Saturday, October 20, 2012

Suze Orman: Not Worth My 2 Cents

How can you not get excited when your financial guru requests to speak to you? How can you not be pumped by the idea that you are going to be the recipient of personalized steps and goals for financial freedom? How is it not exciting for all of that to happen on national television???

I don't claim to be a financial wizard or even knowledgable. I'll choose the adjective informed, and I make my financial decisions on the information I have and with heavy consideration. I don't skimp on life (as it has been made abundantly clear to me just how fleeting life can be), but I definitely fall somewhere between cheapskate and penny-pincher.

A brief and non-specific outline of my financial status:

  • I definitely have more money than most single 30 year-olds.
  • A little less than half of my money is invested with one financial institution. A little more than half of my money is invested with another.
  • About half of my money is invested aggressively within a 403(b) and a Roth IRA. About half of my money has recently been invested very conservatively in a couple of annuities and a TSP.
  • I have an appropriately sized emergency fund.
  • I have a 30 year mortgage on a house I love but don't plan on living in forever.
  • I have no credit card debt, student loans, or car payments.
  • I live below my means by choice.
  • I have not invested any new money since my life changed.
I spent a good bit of time on the phone with the Suze Orman show going over very, very specific information about where my money is, how I spend it, what is left at the end of the month, and what my goals are. For that time and the right to share my story, I would be granted specific financial advise. Awesome.

I found out that I would be filming from a little 2 room studio in downtown Austin connected by live feed to Suze in New Jersey. The afternoon before, the producer called me to go over exactly what would be said in my intro. It was very personal information, maybe more personal that I was hoping for, but I have been telling myself that maybe hearing my story would help someone out there, and so I swallowed the immediate lump in my throat and listened to the instructions for the following day.

I chose a dark purple sweater to wear on camera. I look good in purple, and if you are going to be on national television, the goal should always be to look exceptionally good. :) I might also add that I had a great hair day. Before hitting the toll for downtown, I grabbed some Starbucks and then started my trek on an almost empty highway. 

Arrival time at the studio was set for 8:30. Not knowing what traffic or parking would be like in the morning, I left early... far too early. I made it downtown and found parking by 7:10. My empty chai tea latte cup gave me a reason to meander down Congress to buy another. Austin is a beautiful city when no one is there. 

By 8:15 I had run out of things to do, so I took the elevator up to the 5th floor and found my studio. The owner, a very friendly 40-something from a nearby town, talked my ear off as we waited for sound and video check. When he asked me what I was there to discuss, I kept it very general - money. By 8:40 I was in my chair before an HD backdrop of the city skyline, talking to the producer and Suze through my earpiece. By 9:00 I heard the theme music, and we were off!

It took but seconds for the glamor of the moment to dissipate and anger, betrayal, and disappointment to set in. One of my caveats for agreeing to be on the show was for "my story" to be told in a delicate way. I've had my fill of horrors, and reliving those on screen is low on my agenda. The intro started very much like the one read to me by the producer but then turned very specific and graphic - the exact situation I wanted to avoid. I hope that I turned as red as I was hot. I hope the audience will see the fire in my eyes as I clenched my jaw. But the promise of financial advice kept my outward emotions steady.

Suze's first point was to tell me what a bad idea it was for me to put money into annuities. She never said why but did question whether I knew that if I touched the money within the first 7 years I would incur a surrender fee. Yes. I was fully aware of that. BUT.... did I know that I could not touch that money until 59 1/2???? .... I don't know if that was said explicitly, but it makes sense as that is the case in most retirement accounts. Besides, if money is readily available, the chance of my spending it is far greater, and retirement money shouldn't be touched anyway. With so much of my money invested in volatile accounts, I specifically sought an investment with guaranteed preservation and low level growth. 

What was most enraging was when Ms. Orman accused me of allowing myself to be convinced that annuities were a good idea at a very emotionally broken moment of my life. I opened those annuities over a year after my husband died, and the only emotionally driven choice I made even at my lowest moment was to buy my camera... I am ridiculously even-keeled when it comes to making major decisions, especially with money, and I was crazy offended. 

Point #2: I should not have all of my money in one institution.... which I don't. She told me my money was not diversified... which it is. All of my money has been thoughtfully spread out, and I have spoken to salaried (not commissioned) financial advisors. Suze said I should open a Roth IRA with a discount brokerage... which would make my third Roth... I already have to make very careful decisions when deciding how to fund my 2 existing Roths. With a $5000 max Roth contribution each year, I don't know how a third would benefit.

Point #3: I should immediately refinance my house to a 15 year mortgage to a) get a lower interest rate from my already fairly low 4 1/2%, and b) pay it off by the time I'm 45. That's a great plan, except that while I love my house, my yard, my neighbors, I have no desire to be in this house forever. In fact, that was a specific question I was asked in the interview process - did I plan on moving from my house. I answered that I didn't anticipate selling my home WITHIN 5 YEARS, but yes, I did plan on something else for my long-term house.... before I'm 45.

Most disappointing about the whole experience was how my financial story was reshaped to fit very generalized situations. 1) Don't make financial decisions when emotional. 2) Roths are a good addition to your portfolio. 3) Try to pay off your house as soon as possible so as to avoid mortgage payments later in life. Suze completely ignored any of my investments aside from my annuities, which then made her Roth suggestion make no sense. And she obviously ignored the fact that I don't plan on retiring in this house. There was nothing specific to me about the advice she gave. The Suze Orman show wanted to give very general widow's advice, I had a dramatic story, and they portrayed me in a way that fit what they wanted. 

BUT... I was also told I would get a full financial run-down, since not everything would fit into an 8 minute tv segment. About 2 weeks after the taping, I got an email from the show with Suze's full advice to me... It was a restating of the 3 points I just outlined...

Overall, I would NOT do this again. It makes me question the advice she's given to every guest I've ever seen on her show, and nothing that she told me will impact my financial future. What a bummer. I'm not even going to bother to watch the episode. 

I already know how good I look in purple.