Review of Suze Orman Show CNBC Special: Your Money Your Life

CNBC had a special Suze Orman Show last week, and I finally got a chance to watch it on TiVo. Recently, I’ve kind of lightened up on my view of Suze. Like all gurus, she makes blanket statements that may not apply to everyone, but at least she’s not pumping a get-rich-quick scheme involving real estate or stock-picking that is bound to produce more losers than winners. Overall, the show was pretty good for what was basically an hour of sound-bite-based financial advice for people (like me) with short attention spans.

Main Points
Here are her “action points”, which again seem to be generally good advice:

  • Get rid of credit card debt as soon as possible.
  • Keep your credit score high.
  • Save up an 8-month emergency fund.
  • You should have a 20% down payment for a house before buying one to live in.
  • Contribute up to your 401k/403b employer match, then fund a Roth IRA.
  • Create both a will and a living revocable trust.
  • Get adequate life insurance (term only).

I picked up two pointers that I need to research further involving estate planning. First, she stated that you can pass real estate without probate through a living revocable trust. This can save months of hassle and also can avoids court fees and lawyer fees which can eat up thousands of dollars. Second, you should always check your 401k beneficiaries, as whatever you designate on those forms actually trumps your will.

Motivational Story
There was also the oldie-but-goodie why-save-early explanation. Allow me to paraphrase:

If you saved $100 every month starting at age 25, and invested it with normal market returns, at age 65 you would have a million dollars! But you say, I’m 25, who cares? If I wait until 35, that’s only $12,000 I’m not investing. ($100 x 12 months x 10 years)

However, if you indeed started at age 35 saving $100 per month, at age 65 you would only have $300,000. That decade of waiting actually lost you $700,000!!

Of course my question was – what’s “normal market returns”. Doing the backwards math, it’s about 12.08% annualized. Very optimistic, but hey, inflated numbers make the story better. :) It’s still a good lesson.

Don’t Buy Bond Funds?
Finally, a curious quote from her was that she hates bond mutual funds, and that people should only buy individual bonds. I thought to myself – how many casual investors actually buy individual bonds? Dealing with all the intricacies like call risk, par value, and quality ratings would be way too complicated for her target audience. However, digging a little deeper into her older show transcripts, I see that she actually recommends buying US Treasury Bills or Notes with a maturity of less than 5-7 years. Since these are of the highest quality and are relatively uniform, that definitely made more sense… but she didn’t explain this on the show!

Comments

  1. Yeah whenever I read about bonds, it seems to make more sense for a buy and hold investor to buy individual bonds in an IRA/401k and hold until maturity. Perhaps a good topic for a future post?

  2. A Bond investor probably doesn’t gain much benefit at all from investing in a fund as opposed to invidual bonds. If a bond investor buys a bond and holds it until maturity, that investor pays minimal transaction costs for the investment since there are only 1 to 2 transactions taking place over the 5+ year holding period of the bond (if the bond is held to maturity, there may not be any commissions/fees associated with the disbursement of the bond funds at maturity, so the investor may be paying only for the initial transaction).
    If, on the other hand, the investor invests the same amount of money into a bond fund, that fund is buying and selling various bonds, so the fund is incurring transaction costs associated with it’s trades. Not only does the bond fund incur these trading costs, the increased trading activity of the fund would also expose it to additional risks. The investment is now subject to trading risk and market risk, in addition to the risks associated with owning an individual bond (ie – default risk, interest rate risk).
    I don’t think diversification in the bond fund mitigates the increased risk associated with bond funds.
    Now, i have NEVER purchased or sold bonds so i may be off here in my assessment, but it seems to make sense to me!

  3. I fully agree with Suze Orman about not buying bond funds–especially in a tax sheltered account. If you own the bond in a lousy bond market, you just wait it out. Eventually the bond returns to par even if you have to wait to maturity. Meanwhile you are still collecting interest payments. Bond fund managers tend to over manage (instead of waiting out the downturn) and the value of the fund never comes back to what it was. Since you can’t take these “tax losses” in a tax sheltered account, you basically have to eat the loss.

    Obviously I am talking about bonds from companies that stay in business. Buying good quality bonds is important. After buying and selling stocks and bonds for over 20 years, I can’t think of a successful investment in a bond fund that I made. I finally learned my lesson. On the other hand, I have had great success with individual issues.

