Suze Orman Answers Your Money Questions

Suze OrmanSuze Orman

Earlier this week, we solicited your questions for Suze Orman.

You asked about paying college debt, choosing a good retirement plan, and — especially with a week like this — how safe your money is.

In her answers below, Orman also offers a question to ask whenever deciding what to do with your money:

Is that normal?

And she openly admits that even she (who told The Times Magazine that she wouldn’t care if she lost a million in the stock market) has to be cautious with her money:

Anything is possible in life. … I have millions and millions and I am still saving.

Her top piece of financial advice? Find it below — in haiku format. (Too bad she missed the contest.)

Thanks to Orman for answering the good questions you all sent in.


Q:
Do you have kids? What’s the number one thing we should do to provide for our kids?

A: I don’t have children of my own. As for providing for yours, the biggest mistake I see well-meaning parents make is to pour every penny they have — including home equity — into their kids’ educations.

Then the parents don’t have nearly enough, if anything, saved up for their own retirement. If you want to provide for your kids, make saving for your retirement your primary financial goal; that way when your kids are adults they won’t have to worry about supporting you. Trust me, that’s the biggest assist you can give them. Just ask all the “sandwiched” folks now who are raising kids and helping to support their parents at the same time.

Assuming your kids are pretty young, start talking to them about college costs etc. by the time they are 12 or so. Make it clear that how well they do in school may play a big role in the level of college grants and scholarships they might qualify for. At the same time, you want to start setting expectations for how much financial help you will be able to provide for school, and how much your child will need to pay for on her own (jobs, student loans, etc.)

Don’t wait until their senior years in high school to have this conversation. That’s not fair to your kids. You want to have a family plan in place well before then, so that you and your child can explore various types of schools that might be the best fit for all of your financially.

Now if you have your retirement saving under control and there’s more money left to invest, then I think the 529 savings plan is a great way to go.

Q: How can starving graduate students make up for years of poverty-level wages in retirement savings? After nine years of graduate school, the end — and a real salary — are in sight and I definitely want to make up for lost time. I have no debt, about $10 thousand in a regular savings account, and am very nervous about investing any of that in the market right now.


A:
Okay, first let’s make sure you build up a hefty emergency savings account; that’s the best way to deal with nerves. Ideally I like to see that people have at least six months of living expenses saved up; in this tough economy, eight months is even better.

I know that sounds like a ton, but just ask folks who have been laid off how long it is taking to get another job. I don’t expect you to turn around and have that much saved up a month into your new life; just make it a goal to save a chunk of your monthly income in a savings account. And please, make sure it is an F.D.I.C.-insured bank.

As for investing now: Well my dear, it may not feel like it, but now is actually a pretty compelling time for you to start investing. I am not saying we are at a market bottom (no one can make that call with any certitude right now), but with stock values already taking such a big hit, you have a chance to start your investing at lower valuations. And assuming you are talking about long-term investing (my definition is a minimum of 10 years), you can buy low(er) today and have money in the market for when we turn the corner.

Over the long term (again, I want to stress 10-plus years), investing in stocks is the way to go. It’s your best shot at earning returns that can outpace inflation. And at the end of the day, that is what you need to finance a secure retirement. If your new employer offers a retirement plan with a company match, start with that. Always contribute enough to qualify for the maximum company match. Assuming you have decades before you need the money, investing in a diversified stock fund — such as a total market fund — is a smart move.

But if those nerves are keeping you up at night, look at the various offerings in your company retirement plan. Quite often there is a single-fund option called a retirement-target fund, or a life-cycle fund. You simply pick the portfolio that dovetails with when you think you might retire. (These funds will have a target retirement year as part of their names.) The portfolio you choose will then own a mix of both stocks and risk-dampening bonds based on your investment horizon.


Q:
What is the most dire predicament facing American consumers today? I would think credit card debt, but what do you think? Also, is it better for the economy to spend or save? Our economy got larger and more powerful because of our spending prowess; but Japan, on the other hand, has its economic growth stunted because it is a nation of savers.

A: You are correct that consumer spending carried our economic growth for a long time, but it was a bit of a ruse. Like the curtain that shielded the Wizard of Oz, it was easy to see that the “powerful” economy you refer to was actually being supported by massive levels of consumer debt and a lending culture spun out of control. Clearly our “powerful” economic growth would have been more sustainable if it was built on both saving and spending.

