I Am That Girl Now

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Well, now I'm pissed.

The lovely cliopatra mentioned, in response to my last post, that I should check out Dave Ramsey, his website, and his radio show. To which my initial response was something along the lines of "oh, fuck, not another quack," but after some research I'm going to say right now that for an opinionated, pushy, more-right-wing-than-I'm-really-comfortable-with, often cranky guy who is blissfully naive about what the housing market has been up to in some places (it's been wacky all over, but some spots it has been BEYOND INSANE and the concept of such does not apparently fit into his worldview), Dave Ramsey is indeed right on a hell of a lot of things. He is, in fact, a pretty smart guy, and has a clear concept of priorities, which as mentioned before is not something I've been good with. Reading his stuff was a much-needed thwap upside the head, so thank you very much, cliopatra.

After voraciously reading everything on Dave Ramsey's site, I sat down and did some math on our current situation. And promptly got more than a little pissed off. See, in our current situation, we do not have a lot of disposable income. Some, but not a lot. What we need more than anything is to get rid of my husband's student loans (ARGH ARGH FUCKING STUDENT LOANS) as soon as possible.

My financial planner's advice? Consolidate the loans and you'll save money! Reality? Consolidating the loans meant that we'll be paying off the fucking things for longer, with a shitload more interest going to the student loan company. 18 years and $24,000 in interest from now, we'd have them paid off.

Keep in mind, we had a windfall which would have paid off more than half of the loans. Our financial planner's advice? Put it in mutual funds! No risk, and a better return than our silly ol' savings account! Reality? I don't know what the blue hell happened, but eight months later there's $600 less in our mutual funds than we gave them. By my conservative estimate, we would have earned $700 in interest in our silly ol' ING Direct savings account. So this is bullshit for two reasons: not only did she not tell us that we were cutting our own throats with interest on $40K+ in student loans by not paying off half of that, but she then put us into mutual funds which are apparently sinking slowly into the muck.

For the third reason I'm furious right now, more than a year ago she convinced us to start up Variable Universal Life Insurance policies. The reason? Well, it's an investment! For our kids! That we haven't had yet! So basically I found out today that we've been throwing $300/month between the two of us into insurance policies, which aren't getting a very good rate of return at all, which won't do us a damn bit of good financially until fifteen years from now, which are yet another thing that are keeping us from doing the most financially responsible thing at the moment which is PAYING OFF THE FUCKING LOAN, and which, I might add, charge us more for the "insurance" portion (vs. the "investment" portion) than double the amount of term life insurance would cost us.

I'm not sure if we're going to be able to get out of those. We might not. Right now the surrender value of my Hub's policy is in the negative, like by $1000, and I am not keen on the idea that we might have to PAY these fuckers to get out of this ridiculous thing.

The long and the short of it is that our financial planner has been doing financial advice that's more useful for settled, rich 50-year-olds on us. What we needed was somebody to say, "Look, we'll get you set up with disability insurance, Roth IRAs, and life insurance, but right now we're not going to push 100% on those because your first step is to kill off that fucking student loan, and then your next step is to make sure you've got a good safety-net savings account in a mutual fund" (that doesn't SUCK, I would hope) "and THEN we will go full-bore on those other things, including the future education of your future children. First things first, though, because you're only around 30 years old."

People, learn from my example. Only use fee-based financial advisors. Do not use the ones who are paid commission on the shit they sell you, because for instance they get a bigger commission for cash-value life insurance policies (Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman and many others, I have belatedly discovered, think that these things are a giant rip-off). And if your gut tells you, like mine told me, to keep a windfall check in a lovely ING Direct savings account (4.5% interest, I might add; I love these guys, and have used them for nearly five years now) or the proven stockpile of your choice, then go with your gut. Financial advisors work for you, not the other way around.

Also: FUCK YOU, AMERIPRISE. I'm so mad right now that I can't see straight. Seriously, just don't go anywhere near those people. Ever. Our financial advisor is a lovely woman, and we like her a hell of a lot, but that doesn't change the fact that she did a horrible job with our money, doubtlessly because she's constrained by the people she's working for to only use the stuff they've got. FEE-BASED, guys. ONLY USE FEE-BASED. It's the only way to know who's paying 'em.

Anyway, in other news:

This minor catastrophe has, strangely, led me to realize that I might really like being what is called either a "financial coach", "financial counselor", or (my favorite) "financial guru". Not the person who sells the mutual funds and insurance products, but the person who sits down with you and a few months' worth of bank statements and credit card statements and helps you hash out what you're spending, and from there on, what you should be budgeting. Hell, I think I'd be happy as a clam if I could specialize in teaching kids just out of college how to budget, how to live within that budget, and how to pay off their almost-mandatory-these-days mammoth student loan and credit card debt. I would love that. I would do that for free. I spend all day at work shuffling numbers and data to help corporations in an industry that I very frankly don't give a rat's ass about, so the idea of having some kind of hands-on positive effect on someone's life is intoxicating.