  4. Zions Direct allows individuals to buy individual corp, muni, Treasuries, Zeros, etc for a uniform $ 10.95 per transaction. They have a reasonable search engine to track down different issues based on rating, maturity etc…

  5. I think she is great for the person who is trying to get their finances in order. I look at her as financial “training wheels”. She is the reason why my husband and I have a will, powers of attorney etc for each other. (I went to a lawyer I didn’t use her stuff). It is because of her we have life insurance.

    I have since out grown her. She is ridiciously conservative for me. Emergency fund – yes, 20% down on a house – yes, no credit cards? We recently got one for the added consumer protection and cash back. We pay our balance off every month. I have outgrown my training wheels.

  6. Me, I’m not objecting to your description of Orman as “financial training wheels.” I think that’s pretty much right. But I watch her show regularly, and I don’t recall her saying she opposes credit cards. She has just urged people to be careful with them and pay them off every month — just as you’re apparently doing.

  7. Waiting to accumulate 20% down on a house – NO, unless the mortgage rate you are getting is significantly higher then the one with 20% down.

    What people do not understand is that banks (credit unions in my personal case) are (were?) willing to finance people with good enough credit history (…and NO credit score in my case…), with normal down payment for a decent mortgage rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage.

    I had no credit score (didn’t use CC cards and had paid off my car loan in 2 years instead of 5, sometime 5+ years ago)
    Had 15 000 down or less on a 165 000 loan and was still able to get a 6.35% mortgage on a 30y fixed-rate loan.
    This was about 2 years ago…

    I hope to be able to pay the house in 5 years instead of 30 IF financially reasonable. Then we will probably move to a better house with a larger loan, assuming that it will be reasonable to do so.

    In short – my advice for first-time home owners:
    - Buy a house as soon as you can (but don’t rush to the very first one you like);
    - Buy a house LOWER than what your bank / CU is willing to lend you;
    - Buy a relatively NEW House (so you don’t have to worry about repairs , led-based paints, screwed up electricity, etc. etc. in the next 5-10 years). Painting the house on the other hand is easy.
    - Get a real estate agent. They WILL work as buyer’s agent (when you are buying) – so you won’t pay them a dime. It’s the Seller’s agent who will have to share his commission with the buying agent.
    With or without a real estate agent – you won’t get the house cheaper because you buy on your own.
    - Check out the houses which look too good to be true OR too ugly from the picture. You might be surprised how many online pictures do not do justice to the home you are buying;
    - Don’t be afraid to drive
    You will most likely change your work position in the next 3 years. And that could be a good thing.
    In my case – I was driving for 1:30 h. one direction each day for the first year. After getting tired of it – I started looking for jobs and found a better pay position (50% jump) in a city closer to where I live.
    My commute is down to less than 2 hour a day. Even if I lived in the city where I work – I’ll still be driving for good 40 minutes a day.

    Granted – that’s my personal experience. Your luck may vary :)

  8. Yeah it is true. The designated beneficiary in your assets (401K and life insurance) supercedes the will. This is because these assets are non-probate, and will go to the beneficiary automatically without going through the probate process. The will has to go through probate.

    Suze also explains about FICO score and talk about the debt-to-credit ratio which makes up 30% of the score. For once and for all, she confirms that by canceling some of your credit cards (which reduce your total credit limit), this will reduce the ratio and thus lower your FICO. So pay off your CC debts, but keep the account open.

    Many of us have outgrown Suze, but sometimes she still has a lot to offer. And she is one of the few who truly knows what she is talking about, and know her subjects well. And many of us, like (Me said), she is our training wheel, and we learnt so much from her, and have her to thank for.

  9. wow we are on the same wavelength. those two points stood out to me as well. she does constantly tout the living revocable trust, and while yes it is a good thing do have, i wish she would touch on why people dont have them.

    i know that i dont have one (or a will for that matter), not because i am afraid of death or unsure of who i will name on there or what-not, but because the upfront costs. i think she even mentions it costing 3k or so to initially get one done, plus you have to update it occasionally and pay that too.

    so she is telling all these people, hey the first thing you need to do is get a living revocable trust and then get out of credit card debt, which has now increased 3k by the way.
    i mean, who is she catering to? those in debt who cant afford a living revocable trust, nor have any assets anyway…maybe a house?

    speaking of which, are you familiar with legalzoom.com? and if so can you do a post on them!

