Updated: 9/17/2010 9:00 AM ET|
I don't hate Suze; I just disagree
There are some things I do like about celebrity financial adviser Suze Orman. But do her one-size-fits-all answers really fit you?
There doesn't seem to be much middle ground with Suze Orman. Her fans adore her. She drives other people right up the wall.
I knew that before I wrote a column disagreeing with her about-face on credit card debt. (She said that if you don't already have a "fully funded" emergency account, you should pay only the minimums on any credit card debt until you do. I think that's good advice for some, but bad for others.)
What surprised me, though, was how many people -- Suze lovers and haters alike -- interpreted my criticism of her advice as criticism of her.
Haters bashed her books, her popularity -- even her clothes, for heaven's sake -- assuming I agreed. Defenders ripped into me for being envious of her fame. (Fame? Not so much. Massive net worth? Oh, yeah.)
Just for the record: I don't hate Suze. I don't always agree with her, either. Apparently, I'm one of the few people in America who occupies that lonely middle ground.
First, let me tell you what I like about Suze:
She got her CFP. If you're going to take financial advice from anybody, whether she's a celebrity or not, it should be from someone who at a minimum has training in comprehensive financial planning. People who get the Certified Financial Planner mark understand that there are many moving parts to a person's finances and they learn about the importance of addressing all of them: debt, cash flow, investing, insurance, retirement, taxes, college savings, estate planning. People who lack this training often don't know what they don't know. They can give lopsided advice that favors their area of expertise but ignores the many other factors that affect your situation.
She's not pushing get-rich-quick schemes. Although I'll quibble on the details, overall Suze's advice is sound, basic financial planning that will create wealth over time. She's not touting stocks, commodity schemes or any other shortcuts to wealth. She isn't trying to foist products for the wealthy (cash-value life insurance or annuities, for example) onto the middle class.
She's got the touch. Suze connects with people in a way no other personal finance author ever has, or perhaps will again. Her books are mega-best sellers and her PBS specials have raised millions for public television because many, many people like what she has to say and the way she says it.
And that, I say, is a good thing. I've heard from so many people who love Suze because they were clueless about money and she made it understandable to them. Anyone who gets people started on the right path -- to examine their spending, pay down their debt, start saving for retirement and get adequate insurance -- is OK in my book.
Why Suze doesn't need to follow her own advice
I'm also not at all bothered by the fact that most of her wealth is in low-risk municipal bonds.
Suze detractors are livid that she lectures her readers on the importance of investing in stocks when she has the bulk of her money elsewhere.
Yeah, well, I guess she also could drive a Taurus, clip coupons and fly coach. Here's the thing: She doesn't have to.
True financial planning is about taking the appropriate amount of risk. Those of us still saving for retirement need the inflation-beating returns stocks offer over the long run, and so we have to put up with the volatility stocks give us in the short run.
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