Granted, I gotta figure out what training and certification one needs to be a freelance financial helper-elf (and now I want to do this even MORE so that I can use that title), but I'll figure it out. If nothing else, I would like very much to be able to do this sort of thing on the side, so that I have something to look forward to while I'm at my useless job.

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7 Comments:

  • The *first* thing to learn about finances is that you *have* to do your own research. If you had done that with Ameriprise (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ameriprise_Financial#Criticism_.26_controversy) you might have discovered that there are some troubles.

    The advice you have been seems to be violating Ameriprises fiduciary duties towards you - you might want to check with your local/state's D.A. if there's a case to be made.

    As for the life insurance, I'd seriously consider ditching it - even with the $1000 penalty. That would free up $300 a month in about 3 months from now. That should help you to pay off that loan *significantly* faster. (Do the math, though - but I think that you save more money by paying off the loan earlier than you lose by canceling the insurance early on)

    And if you really think the "financial advisor" thing is for you, try writing about your experiences on your blog - people *will* find you. Financial information, especially explained by non-insiders, is always valuable.

    By Anonymous Robert 'Groby' Blum, at 6:28 PM  

  • DR calls it "stupid tax" and I've paid more than my fair share. Sounds like you have, too. The good news is that you know now, and you can do something about it.

    You'd also probably make a great financial counselor, but I'd suggest teaching high school students, or college freshman. That's how I got into trouble - those pre-approved credit card offers in college.

    Anyway, I'm enjoying reading and glad I could help!

    By Blogger cliopatra, at 7:27 PM  

  • Sorry to hear about how your advisor has botched up your finances. Honestly, if you haven't read it already, I think you ought to hit the library and check out Suze Orman's Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke. The information and advice she gives in that book are a lot more relevant to your current financial situation (young, married with NO kids, paying off student loans, still building a career) than most of the other personal finance books out there which seem to be geared towards a more established audience.

    By Anonymous Maggie, at 1:00 PM  

  • I've been stalking your blog since Day 1, and I would TOTALLY hire you to be my financial helper-elf.

    I recently went to a fee-based financial advisor, but he was obviously used to dealing with folks far richer than I. People who need advice on which mutual fund or stock to use. Not whether or not to pay off my student loan.

    There is a serious niche out there for you. I'm certain of it.

    By Anonymous DeDe, at 2:05 PM  

  • Hey Meg,
    Several years ago, I met with a financial planner one time (I'd signed up for a trip giveaway on their website). She and I both came to the conclusion that the time just was not right for the products she was offering. She told me, and perhaps this is a criterion you should use for finding a new person if you decide you need one, there was no point in signing up for all of the products UNTIL (1) the short term (non-mortgage) debt was gone and (2) we had like 6 months salary in savings as a nest egg. Then and only then would it be time to start the longer term strategies.
    Given the time it took to achieve those things, I had plenty of time to research what I thought we needed to do most to plan for our furtures beyond work sponsored 401k's and 403b's.
    Be well & I hope you can come up with a plan that is more comfortable.

    By Anonymous Cathy, at 8:21 AM  

  • The one good thing about the fact that I had gallbladder surgery right after college and ended up with a lot of credit card debt is that it forced me to learn about money and budgeting and IRAs etc. etc. I feel like I have a good handle on my finances, but I'm not sure I would be so educated if it hadn't gotten so bad.

    I think Robert has a good idea there. You could start a financial planning blog offering advice. I know you were jokingly asking for a job blogging earlier, but there's no reason why you couldn't start your own. Build up an archive of good articles, search engines will index you, you'll start getting traffic and you can start making money off of ads. It's a lot of work and you don't make money right away and you might never make enough to live off of, but it can be nice source of additional income. I always feel like I've cheated the universe a little bit when I manage to make some money doing something I like and would have done anyway.

    By Blogger PastaQueen, at 3:07 PM  

  • I really liked your advice here. I'm very suspicious of financial planners - or anyplace that tells you to invest everything with them. There was a financial planner in our town who handled investments and fled with many people losing their entire retirement savings.
    Sounds like yours gave you some horrible advice.
    I'm also suspicious of carrying debt in financial planning - I think you're absolutely right - the peace of mind that paying off your student loans would give is priceless. I think people would often be better off following their own instincts and inclinations rather than relying on somebody else to give advice.
    Good luck - and I hope you do the financial blog!

    By Blogger Ann, at 11:33 AM  

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