  10. Re: Me

    Does she recommend not using credit cards? If so, that would be a big change for her (dave ramsey-like). I have seen her many times on the show recommend using low-interest or no interest cards for certain things.

    Now, no credit card debt? yes, she does advocate that…but as far not using them…i think that’s only Dave Ramsey.

  11. I had a strange initial reaction to Suze Orman, I was suspicious that she was being paid by credit card subsidiaries. The first time I turned her on, she was saying “pay down that debt! Never go bankrupt because you’ll ruin your credit score forever” (or that’s what it sounded like). But then I kept watching her anyway (looking to prove my theory – which I never did) and started to understand her wisdom. I think sometimes her advice comes off as a little simple, but it’s pretty obvious she’s a brilliant businesswoman. I love her mantra of “People first, then money, then things” — it’s an absolute gem. She always gets to the heart of topic and goes right for the numbers, which I like. I actually wasn’t in agreement with her funding 401K to match, then Roth, then 401K to limit. I always think that taking out as much money pre-tax is a great benefit, for today and tomorrow, and then if you have left over to go into a Roth. But probably a lot more people agree with her. It’s just something I feel in my gut — less tax today and less tax today. But on mostly everything else, I agree with her. She totally won me over.

  12. I can see the argument about actively managed bond funds, but she advocates index funds for stocks – why not for bonds? Even if you don’t get that much more return, a low-cost fund would only add about 0.30% in expenses and would have low turnover. In return, you’d get a lot of convenience and simplicity, as well as some risk diversification.

    That’s just my amateur opinion though, I don’t plan on buying any individual corporate bonds ever. Maybe TIPS or Treasury bonds.

  13. The one thing that personal finance people always seem to ignore is that some people are ineligible for a Roth IRA. That leaves you a choice of fully contributing to your 401K up to the IRS max, or contributing to a non-deductible IRA. I’ll take the 401K to the max. I know in 2010 the Roth IRA conversion income limits go away, but I think the IRS is going to apply a ratio on your conversion so you might get hit with a lot of taxes if you convert.

  14. have you seen the dave ramsey show on fox business or some odd channel? my tivo taped it for me but i never got around to watching it. is he similar?

  15. I’ve heard her talk about buying bonds instead of bond funds before. She likes bonds because you can get better returns (and lower fees) from buying and holding bonds till maturity–rather than paying a manager who trades in and out of bonds constantly. I’m paraphrasing, but I agree with her too. Bond laddering is def. the way to go, assuming you have enough $$ in bonds to do so.

  16. Jonathan,

    You may not want to buy individual corp bonds but being able to get state / munis for a taxable account is particularly helpful if you have high state taxes. ZD has a equivalent yield calculator that is quite cool. You can also access zeros directly which you cannot do through Treasury Direct.

  17. I don’t think Dave Ramsey is as logical as Suze Orman. I’ve heard just a few of his ideas — he’s big into paying down card with small amounts and then “snowballing” what’s left over into bigger things. I’ve seen where he advocates paying down a 3% student loan over putting money towards more high interest debt (really, even paying down your mortgage is better than paying down the student loan). Suze’s ideas usually make more sense.

  18. Cheapster Bob says:

    You do not need 20 percent down before buying property. That is loser advice and keeps people away from the American dream.

    My credit score two years ago was in the high 500′s and I had little in savings. I went to a State sponsored first time home buyers program for four hours, got my certificate and then immediately qualified for a 5.1 percent 30 fixed loan with zero down for my home.

    Now my credit score is closing in on 700 and I am building wealth.

    For those of you throwing money out the window paying your landlords mortgage do not let people tell you that you can not afford a home. Right now is the best time to buy so check out your State’s individual program.

    By the way, my property had increased 65,000 dollars in value over the last two years before receding recently due to the credit crunch correction. Still if I sold today I would clear around 30,000 dollars after the mortgage was paid.

    If I had listened to Suzie I would still be in a one bedroom dump living broke.

