I've been on television recently discussing the U.S. financial crisis. These shows often feature a panel of so-called financial experts who rarely agree with each other. The reason their advice is different is simply because each expert speaks to a different segment of the population.
For example, Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, and Larry Winget speak to people who are deep in credit card debt. Their advice is excellent, direct, practical, and to the point. I should know -- in the late 1970s, I was one of the debt-ridden people they're speaking to. I was deeply in debt because my business was suffering and I was using credit cards to live on. Instead of paying off my credit card, I'd get a new credit card and use that one to pay off the old credit card. I, too, once used a home equity loan to invest in my business -- and lost it all.
At my lowest point, I was nearly $700,000 in debt. One evening, I attempted to check into a motel in upstate New York and my credit card was declined. I slept in the car that night. Many people might say that this was a horrible experience, but that isn't true -- it was a wake-up call. It was clearly time to look in the mirror and face who I really was. I realized that if I wasn't going to be tough on me, the world would take on the job.
Today, older and wiser, I have tremendous respect for the power of debt and the value of credit. Credit is another word for trustworthiness. I'm currently millions of dollars in debt, but it's good debt invested in income-producing real estate. While millions of homeowners are threatened with foreclosure, my investment real estate is doing very well. In fact, I'm doing even better because more people are renting than buying.
The Strata of Financial Advice
If you're deeply in debt like I was and want to get rich someday, I suggest you start by following the advice of Orman, Ramsey, and Winget. For a certain portion of the population, their advice is very rich indeed.
But there are other types of financial advice, some of it not nearly as beneficial. The lowest kind assures people that the government will take care of them. This is what the people who are counting on Social Security and Medicare have been led to believe. The problem is that the U.S. government is the biggest debtor in the world, and those depending on it to take care of them will only become poorer.
Another type of bad financial advice tells us to get a safe job, save money, live below our means, buy a house, get out of debt, and invest for the long term in a well-diversified portfolio of mutual funds. On those financial TV shows, I get into the most head-butting with the so-called financial experts who subscribe to this philosophy. That's because, according to the Census Bureau, in 1999 the average U.S. income was $49,244. By 2006, the average income declined to $48,201. This means that U.S. workers haven't had a pay raise for seven years. So much for the advice about getting a safe job -- it's the opposite of rich advice.
Diversify at Your Peril
Moreover, in January 2008 the Federal Reserve Board dropped the interest rate twice over a period of just eight days, by a record 1.25 percent. If my crystal ball is accurate, I expect another .5 percent drop sometime later this year. Savers are actually losers, then, because interest rates are low and inflation is high. So urging people to save money isn't rich advice, either.
Finally, the S&P stood at 1,352.99 in March 2008, which is below its mark of 1,362.80 in April of 1999. So much for the advice of investing for the long term in a well-diversified portfolio of mutual funds -- that's also not rich advice.
Warren Buffett has said that diversification is for people who don't know what they're doing. And my rich dad once told me, "Diversifying is like going to a horse race and betting on every horse. The only way you win is if the darkest of dark horses wins." So my concern is that people who follow this second type of financial advice may actually wind up poor in the long term.
Get Rich, Stay Rich
So there's different financial advice for different people, and the price of poor advice is that millions will be poor if they follow advice that isn't aimed at them.
To become rich, I recommend investing in your financial education. There's a difference between that and financial advice. A solid financial education allows you to know the difference between good advice and bad advice, rich advisers and poor advisers.
If you want to become rich -- and remain that way -- it's important to know what financial advice is best for you.