Why is it that this question is always posed as an either/or? Seems to me the ideal is a mix of both. Spend within your means so you can also afford to save for your future. Cosmic idea, right?

Q: I graduated from law school two years ago. My school debt is around $100,000. I live in a small town and make $39,000 per year. I recently purchased a modest home ($105,000). I find that I have very little extra money to put away after bills are paid (I have no credit card debt). Any suggestions for reducing my school debt? Also, I am interested in opening a small business. Are there any resources for young female entrepreneurs?

A: Well, taking on more debt by opening a business is not the way to reduce your debt. It seems to me you made a choice to live in a small town, and with that comes a lower income than what your law degree might have generated in a bigger corporate environment. That’s a perfectly fine choice, but you need to respect that you took on a ton of debt while opting for a lower-paying job. So that means it is going to take time to get the student loan debt paid off.

If your goal is to have money to start a business, then you might consider higher-paying job options for a few years so you can get rid of the student loan debt, create a savings cushion, and then be in much better shape to chase your entrepreneurial dreams.

Q: Another question from another starving graduate student who is still in the Ph.D. I have: some debt (about 20,000, all subsidized); a wee bit of retirement money (about 4,000 in both Roth and traditional I.R.A.’s); and an equally wee bit of savings (about 4,000 including emergency).

I feel like there’s little that I can do to save (for retirement, a house, down payment, etc.), that isn’t a total joke. If I can scrape out $50 a month, where should I be putting it?

A: If you’re still in school and the loans are subsidized, that means you aren’t accruing interest. So don’t worry about the student loans (just yet). I’d use the extra money you have to build up your retirement savings (stick with the Roth, not the traditional I.R.A.; as a starving grad student, I am confident you meet the income eligibility rules) and your emergency savings account.

Check on the rules for adding to your Roth account; many fund firms require you make additional investments of at least $100. In that case, just get on a schedule where you invest $50 in the first month in your bank savings account; then save up $100 in months two and three to put into your Roth account. Then in month four, it’s time to put another $50 in your bank savings account. Rinse and repeat.

Q: I know many people have provided you with their personal financial situations but none of them seem as dire as mine. I went to graduate school in public policy and also law school to work in the public sector. Now I am in about $150,000 of school debt (mostly at 4 percent interest) with about $8,000 in savings. Now I have to work at a corporate law firm to pay off the debt!

Am I doomed to a life of puritanical delayed gratification where I can’t think about buying a car or home for another 20 years? How much should I save, as opposed to using that money to pay off school debts?


A:
If that 4 percent interest rate is fixed, then I wouldn’t rush to pay it all off. That’s a pretty nice deal. But at the same time, with that big of a debt balance, mortgage lenders might be a bit skittish about forking over money to you right now. But I seriously doubt we’re talking about having to wait 20 years. I bet you can make a serious dent in the loans in just five years or so with your corporate law income; and that will bring down your debt load to a point where your income is sufficient to handle the continuing school payments and start on other financial goals — be it buying a home or building an investment portfolio.

I understand your frustration, but at the same time, what did you expect? When you signed on for the loans to finance two graduate degrees you had to have known this was going to be the end game.


Q:
I want to get a Ph.D. in economics; not for the money, but because I think I’ll enjoy academia. This means that I won’t be able to accumulate any real savings until I’m about 26 years old, but because of university stipends, I won’t get into debt either. Based on the data, I would expect to make about $70,000 per year after I graduate. Am I an idiot?

A: Hmm … I imagine there might be a few Freakonomics enthusiasts with some personal insights on this, but here’s mine: If you are telling me you can get a Ph.D. without incurring debt, I don’t really see the downside. (By the way, that teeth gnashing you hear are all the other posters (see above) who are swimming in oodles of student loans. If you do go back to school, you might want to keep your debt-free status to yourself.) While it’s always smart to get started on investing as early as possible, 26 still qualifies as early.

Q: With what we keep reading about housing, my wife and I want to make sure we can truly afford a house before we consider looking. How do we know if we are financially ready to buy a house? What should we have in savings? What percent of our income should we expect to pay?

A: Do you have lots of credit card debt? What about car debt? What about school loans? It makes little sense for me to throw out a percentage without knowing what your personal balance sheet looks like.

And don’t listen to lenders on this account. It wasn’t too long ago (early 1990’s) that your monthly mortgage payments and other recurring debt payments needed to clock in at no more than 36 percent. By the height of the bubble, some lenders were writing deals at 50 percent. And you know how those loans are performing right now.

