The Worst Money Advice I Ever Got: 6 Stories

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- What’s the worst financial advice you’ve ever received?

MainStreet posed this question to a group of average Americans and received a variety of colorful responses — from investment mistakes to real-estate blunders.

To find out what can be learned from each person’s story, we picked the brains of financial planners from around the country. Interestingly, while the advisers agreed that some advice was indeed unwise, in other cases they argued that the advice could be sound in certain situations.

“A lot of financial advice is not ‘one size fits all’,” says certified financial planner Helen Huntley of Holifield Huntley Financial Advisers in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Advice that’s good for one person may not be at all good for another who is in different circumstances.”

Folks should also keep in mind that while seeking professional financial advice is often the way to go, always be wary of an adviser who is too pushy.

“When a client feels pressure from anybody to make a financial decision — especially those taking their money — run for the exit,” says certified financial planner Phyllis Carlton of Carlton Advisors in West Linn, Ore. “A true financial professional will be able to answer any and all questions in terms the client understands. If they don’t, either they do not understand the risks themselves or they don’t have their client’s best interests in mind.”

Read on to hear the stories of six Americans, plus comments from the pros.

 



 

Name: Janet Zinn 
Hometown: New York
Age: 51
Profession: Psychotherapist

Worst advice:
“About 10 years ago an old accountant advised we cash in a substantial 401(k) plan to pay off credit card debt, instead of instituting a plan to pay it off over time and learn how to spend and save at the same time.”

What the experts say:
In general, touching your retirement plan before you reach retirement age is a no-no.

“When folks are under 59 ½  years of age, there is a 10% penalty [for cashing in your 401(k)] in addition to the current income taxes owed on whatever amount was cashed in,” says certified financial planner Debra L. Morrison of Trovena in Roseland, N.J.

Morrison says a better idea is to consider taking out a loan on 401(k) money following “a rigid, monthly repayment schedule, which requires the participant to pay off the loan, thereby maintaining the retirement funds for their original intended use.”

Of course, there are exceptions. “The advice may have been appropriate if, say, the credit card was charging 29% interest and the consumer was in the 15% bracket with a 10% penalty,” says financial adviser Fred Amrein of Amrein Financial in Wynnewood, Pa. In this instance, “your cost of the 401(k) redemption is 25%, saving you 4%.”

Always do your homework and run the numbers before making any decisions to touch your retirement fund, Amrein adds.

 

 

Name: Gabrielle Lennon
Hometown: Sarasota, Fla. 
Age: 46
Profession: Author

Worst advice:
“To buy an extra house, get a tenant, and let the tenant’s rent pay the mortgage and all the bills. So many people and books say this, but many tenants are horrible. I’ve had great [renters], nightmare [renters] and everything in between.”

What the experts say:
“Books often promote becoming a landlord as the easy road to riches, but people have to understand that owning a rental property is just like any other business – it requires a lot of time and hard work,” says financial adviser Landon Loveall of Cumberland Wealth Planners in Thompson Station, Tenn.

Of course, if you’re prepared to put in the work, there’s no doubt that renting a property can be a promising way to build wealth, adds certified financial planner Rick Kahler of Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, S.D. “It’s important that tenants pay their rent on time, and landlords must demand that and not get big-hearted,” Kahler adds.

Morrison suggests that people only consider becoming landlords if they can set aside a “sinking fund” to cover the sum of a variety of expenses associated with managing a property.

“The proper preparation for owning a rental property is to assume that you will be turning over renters annually, incurring costs of painting, re-carpeting and repairing damage; that you will go vacant three months between renters on average; that your renters will consistently pay late without including the late fee; and that you may have to spend a couple months’ rent to evict certain tenants,” Morrison says.  

 

 

Name: Ismail Humet
Hometown: Long Island, N.Y.
Age: 23
Profession: Entrepreneur

Worst advice:
“Someone told me not to invest in my own small business. My partner and I decided to ignore this advice and invested into our start-up MyFreebeez.com anyway. It has turned into a huge success and we are absolutely glad we did it. We’ve already earned our investment back many times over, and are still continuing to earn on that investment.”

