximize your after-tax income
    • Education planning to determine how much you need to save to fund your kids’ college expenses
    • Insurance analysis to ensure that you have the coverage to protect yourself from catastrophe
    • Review of your titling of accounts to avoid taxation and probate where possible
    • A one page Financial Independence Report summarizing your recommendations
    • An Action Plan to keep you on track

Annual Reviews Include:

  • A review and update of your life goals
  • An update of your financial plan components above
  • Rebalancing recommendations for your accounts
  • An updated Financial Independence Report

Your Personal Financial Portal

As part of the program you will have access to a convenient portal. This secure vault is a great place to store and organize all of your personal financial documents. It will also aggregate all of your accounts so that you can track what you owe, what you own, as well as what income is coming in and how you are spending it. Your whole financial life will be at your fingertips.

The Process

1. Complimentary Get Acquainted Meeting

Laura will discuss your personal goals and objectives and what you would like to accomplish through the financial planning process as well as any areas of concern.

If you decide to engage with her, a client agreement form is signed with an initial fee of $1,500 and specified monthly retainer.

2. Envision Your Future

You will complete goal-planning exercises to determine what you want to be, to have, and to do in the next year, five years, and in retirement. We will identify and prioritize these goals and dreams so that we can incorporate them into your plan.

3. Organize Your Financial Data

Laura will provide guidelines for a filing system to keep your information up to date and easily accessible so that you are always on top of your financial life.

4. Incorporate Your Vision into the Plan

Financial projections are run based on your current situation, and various scenarios are run in order to determine your chance of success in reaching all of your important life goals.

We will then meet to confirm plan assumptions as well as your attitudes toward risk, and discuss the initial findings and projections above.

5. Plan Presentation & Guidance

Laura will present and review your personal financial plan and provide a written summary including observations and specific recommendations for your investments. You’ll receive a one page “Financial Independence Report” providing a snapshot of your financial life with recommendations for improvement. An Action Plan is also provided so you can track progress with implementation of your recommendations.

6. Implementation and Follow-Up

Detailed instructions will be provided for plan implementation*. A brief follow-up meeting may also be scheduled to answer any questions about your financial plan and to ensure you are making progress with your list of action items. Then it is up to you to take action and follow through with the balance of your list.

7. Continued Accountability

The annual check-up will include a revisit of your life goals as well as updated financial projections, assumptions, and detailed portfolio rebalancing instructions.

If you have questions about your financial life or need advice about changes in your life, you can call Laura for a consultation without worrying about “being on the clock.”

*You still have full control of your money. Ascend provides specific detailed recommendations that can be easily executed.
You choose the low cost investment company where you want your accounts to be held and you have full trading authority.

Start Today - Your success is my priority!

Contact Laura