  19. Dave Ramsey is the guru who is rabidly opposed to debt (except for a house, but only 15yr mortgage/20% down, no CC’s and no small biz loans), Suze Orman is OK with CC’s “used responsibly” (e.g. don’t carry a balance), and favors, but doesn’t insist upon, the 15 year mortgage. Both push hard about reducing debt and building a emergency fund; Dave emphasizes selling your car, second jobs and eating at home, Suze emphasizes “no latte’s”.

    While Dave seems un-mathematical in working debts smallest to largest (rather than interest rates), he is logical in that he advocates “what will work” given human behavior. For example, it’s encouraging to see immediate progress and helps to build momentum. This extends to his no CC policy as well; if you have a CC, studies show that people will spend more, and then there’s the risk of not being able to pay it off. Oh yeah and he believes in measuring risk along with return; i.e. a CC is giving you too much risk for how much you get back in consumer protection and points e.g.

    And Cheapster Bob, you made my morning. :-)

  20. Bob sounds like a buffoon realtor. This is an absolutely terrible time to by a house. The only worse time was in the last two years. Watch your equity evaporate over the next year and then go well underwater, Bob.

  21. sorry, “This is an absolutely terrible time to BUY a house.”

  22. Yea, 20% down for a house mortgage and stuff, that’s easy. The hard thing is buying raw land. Try getting a loan on that!

    Oh, the other thing that Suze said was that your retirement account is your emergency savings.

  23. Part of the reasoning behind the 20% down for a house mortgage is so you would not have to pay mortgage insurance. Isn’t mortgage insurance mandatory for any person who takes out a mortage that does not have at least 20% down payment (or equity)? The price of mortgage insurance is based upon the mortgage amount, so the cost varies. It is added on top of the mortgage payment as well. This monthly fee can be $100+ month (where I live, which is a mid-sized city) and is required until 20% equity is built. Furthermore, what is interesting is that the majority of the time it is up to the mortgage holder to request that mortgage insurance be removed, but you have to prove that you have 20% equity, which usually requires an appraisal of your house. The difference between the amount the house appraises for and your payoff balance at that point in time is your equity. Close friends recently went thru this process and was able to remove the monthly mortgage insurance fee, which in their case was $127/month. Of course, I do not claim to know everything about this and would like to know if anything I have written is inaccurate. In addition, although I have never been affected by mortgage insurance, I would like to know more on how this works.

  24. How did you get the transcripts of her shows? i don’t have cable and would love to at least read the transcripts! thanks.

  25. Did you catch Suzy’s dig at Ramsey? She said always pay your highest interest rate debt first anyone who tells you different is an idiot. Ramey’s debt snowball is to pay the smallest debt first.

  26. BTW, I roughed out my 2007 taxes and am not sure (as a LOSER (cough) renter), but does it look like that PMI is now tax deductable, at least off the 1040?

    I’ve never figured out where you get the prefered tax rate on Schedule D, either…it looks like you total up your long term gains net, your short term gains net, and then you add those two net numbers that go into your AGI on your 1040?

    Why is this so complicated?

  27. Cheapster Bob says:

    Excuse me? How is this the worst time to buy? Wouldn’t that have been at the peak of the market boom right before the drop?

    Prices have corrected and this is a buyers market at the moment due to the still historically low interest rates.

    I never new buying in a market that favors you is dumb. Thanks for the update.

    As for mortgage insurance and prepayment penalty? I have neither of those and paid nothing down.

    Again, those who are ignorant should research every avenue before attempting to correct those who have already succeeded.

    Start by doing as I suggested and looking into your State first time home buyers program.

    Thanks,

    Bob

  28. Cheapster Bob says:

    That was “knew” up there not “new.”

    I hate typo’s and no edit feature!

    By the way, I am in the lucrative Seattle market so my experience may be different then yours depending on you location.

    I still say corrected, near bottom, housing and low interest rates equal buyers market.

    I also wanted to add that you do not technically need to be a first time buyer to use the State program. I think during the program they stated either first time or having lived at your current residence for over seven years.

    Cheers,

    Bob

  29. Bob, I didnt say this is the “worst time to buy.” That would have been back in 2005. But now is not a good time since the decline has just begun. How about less realtor talking points and more facts? It is about affordability. Housing prices will decline until the average house can be purchased with the average income. We are no where close to this level. It is also about ability to borrow if you want to continue this charade. And banks have all but shut off that avenue.