So please don’t let lenders tell you how much you can qualify for. The question you should be asking yourself is: “what can we comfortably afford?” That’s what you want to borrow. Not a penny more.

Here’s what you need to think about as a first-time buyer: What you can afford in rent today is not the size of a mortgage you can afford. So for example, if you pay $1,500 in rent, do not think you can afford a $1,500 mortgage payment.

This is where so many first-timers get into trouble. What they don’t anticipate is that in addition to the basic mortgage, there is home insurance, property tax, and all the joys of home maintenance to pay for when you own a home.

So my basic rule of thumb is to add 30 percent to the basic mortgage amount to get a sense of your true housing costs. For example, if you use a basic mortgage calculator, it will tell you that a $250,000 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 6.3 percent will run you about $1,550 a month.

But here’s where you should add in the 30 percent. That brings the cost to about $2,015. If you can handle that $2,015 payment, then a $250,000 mortgage is fine. But if you can only afford the $1,550 payment, the better move is to look for a less expensive home that will require a smaller mortgage.

Now of course, there’s the tax break you get on your mortgage payments; the interest payments are fully deductible on your federal tax return. But if the only way a home is affordable is if you factor in the value of the tax break, I think that’s often a sign that you may be cutting it too close. I’d rather see you scale back your sights in terms of the mortgage size so you can more comfortably afford the mortgage, and all the sizable incidental costs. Then if any of life’s “what ifs” pop up (an illness, a layoff, a major home repair/upgrade), you will be able to weather it without too much stress.


Q:
In 25 words or less, what’s the best financial advice either 1) you have received or 2) you give out now to others? Bonus points if you answer in haiku format.


A:

Can you afford it?

Unpaid credit card balance?

One word, friend: denied!


Q:
Last year, my mutual fund was at a whopping $120,000, but as of this summer, it’s down to $88,000. Needless to say, I’m devastated and fearful that this situation will only get worse.

And I’m also in a quandary: I want to try to buy a house within the next year or two. Should I go ahead and cash out this faltering mutual fund and park it in a money market or savings account before the new presidential administration moves in and (almost surely) increases the capital gains tax penalty? Or should I leave the money where it is, with the hope that the market will correct itself by next summer?

A: Your money should have never been invested in stock mutual funds to begin with. Stocks and stock funds are great long-term investments; yes, I still believe that even with all the volatility we are living through right now. But the emphasis is on long term. My definition of long term is at least 10 years down the road. With that long-term horizon, your portfolio has the time to ride out market swoons.

If you have a goal that is just one or two years off — such as wanting to make a home down payment — it makes no sense to have your money in stocks. As you have experienced, over the short term, stocks can in fact lose value — a lot of value. When you have a short-term investment goal you need to know that the money will be there when you need it; that means keeping the money in low-risk investments such as bank C.D.’s, a money market, or Treasury bills.

Don’t think waiting until next summer will solve your problems. Again, that is an incredibly short time span when you are talking about stocks. Will they rebound by next summer? Maybe. Maybe not. If you seriously need the money before next summer, you do not belong in stocks.


Q:
I am 34, single, and have no debt other than a car payment. I invest 15 percent of my pretax salary in the stock market in addition to my government retirement plan. Am I correct in sticking to my investing no matter what “corrections” there are in the stock market? I am telling myself that these lower stock prices are actually good in the long term because I am able to buy more stocks with my dollar.


A:
You are 100 percent on the right track. You have 25 to 30 years before retirement, so what you want to focus on right now is accumulating as many shares as possible. The more shares you have today, the more money you make when the markets rise. And as uncomfortable as it is to watch your portfolio values drop today, what you want to keep your focus on is how you can position your portfolio to grow over the long term.

Accumulating more shares today is the ticket. If you had just five years before retirement I would be much more cautious; I want to emphasize that the reason you are making the smart move is because you have so much time to ride out this bear market and have those shares you are buying today rise in value over the coming years and decades.

Q: My online savings account is down from 5 percent interest to 2.7 percent. Where is the best place to save money that will be used in the next one to two years to buy a home?

A: Right where it’s at. I can’t stress this enough; money you need to use in a year or two belongs in a safe bank account, not the stock market. A 2.7 percent return you can count on is better than running the risk that money invested in stocks could lose value right before you need to cash out.


