A lot of financial guidance can improve your life -- boosting your savings, earning potential and investment gains. But just as easily, it seems, our trusted friends and advisors can lead us astray. How badly do they do so?
The answer becomes clear in a recent report from TIAA-CREF entitled "The 2015 Advice Matters Survey," in which Americans were given a chance to list the "worst financial advice they'd ever received"
At the top of the list were some real whoppers, like:
- "acquire lots of debt so you'll work harder"
- "don't save because you only live once"
- -don't save right now - you're young, so have fun."
"These money blunders show what happens when financial recommendations go bad, and reiterates the need for Americans to seek professional financial advice as they start building their nest egg and saving for retirement," the report states. "In fact, the same survey showed that those who have met with a financial advisor are significantly more confident in their retirement savings than those who haven't met with one (78% versus 43%)."
It's encouraging to see that Americans recognize the need for professional financial advice, especially when so many of them say they've routinely received some lousy financial advice from non-professionals.
How bad? TheStreet asked both average Americans and financial experts for the worst financial advice they'd every received, with some real doozies making that list, too.
"The worst advice I ever got was letting someone use my credit," says Harrine Freeman, a speaker, author and owner of Washington, D.C.-based H.E. Freeman Enterprises. "I have had several friends believe they were giving me great advice by telling me to go into business with someone I don't know and let them use my credit to purchase an investment property."
The deal didn't turn out well, and Freeman was stuck holding the debt. "It doesn't matter how good or loophole-free a contract is, if someone moves to another state or out of the country, it's be difficult to track them down," Freeman adds. "You are stuck with trying to sell a property in an ever-fluctuating housing market. And, you'll have to continue to pay the mortgage until the property is sold."
Others point to the stock market as a financial disaster area.
"The worst advice I ever received as this 'If you sell now, you'll only lock in your losses,' says Robert Barrows, owner of R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations in San Mateo, Calif. "I should have taken my losses and sold. Those funds continued to decline for a long time."
The mortgage market also reveals some lousy financial advice. "'Houses are an investment' and 'buy as much as you can afford' are some of the worst financial tips ever given," says Michael Eckstein, founder of Eckstein Tax Services in Huntington, N.Y. "These pieces of advice convince prospective homeowners to take out as much debt as possible. If they lose their jobs, they are left struggling to make payments to keep their house from being foreclosed. If the housing market drops, they are suddenly underwater on their mortgage."
Avoiding stocks for the sake of a big mortgage isn't a good idea, either. "Without question, the worst financial advice I have ever received was, 'Don't invest in stocks; the stock market is a casino. Invest in real estate,'" says Robert R. Johnson, president and CEO of The American College of Financial Services. "Since 1926 a diversified portfolio of large cap stocks -- as proxied by the S&P 500 -- have returned, on average, a compounded 10.1% per year. Small cap stocks have had an even higher return."
Housing, on the other hand, is not a great investment, Johnson adds, citing Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller that a home takes maintenance, depreciates and goes out of style. "All of those are problems," Johnson says. "And there's technical progress in housing. So, the new homes are better."
According to Shiller's research, from 1890 until 1990, the real inflation-corrected prices of homes merely kept pace with inflation, Johnson notes. "Bottom line, it is likely smarter to rent a home, and invest the difference," he says.
The corporate world is also a cornucopia of toxic financial advice. "The worst financial advice I've ever gotten came from my boss while I was still in the corporate world," says Barry Maher, a speaker and author based in Corona, Calif.
"He said, 'If you waste your time writing that book, you'll lose focus and probably blow the amazing career you've got here,'" Maher continued.
He wrote the book anyway, without losing focus.
"But yes, it did blow that career for me, creating the extraordinary business I've had ever since, writing, speaking and consulting," he Maher said. "Nowadays, I've not only got a more lucrative job, I've got the kind of job that many people only dream of having: traveling all over the country, all over the world, staying at great locations and meeting fascinating people. And I couldn't be happier that I didn't follow that particular piece of advice."
There is an abundance of toxic financial advice out there across the fruited plains. If you're getting some, check with a trusted financial professional before acting on that advice.