  30. Cheapster Bob says:

    The decline hasn’t “just begun” it is well under way and only in some markets. As I stated your location has everything to do with pricing. Seattle is holding strong and once the correction eases in the nest 24 months where do you think prices are going to go?

    Up.

    If you are buying a house to live in to flip this is a horrible time to buy. If you are going to be in it for six years or longer this is a great time to buy. We are near the low and interest rates are stuck at historic levels.

    This is a buyers market.

    As for lenders, I love the myth that they suddenly are going out of business and are no longer making loans. Do you actually believe the drivel coming from your television by the panic media?

    Over 90 percent of their loans are solid and making payments on time. I believe 3 percent are in trouble due to the sub-prime. The whining and media whoring are nothing more then big lending stumping for a Government band-aide.

    Banks are not shutting their doors and going out of business. They are simply not lending to horrible unworthy customers any longer meaning horrible risk customers.

    UNLESS you go through your state program which is specifically designed for low income people wanting to own their first home. Once you get your certificate you will get a loan at a favorable rate.

    I do not understand your accusation that I am giving talking points. Do you think I am a real estate agent working for the State??? LOL.

    Anyway, agree to disagree.

  31. Wow, I thought Cheapster was a joke, but lo and behold he is real! Classic stuff.

    BTW, your first-time buyer program was just as much a gov’t band-aide as what the banks are looking for. They are asking for, and getting, cheap loans… that’s exactly what you got! If you don’t like it, perhaps you should give back your house, and buy it again in the future when you build up a good credit score and have a downpayment on your own, eh? I’m sure the banks wouldn’t be having lending issues if their “credit” wasn’t so damaged by the fact that they have no trust for each other’s collateral… which is exactly what a credit score measures… trust of repayment.

  32. “But now is not a good time since the decline has just begun.” Folks, keep in mind that real estate is local. What may be occurring nationally is not necessarily the case in your neighborhood. The national numbers are just that, averages nationwide.
    Midwest is still increasing in value at its standard 1-2% per year. Though there are slightly more on the market due to a few more foreclosures, prices are still increasing.

  33. mhesidence – No, did she really say “idiot”? :)

  34. Brian,

    I know, I kind of thought he was toungue-in-cheek myself. But there are still a ton of people who believe this stuff. Check out Charles–Holy smokes, we’ve got two of ‘em now.

  35. Bonds or Bonds Funds that produce taxable income should go into tax deferred accounts along with your high dividend stocks/ETFs.

    Shouldn’t they?

  36. Cheapster Bob says:

    Brian and Bronco it seems you two may have been burned by the current economic situation and feel flaming on a public forum will make it better. Try backing up your points minus the immature and unintelligent banter.

    If you go back and read my comments I am promoting home ownership THE RIGHT WAY for low income families. This being going through a State program, being educated for a day and then selecting a State certified buyers agent and mortgage agent who are not out to screw them with the Sub-prime or the latest new fangled scheme.

    I believe this site is for helping people with their personal finance and my advice was sound and logical. It is a buyers market in many areas around the country. There is an abundance of houses to choose from and interest rates are low.

    I don’t know how else to explain simple facts.

    If you are looking to buy your first house and plan to live in it for over six years why not buy now if your area is stable?

    Amazing.

  37. That is a great story about investing early. I have already started investing for my children – I started at birth. It isn’t a great deal but hopefully will b a lot by the time they need it.

  38. Do the ones that advocate putting less than 20% down on a house, do you have “interest only” mortgages? If not, then why not?

    If you’re advocating not having money locked up in your mortgage then why not go all the way and do “interest only”?

    -Wes

  39. Cheapster Bob says:

    Wes, I’m not advocating putting less then 20 percent down. If you have that kind of cash and want to get a head up on your equity then go right ahead. I am speaking to those stuck in apartments who will wait years hoping they can save enough for the 20 percent down. In the meantime interest rates go back up into the double digits and they end up losing money over the long term.

    I did not have the 20 percent yet wanted to get into the market before it peaked. Instead of running in as an ignorant consumer and gobbling up a ridiculous sub-prime loan I looked for the wisest way to buy my house.

    I went to the website below and got directed to the Washington State first time home buyers program. This is not “welfare” for the disadvantaged it is for single people or married who make ( I believe) 75,000 dollars a year or less.