Q:
I’ve felt for a year now that there is nowhere to invest my money safely. Other than money that was already in the market, I’ve been keeping cash, and not leaving much in a checking account. (I earn most of my money as a self-employed landscaper; no big firm to match 401(k)/403(b), just me.) Any suggestions? With the likes of Lehman and Merrill slipping into the Hudson …


A:
It depends on what your definition of safe is. There’s the safety of knowing your money won’t lose value in a down market, but what about the safety of having enough money to live comfortably in retirement?

If you are making enough money today that you can keep it all in cash and have a big enough stash to retire on, then God bless. But chances are you need to put some money into the stock market to have a shot at long-term gains that will outpace inflation. I am in serious broken-record territory here, but just in case you haven’t read through the other answers: long-term stocks are the right investment.

As for what to invest in: If you think you will have $5,000 or less a year to save up, then I would go with a Roth I.R.A.; it’s simply the best deal out there. In a pinch, your contributions can always be tapped without any tax penalties. If you wait until you are at least 59 1/2 years old, you can withdraw your money with no tax bill. Individuals with income below $101,000 and couples with modified adjusted gross incomes below $159,000 in 2008 can invest the maximum $5,000 a year. (If you are over 50 years old, you can add another $1,000 to the pot.) Now, if you have a lot more income to invest, I would look into a S.E.P.-I.R.A.; you can invest up to $46,000 in 2008 depending on your income.

Assuming you have 10 or more years until you retire, I would consider sticking the money in one or two broadly diversified index mutual funds; put most of it in a U.S. total-market index fund, and maybe 10 percent or so in an international fund. Yes, international markets are feeling the pain right now too, but remember, the focus is on the long term. And given that we live in a global economy — and that many foreign markets have strong growth prospects — it makes sense to have international exposure.

As for your comment about Lehman and Merrill, I think it’s important to understand that no matter the problems on Wall Street, they don’t affect any retail investment accounts. For example, money invested in a Merrill brokerage account is never commingled with the company’s money that is investing (and loaning out) for itself. Now if you invested in Merrill or Lehman stock, well that’s another issue. But the point is, the money you invest in a brokerage account is not affected by any bankruptcy or merger. It is your money, period. The only risk you have is market risk: that is, the value of your investments falling.


Q:
If you could summarize what you have found to be the key to a successful, happy life in one sentence, what would it be? For all the personal financial planners out there who are trying to help their clients fulfill their dreams, what advice for a daily ritual/practice of focus would you suggest?

A:
Do what is right versus doing what is easy. Put your clients’ needs in front of your own.

Q: What are the three to five things you would say impact net worth by age 65 more than any other? Assume early professional, as many have mentioned.

When I talk to otherwise rational people about money, I swear, I.Q. points fly out the window. What is the best way to get people to approach the concept of money that helps them make the best decisions for their own good?


A:
Start saving early. Focus on the long term. Know the difference between good debt and bad debt.

Start investing in your 20’s and 30’s and you give your money decades to grow (and ride out bear markets). Wait until you are 40 or 50 or so to get started and you have to save bucket-loads more simply because you have less time for your money to grow. And tune out all the short-term news. Build a diversified portfolio; funds or E.T.F.’s work best unless you have the time and skill to manage a portfolio of individual stocks.

Then sit back and let time work for you. Don’t panic when the market nosedives; stay focused on the fact that even with intermittent market swoons, stocks have historically delivered the strongest gains for long-term investors. Yes, history is not a guarantee of the future, but it is a telling guide. If you can accept the short-term risk and you have a diversified portfolio, you are going to do just fine over the decades.

That, of course, assumes you don’t leverage your life up the wazoo. Don’t get me started on credit card debt.

If you want to be assured of solid net worth at age 65, please don’t fall for a home-equity line of credit. It is just a credit card in the shape of a house. This may sound old-fashioned, but living within your means seems like timely advice, eh? A mortgage is fine. Leveraging your home equity — not so much.

As for getting people to make smart decisions — well, that’s a longer conversation. To give you a short answer, it comes in the form of a question: Is that normal?

When someone tells you to invest in a stock because it was up 40 percent in two months, ask yourself: “is that normal?” When someone tells you to put all your money in technology stocks because they have doubled in value in one year, ask yourself: “is that return normal?” When you buy a home on the expectation that values will rise 20 percent per year, ask yourself: “is that normal?”

