Advice Fact List

Advice: 10 Financial Pitfalls to Avoid

You’re doing it wrong! Not you, singular; but you, collectively. Among you, there are people undermining their personal wealth by doing things that seem like good ideas, but, in hindsight don’t really work out that way.

Here are ten things you might be doing, and why not to do them. (We’ve covered some of these in other posts, so this is primarily a handy checklist.) If you are not doing any of these, take a victory lap!

01. Spending more than you make


No explanation needed. Don’t do that! Even if you like buying things, or don’t have much income, or hope to get a better job soon. Make a budget, and stick to it. Make automatic savings contributions before you even look at your checking account balance. Establish and maintain an emergency fund. If you rely on a payday loan to avoid eviction, you’re doing it wrong.

02. Financing a car that is too expensive


For example, one that costs almost as much as your annual take-home pay, even if it’s really cool, or one you’ve always wanted, or you want a warranty. Please don’t do that. You can’t afford it; you’ll be underwater and can’t pay off the loan even if you sell the car; your insurance will be too expensive. You can get a reliable used car for under $10,000.

03. Carrying a balance on your interest-bearing credit card


Because you think it improves your credit history/score. It doesn’t. You just pay interest. You want to use a card to generate positive history, but you also want to pay off an interest-accruing card in full. Every month. No exceptions. And yes, that means you can’t use credit to finance your lifestyle (see point 1).

04. Taking out a loan to establish your credit history


You do not have to do that, when you can do the same thing with a credit card that you pay no interest on. Taking out a car loan as your first credit transaction is a very expensive mistake. A car loan with a double-digit interest rate means you are doing it wrong.

05. Not taking the match from your 401k


Even if you watched John Oliver’s show about 401k fees and you are now a born-again mutual fund expense watcher, please, please take any match your employer gives in your 401k. Even if the fund choices have 2% fees, it’s still free money. Even if you have expensive credit card debt, which you shouldn’t, the match is probably still the right move. You could be making 50% one-time gain on your money; that will cover a lot of fees.

06. Cashing out retirement funds


Don’t cash out your retirement funds to pay for things, or when you change jobs. This is almost never a good idea. Even if you can do it, you shouldn’t. That $20,000 in the 401k from the job you just left looks like it might be a good way to make a down payment on a house. Don’t be tempted. It will be much more valuable to you as $100,000+ when you retire, than as the $12,000 you’d be left with after paying taxes and penalties on it in the 25% federal and 5% state bracket.

07. Buying a house only to avoid paying rent


I have seen people buying a house they can’t afford only to avoid throwing away money on rent. You need to live somewhere. Renting is almost always cheaper if you aren’t sure where you want to live two, three or even five years in the future. Your transaction costs to purchase and then sell a property are “thrown away”, as are your payment towards interest, taxes, insurance, maintenance and repairs. Renting it out later isn’t as easy or profitable as it sounds, either. Even in a hot market, appreciation is not guaranteed, and major repair expenses are not always avoidable. Buy a house if you can afford to, and you know you want to live somewhere indefinitely, not to save on monthly payments. Owning a house is financially better as you own it longer. Over a short interval, monthly payment calculations alone are not enough to prove ownership is financially better than renting.

08. Co-signing loans you shouldn’t


While there can be some limited reasons to co-sign a loan, e.g. for your child, never co-sign a loan just because your significant other has no credit, or your parents want a better interest rate. If they need a co-signer, it’s because they are a poor credit risk. Once you co-sign, you are on the hook for the whole balance, even if you don’t have access to what the money went towards.

09. Paying financial planner high fees to invest in mutual funds


Paying a financial planner to invest your money in a mutual fund with a 5% up-front fee is not a good idea. Despite what you might have been told, this is never necessary, and doesn’t help you in any way. You can buy alternatives with no up-front fees, and lower ongoing expenses.

10. Buying whole life insurance


Don’t buy whole life insurance from someone you knew in college to “jump-start your financial future”, even if you have no dependents. You do not even need life insurance until you have responsibilities after your death. If and when you do have them, term life insurance is much more cost-effective. Politely decline the invitation to a free financial planning session from your old fraternity brother.



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  • Number 10 you are telling people not to buy whole life at a young age because they do not have children yet. I work for a non profit that sells life insurance. You spend less money the earlier you buy whole life. Term insurance pays about 1% of all contracts. Term is what you buy once you have kids because it satisfies a need until they are adults and the need is gone. Whole life is in place because everyone dies and funerals are not free and everyone leaves some sort of debt behind. More importantly putting money into whole life in your 20s means when you are retiring in your 60s if you no longer need the insurance you can cash it in and add it to your retirement money. Having 30-40 years of growth in whole life will give you 2-4x in returns. I am 27 and pay 200 a month into whole life for a 10 year payoff. If I have kids there is well over 100k in life insurance. When I am 65 I can cash in a policy I paid 24k into and it will give me a guaranteed 70k in cash with potential for much more if interest rates increase throughout my life. Please do not offer financial advice if you are not licensed and do not know how to properly plan for someone’s future. In 2017 the mortality rate is being rewritten and new policies will cost more. You are essentially telling someone to procrastinate and not plan for their future. It is financially ignorant to claim whole life has no purpose until we have more debt. Term is meant to cover these debts short term, and if you planned properly long term you won’t have a huge debt to cover and won’t need a term anymore. Everyone dies someday, whole life insurance has a purpose 100% of the time for every person alive. Funeral costs are only going to increase with time

      • My non profit has a guaranteed 4% interest for life and offers policies paying 6.5% which you cannot get anywhere else. So yes if you want high interest instead of a 1% cd or 0.5% money market or a 1% IRA then working with my organization is currently your best retirement option

    • I sell Life Insurance and whole life is a great policy if you are getting something small to cover burial expenses. Term Life is significantly more cost effective, at 27 years old, you could cover yourself for $250,000 for the next 30 years for under $30/mo (assuming a good level of health and being a non-smoker). Then transition the policy at that point to a $20,000 burial policy and spend less on all of that coverage than a $200/mo Whole Life policy.

      Most people don’t have $200/mo to spare for life insurance, but most people do have $30/mo. The post is about cost effectiveness, not spending as much money as possible.

      • Term has a purpose as I stated above. People fail to properly plan for retirement if you cannot afford to put $200 a month towards retirement then you haven’t found a career yet

      • Also waiting 30 years to get a whole life for burial purposes means you will pay three times the monthly premium for the same 20,000 and that is assuming you are healthy enough to not get rated in which case you will pay 5-10 times as much per month. Furthermore at 27 if you pick a company paying dividends your 20,000 policy will be worth significantly more when you pass away if you started at 27


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