    After attending the very educational seminar I obtained my certificate which qualified me for State certified agents to help me get lower then current rate interest. Meaning I got an interest rate below what people with perfect credit were receiving.

    The State and the agents have an agreement where they feed the agents customers via the seminars and the agents are required not to screw the customer. They can only offer 30 year fixed loans at the lowest rate available. Mine was 5.1 percent with no prepayment penalty or mortgage insurance.

    If you are in an apartment right now and want to get into a home I think you can do it. The only cost I had out of pocket was 500 dollars for a home inspection.

    Check out your local housing conditions and if you are ready follow the link below and be on your way. After all was said and done my mortgage payment (before property taxes and insurance) was less then my monthly apartment rent.

    Take care all and this would be a good topic for MMB. Is this a buyers market or simply a horrible time to buy??

    Cheapster.

    http://www.hud.gov/buying/localbuying.cfm

  40. As a former institutional bond trader, purchasing bond fund indexes (e.g. Vanguard Total Bond Market Index VBMFX) seems to dominate purchasing individual bonds:

    + Diversification: Try mirroring the Lehman Brothers Aggregate Index’s 9,200 bonds by purchasing individual bonds.
    + Access: Try purchasing individual Agency, ABS, MBS, and corporate bonds in small sizes.
    + Reinvestment: Try reinvesting the $30 you receive in coupon interest each month.
    + Liquidity: Try selling your individual bonds, you’re not going to get very good pricing.
    + Low investment amounts: $3K for VBMFX.
    + Low fees: 0.20% per year for VBMFX
    + Transparency: try figuring out the market value of your individual bonds. Mutual fund holdings are marked to market. Not marking to market means you can blithely believe every individual bond you are holding is still worth par.

  41. To avoid PMI without 20% down, can’t you do an 80/10/10? 80% first mortgage, 10% second mortgage, 10% down.

  42. Cheapster Bob says:

    Klaus that is possible. I paid one point using a Veterans second mortgage loan for a few thousand bucks.

    This basically got me into the home paying nothing down and with no PMI or prepayment penalty.

    There are ways to get around the insurance and attending the seminar you learn how to do it the right way.

    I went back to the WA website and it looks like they are offering interest rates in the 6 percent range.

    Not bad for folks out there with so so credit and little cash in the bank. I would go out on a limb and say this is the only way for people making 75,000 or less to get into their first home these days.

    For the novice potential home buyer you never want to pay mortgage insurance or have a prepayment penalty on your home loan. Get out of them any way you can as it is like taking huge chunks of your income and throwing it in the fireplace.

    Cheapster.

  43. i watch suze today on the larry king live i did not she was writing a book in spanish. as well i didnt know that she was gay. interesting i look up to her she has great financial advice. i have learned alot from her. i started with a secured credit card and now i have american express and a citi card as my highest cards w/ credit limits.

  44. Cheapster Bob:

    Any state programs for someone who makes >$75k who wants to buy a home zero down and no prepayment penalty with a credit score >750?

    Mike L.

  45. I am new to starting to clean up my credit. I have maxed out my 3 credit cards (11,500 total debt), have a student loan on pause for about a year which is 22,000 of debt, and within 15 days a total of $10,800 to save my mom’s house from foreclosure (official notice or house is gone, and she has it in a Life Estate to me only, and this is a whole other conversation as to whether probate is involved in a Life Estate for my mom as I am paid in fee simple in the event of mom’s death) and wondering if I should cash in my only available asset of a stock I have had since childhood, which is $10.00 under it’s value per share since 0ctober,07 to pay for this foreclosure (and I will still have to contribute about $4,000 out of pocket if I liquidate the stock)? OR if I should try and get a small loan to cover the total debt of $10,800 (which won’t appear on my credit)? Or take a larger small loan out of 25,000 to pay all my debts since it won’t be on my credit bureau and I get to pay off everything and my credit score will obviously rise….
    Thank for any response, please…..:) As this is EXTEMELY TIME SENSITVE I would appreciate ANY and ALL responses since I have no clue what my best option is???? p.s. I am not able to cover this with my earnings, of course, or this would be my first option.

  46. art cecil says:

    what happened to her show?

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