When you base decisions on realistic assumptions, you stay out of trouble and build sustainable net worth. When you chase hot performance or think “this time is different,” you will end up in trouble. Name me a bubble that didn’t eventually burst. Right, you can’t. So that brings me back to focusing on “what is normal” and not getting caught up in market moves that are far removed from historical norms.

Q: We have met with a financial planner who tells us that, according to projections, we do not need to add anything else to our savings for retirement in order to meet our retirement goals. In fact, he tells us we have oversaved (that is, we will have more at retirement than we need). We are in our 30’s; have Roth I.R.A.’s, 401(k)’s, etc.; and have both maxed our contributions each year that we have worked since college. Is this possible that we are “set”? We are both in disbelief, but maybe now we can take more vacations!

A: I think it is really hard to oversave. I never look at what I could have; I look at what I have.

Remember, anything is possible in life, so you cannot just project what you think you need to know for sure. What will the tax brackets be? What will the value of a dollar will be? What will your real estate be worth? How much will oil or your health insurance be?

I just have to say that my mother is 93 years old, and now she needs full-time nurses, etc.; it is costing a fortune. So please make sure that you really have thought of everything.

I have millions and millions and I am still saving. But I can’t really answer the question without knowing how much money you have, your expenses, and the assumptions that planner made. Is he basing his projection on your portfolio earning an average 10 percent return, 8 percent, or some other level. Yes, an annualized 10 percent is the historical average for stocks going back 60 or 70 years, but times have changed.

We live in a different America now. Look at what just happened with A.I.G., Merrill, etc. I think it’s wiser to take a more conservative approach and see how your retirement plan plays out if you earn, say, 4 percent or 5 percent.

Then there’s the question of how long he is figuring you will need to live off of your retirement savings.

There’s a big difference if you expect to live 20 years in retirement, or 40 years. And I have to tell you, given your young age, there is a very good chance one or both of you could live well into your 90’s. So are you “set” for your savings to support you into your 90’s — or did the planner figure you would retire at 60 and live to 80?

You get where I am going; how set you are depends on the assumptions that are used. Given how young you are, and what great financial shape you are in, why not check back in and run all the numbers again with a very conservative approach: that your portfolio will earn less than the historical norm, that you will have a very long life, and that your health-care costs will be more than you anticipate (count on this!). If that means continuing to save for another 10 years so you can be absolutely sure of a super-comfy retirement, that seems like the best move. It still sounds like you would be “all set” well before you are 50.


Q:
What’s the best way to buy a car? New or used, what is the best term length for a loan; how long should the car, after being bought, be kept in order to maximize trade-in value?

A: It depends. If money is a concern, then obviously a used car that you can buy outright is the best way to do it. If you are a woman let’s say, and you are scared to death that your car may break down on the road (which most women are), then a new car under warranty is the way to go. If you need to finance a car, hopefully you can find a deal with a 0 percent interest rate.

But either way, you should buy the least expensive car possible. The best financing is no financing. But if you need to finance, never finance for more than three years. The time you should drive the car after being bought is: as long as possible but no less than 10 years.

Q: My boyfriend and I have a significant amount of credit card debt (approximately $25,000) from our college and graduate schooling. We are able to make the minimum payments each month but have very little extra. My understanding is the majority of the debt consolidation programs are scams. Can you recommend a good way to help reduce the interest rates on our cards and get rid of our debt?

A:
Yep, I’d steer clear of the debt consolidation offers. They can do a lot more damage than help. Besides, it sounds like you aren’t in absolutely dire shape, given that you have been able to keep up with the minimum payments each month. But we definitely need a plan for getting those balances down A.S.A.P.

If your FICO credit score is at least 760, you both might look into whether you can qualify for a balance transfer to a credit card that charges zero interest during the intro period (typically 6 to 12 months). You can shop for options at cardtrak.com. If you qualify for a transfer, move your highest-rate credit card debt onto this card; if you can transfer all your debt, great. But if some of your debt remains on a high-rate card, you can then make it your goal to put more toward paying it down each month, while just paying the minimum on the transfer card.

The simple rule with credit card debt is: a) always pay the minimum due on each credit card, on time, each month. That goes a long way to keeping your credit score in good shape. You’ve got that nailed. Then b) Send in extra payments on the card that charges you the highest interest rate — not the card with the highest balance. Make your focus the card with the highest interest rate. When that card is paid off, set your sights on the card with the next-highest interest rate. You get the idea.