What the experts say:
Providing advice on whether entrepreneurs should invest in their own company is a bit tricky. While Humet’s business became a success, that isn’t the case for all business owners. “I tell people to be very careful with this, since the majority of businesses don’t make it,” Kahler says.

Rather than telling entrepreneurs to steer completely clear of investing in their own business, Kahler suggests that an adviser should help the business owner think through the risks in order to make an informed decision.

Certified financial planner Laura Scharr-Bykowsky of Ascend Financial Planning in Columbia, S.C., says that it’s OK to “invest prudently” in your own business to maximize growth, but doesn’t suggest investing exclusively in your business.

“You can diversify away risk by spreading your investments out among several non-correlated asset classes,” Scharr-Bykowsky says. “For instance, if your business depends on overseas sales, you might want to dial down that exposure in your financial investments.”

 

 

Name: Brittany McDonough
Hometown: Boston
Age: 22
Profession: Recent college graduate

Worst advice:
“During college, I was told to open a credit card and use it to charge all my books and school fees on. The 19% or more interest on a credit card is far more than the subsidized government loan that ended up covering my school costs.”

What the experts say:
Whether college students should have credit cards really boils down to whether they are able to keep on top of payments, says Kahler. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for college students to have a credit card if they’re not going to pay off the balance each month,” he says.

Morrison adds that college kids are often offered a “teaser” rate of 0% interest or close to it, but eventually the real rate kicks in, which can get young people into trouble.

Kahler says that using student loans can be a good alternative to pay for books. “If you are going to pay off the credit card monthly, that is far cheaper than paying interest [on a loan] for years,” he says. “But if you are going to borrow, you typically get a lower interest rate on a student loan.”

 

 

Name: Deanne Hollis
Hometown: Eastvale, Calif.
Age: 48
Profession: Public relations consultant

Worst advice:
“Around 1998, before the tech crash, my husband’s grandfather passed away. He left $5,000 for each of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My husband’s mother and father advised us to invest in mutual funds for ourselves and our children, [saying] the fund would grow exponentially and by having it in a fund, it would be diversified. It never grew much at all; in fact it lost money. I kept it in there with the philosophy of ‘leave it and forget it’ — don’t watch what it is doing because it will go up and down.”

What the experts say:
Although Kahler doesn’t advise against putting money into mutual funds, he says that you should always diversify your investments among asset classes. “You want different types of bonds, commodities and real estate investment trusts, for example,” says Kahler.

Another mistake is expecting to see immediate results. “It was probably wrong to say it would grow exponentially,” says Kahler, adding that one can expect to see a respectable return over a longer period of time, such as 10 to 20 years.

“You can’t ‘set it and forget it’,” Scharr-Bykowsky adds. “We all need to be aware of what we are invested in and periodically monitor the performance. A once-a-year rebalancing or a review of the fund would have been a smart move.”

 

 

Name: Aimee Brittain
Hometown: Atlanta
Age: 33
Profession: Entrepreneur

Worst advice:
“To not pay off your student loans until you’re done with college. If I had started making payments in college like I had planned to do, it could have saved me thousands.”

What the experts say:
Although college students often do not have the cash flow to begin paying off loans while still in school, “if one is able to pay down debt sooner, it generally does save what could be substantial interest over a period of years,” says Morrison.

Huntley recommends starting student loan repayment while still in school only if the following criteria are met:

• You are not taking out new student loans.

• You are not carrying higher-interest debt (i.e. credit cards, car loans). “Those debts should be paid off before you start making student loan payments that you are not yet required to make,” Huntley says.

• You have adequate emergency funds. “This reduces the risk that you’ll have to take out new credit card debt to meet your obligations,” says Huntley.

• Your loans are not subsidized.

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