At the same time, I encourage you both to take a serious look at your spending to see where you can scale back. I know it’s not fun, but if you want to get out of debt, finding $10 here and there that you can then add to your credit card payments makes a huge difference. Bankrate.com has a great calculator where you can see the impact of sending in more than the minimum. Give it a spin and I bet you’ll be motivated to find ways to speed up your repayment once you see how much you can save in time and interest payments.


Q:
What’s your rough estimate on the percent of all U.S. adults that are financially literate? And please define for us what you consider adequate financial literacy.


A:
Whatever the percentage, it is woefully low; but entirely predictable too.

It’s hard to be literate in a subject you receive no education or training in. It is inexcusable that our public high schools aren’t required to teach the basics of borrowing and saving.

I am not even suggesting a semester-long course that gets into anything sophisticated. All I want is for every young adult to know how to stay out of financial trouble and build financial security — the basics. Seems to me that starts with understanding the “cost” of debt, and there are easy real-world examples to use in the teaching.

The statistics on young adults drowning in credit card debt are depressing. And while I still maintain that student loans are “good debt,” the slew of questions I received here about dealing with big loan balances suggests that many very smart young adults are nonetheless struggling to figure out how to handle those loans.

Explaining how to build wealth is equally important. At a minimum, I want every 18-year-old to understand the difference between saving and investing.

Saving is what you do to meet short-term goals, be it building an emergency cash account or a down payment you hope to make in a year or so. Investing is what you do to build long-term wealth. The former is achieved through no-risk savings, such as money markets and C.D.’s. The latter is achieved through a mix of stocks and bonds. And I do mean a mix; one of the biggest problems I run into with adults is they own a highly concentrated portfolio of just a few stocks. Can you imagine all the wealth that would have been protected if more folks hadn’t been overloaded in Nasdaq prior to that bubble meltdown; or for the same matter, anyone who assumed they could pour all their money into buying their house, because it was guaranteed to always go up 10 percent or more a year. Diversification is the key to financial security.


Q:
My husband and I are in the process of reviewing life insurance options so that we can secure our family’s future. We are looking at both whole-life and term insurance. Whole is expensive, but builds a cash value; while term life is relatively inexpensive, but doesn’t have any value after the term expires. Any suggestions on how to make a decision?


A:
For the vast majority of people, term insurance is the far better deal. It is cheaper because you are buying only insurance. There’s no investment component. Without getting into a lot of detail here, the fact is you can typically do a lot better investing on your own, rather than doing it through a life insurance policy. The bottom line is that you end up paying a lot for that investment component in an insurance policy.

I’d rather see you stick with term and then use all the money you “save” to make sure you exhaust every tax-deferred investment option you have, such as your 401(k), 403(b), and I.R.A.’s. Build up your retirement savings, and it’s likely you will no longer will need life insurance.

Remember, for most of us, life insurance is a backstop for when you have yet to build up sufficient assets your dependents could fall back on if you died prematurely. Once you have those assets in place, or once the dependents (read: kids) are adults and are no longer financially dependent on you, then chances are you don’t need the life insurance any longer. That’s why term makes sense for most folks. Now just to keep the emails from the life insurance agents to a minimum, there are instances where whole-life or other types of so-called cash-value policies can make sense.

But if all you’re looking for is to buy protection for 10 or 20 years while you raise your family and build up your assets, go with term, and only term. Your insurance agent might not be pushing it because the commission is a lot lower than what he or she pockets if you go with a more expensive term policy. Just keep that in mind if someone is bending your ear about a whole life policy.

Q: I have heard, and somewhat agree with, your life insurance strategy: Buy term in lieu of whole life and invest the difference. However, recent reports of your plan to purchase a whopping $25 million whole-life policy is in direct contradiction to the previously stated principle. Why the change of heart? What is the mathematical relationship of one life insurance strategy versus the other?


A:
You have to be joshing me. Where did you hear that? I would never purchase a whole life insurance policy even if my life depended on it. Please don’t be so naïve as to believe everything that you read.

Agents, financial advisors, etc. are always saying I said this or that so that they can sell you something by using me. But never doubt that it is just a sales ploy and nothing more.

Here is the sad part of being someone like me: people are always saying or writing or claiming that I said or did this or that, all of which are totally untrue. Should I go after them and sue them? You bet I should and you never know when I will, however the truth is the truth and it always comes out in the end.

So the great lesson that I have learned over time is that there is no need to defend yourself again others’ lies; for lies are lies. So let others think, for they are going to think anyway, is how I live my life. Did that make sense my friend? So please remember: do not believe what you read unless you have heard it from the person directly. Always remember, when others stand to make money off of what they are telling you about someone else, I would think twice about it.


Patrick Bateman

Freakonomics is starting to lose all credibility by having Suze Orman as the resident Financial Adviser. She is terrible. Come on guys.

Pete Fontaine

I Remembered that Suze marked the top of the tech bubble in 2000 with her call to "Buy Stocks". When she told people on in Sept of 05 "now is a good time to buy a house" I figured that it was worth a post it note. I think sept 05 is within a month or two of the height of the madness in house prices. Suze, you might want to remind your readers that the same people who made billions lending money they knew couldn't be repaid are the same people telling you what the stocks they have to sell you are worth. You might also tell them that "Panic" has served countless survivors well for millions of years. (or at least 6,000 according to Palin!) The plains of Africa are strewn with the bones of any number of creatures that didn't "Panic"

krasicki

Suze Orman is to finance expertise what Sarah Palin is to energy expertise.

"I have change in my pocket!, that must make me a Wall St. banker!"

Anyone silly enough to follow her advice is living in a clueless bubble.

sue cooper

I am 59 years old, divorced for many years, and was hoping to retire in 10 years. I work as a Registered Nurse, am making $100,000 a year, and have had one joint replacement and am anticipating 3 more. Otherwise, in good health and always have been a hard worker.

I have watched my retirement (401, 403, Stock funds through Alliance Bersnstein and cash account in the same funds, reduced by 35% in ths last year.
I now have about $200,000 worth.
My house was bought in Orlando for 173,000 in 1996.
My morgage is $128,000 now.
After listening to you, I have redirected all future contributions to a fixed stable value Met Life fund, which has no FDIC insured features. I need to go throughbthat company for my 403 and 401.
Any suggestions?

Ellis

my husband and are are woefully in credit card, and medical expense debt. we are able to make the minimum payments each month but are never able to pay extra. We do own outright our house - there is no mortgage, no lien, nothing. Due to the credit card debt our ratings both fall in the 740 range. Our house has the estimated worth of 85,000. At this time (in the financial state of the world) would it be a good idea for us to try to take out a mortgage or loan on the house to dig out from under the credit card debt?

Teddi Pedone

Hello Suze,I've been retired for a year now and have my money invested in a Roth IRA and Mutual Funds. The amount is less than $10,000.00. Since July, 2008 I've lost $1,700.00. Knowing that I'll need some of this money to be available, and feeling the way the markets are going that I should close the accounts and not invest in Stocks. I'd like to invest the money in a C.D., Money Market or Treasury Bills. At least the money would be making some interest instead of loosing. Would I be making the right decision? Suze, I've been a listener and reader of your advise for a very long time I would appreciate your comment.

Mark Powell

I have old medical bills that were about 6 yrs old or so, and i began to pay them off one by one in hopes of repairing some of my credit. Is that considered to be a detriment or can it possibly help in the long run and get you on the right track to repairing your credit. please help me figure this out, very desperate for info. Love the show

Duane Copeland

We are in Our mid-seventies and when the market started looking bad we put 96% ($197,000.00)of our investments into cash which is sitting there. Should we take the money and run? Thanks.

Duane Copeland

Sean

I am not at all an expert, but it seems that many people get into financial trouble because, among other things, they can't manage their spending. They go out to dinner instead of cooking it; they buy new cars every 5 years; they buy more clothes than they really need; they buy new TVs, cell phones, and other gadgets more often than they need to; etc. If people changed their spending habits, they could improve their situations a lot, even without making other changes that they should make.

Sarah

I completely agree with Suze's statement on the importance of telling children about college finances. My parents always told me that I would need to finance my education through scholarships because I was expected to attend a prestigious (and therefore expensive) school, and I am one of 5 kids. There was a small college fund, but my mom gave it to my stepdad for a major home-improvement project. So I knew well before high school that I would need to get a full ride because I would get absolutely no money from my parents. That knowledge forced me to be a better student and more involved in extracurriculars than I might have wished at the time. I did get full academic scholarships to my school, and have worked throughout school to pay for food and rent. On the plus side, because my parents never paid for my education or upkeep at school, they were more willing to help out in emergencies, such as when my car was totaled my junior year.

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Lesli Griggs

I make$57,000 a year as a nurse. I am 50. My husband is 54 and receives $11364.00 a year disability from social security. He works part time and brings home around $500.00 a month. We put $10000.00 a year into an IRA fund and I save 15% a paycheck in a 403B retirement account through my work. They match 50 cents on the dollar that I save up to the first 5%. I have $57000.00 in my work retirement fund, $30,000 dollars in my IRA and my husband has $68000.00 in his IRA. We owe $79000.00 dollars on our home that we paid $126000.00 for 6 years ago. Our original mortgage was $100000.00 @ 6% interest for 30 years. We make 2 extra house payments a year to help pay our home off quicker. We don't owe anything on our cars which are a 2008 Cobalt and a 2005 Hyndai. We do have $20000.00 credit card debt that is @ 2.99% until they are paid off. My husband is busily reducing the debt by paying extra every month. Our children are grown and on their own. Since all of our money is in stocks, we are considering cashing in his account, taking a small hit with taxes, adding the money that we have in savings and paying the house down to leave us a debt of $10,000.00 on it and paying it off in a year and then begin saving the money for his IRA again. We are disciplined and would save the $1010.00 that we are paying on our house payment. I am just concerned that we're going to loose all of our money to the stock market, and still owe the mortgage company. Is this a good idea. I also realize that once the house is paid off, we will have to set aside the money to pay our taxes and insurance. Lesli

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Joe D

Peter @16:

Pick a topic you're knowledgable on, that you're certain would help a lot of people if they only knew some of what you know. Maybe it's driving tips (such as, "Start slowly from lights: It's easier on your engine, saves gas, *and* might save you from being creamed by the guy running the red light") or your favorite rant.

Then when you find out you're *good* at it, that people will *pay* to hear you talk and read your books, you'll be a crook, too.

Peter

Suze Orman is a crook that makes money by charging people to listen to her totally generic advice like "start saving", "don't spend more than you make". Anybody with IQ>70 could devise all her "strategies", the only difference is she is a performer that hypnotizes and commands her audience.

susan k. (NYC)

Suze is incredible. I have been a fan for a while. Always seems to be dead on.

I would love to ask: Why are we so certain FDIC means rock-solid safe when the gov't is sinking sinking sinking...with more war and natural disaster and economic disaster surely on the horizon? Isn't it imaginable that FDIC will become meaningless?

jz

My take away from this interview is the magnitude of educational debt burden dragging on many.

The payoff for high-cost degrees in law and humanities is poor. Only 2% of medical students choose primary care. I hope SallieMae is well capitalized to deal with defaults.

Shanika B.

Hi, I just graduated from nursing school, I am 31 with two kids and a hubby, I am starting from scratch. We have a plan to stay in our apartment for two years and pay down credit cards accrued from school. I would like to know how to invest in a 401k that my hospital offers, non-matching. I have nothing saved for retirement so far.They offer a pension after 5 years employment which is why they do not match. Should i put into a savings account?please help!!

DCF

"Name me a bubble that didn't eventually burst."

This has to be one of the more tautological and idiotic things a supposedly clever person has published on this blog. An asset bubble is defined ex ante by the fact that it burst! In my opinion, this is the worst interview the freakonomics blog has ever published by one or two orders of magnitude.

zach

To all of the people saying not to go to a graduate school without funding: Funding would be great if it were available, but many public programs have none. Want a PhD from CUNY in a social science or humanities field? You'll get a grant for the cost of your tuition, sure but just try paying living expenses in NYC on your $2500-$3000/semester adjunct wage. School debt happens.

Jen Cadmus

Dear Suzie,
I am almost 58 years old and have a 401k fidelity fund with a interest fund through my ex-husband's company and is a QDRO account.
I recently injured my foot and have not been able to go back to work. When I was going back a few weeks later I was noticed that I along with 2 other women were being laid off. I still have unable to walk on this foot. Therefore, I have no income coming in all this time. I wanted to find out if there was a way to remove the monies from this fund without penalty. I live alone and I have no one to help me with this and I am very scared that I might lose this monies altogether. If you could possibly find some time to email me, I would really appreciate the help you can give me. I have nuemerous medical conditions at this time, along with clinical depression. I know I need at least some of the monies to start paying my bills. Could you suggest some help for me.
Sincerely, Jen

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GZE

My mother was a single mom and a schoolteacher and I knew since age 10 there wasnt any college money. So, in this case, you have a 12-year old that was told from a very early financial truths. That allowed me to work towards scolarships and good grades since an early age. I realize I am an exception but not all 12-yr olds are lost financially!