Financial powerhouse Suze Orman helps decide what you can afford, when you should sign, how to handle money in a relationship and more.
This year, Suze wants you to live your best financial life. "I want this to be a time where every one of you gets that you can be the masters of your own financial destiny. The economy isn't going to be what saves you, and your government isn't going to save you. Nothing is going to save you but yourself. So let's make this a year with the information that you learn here, a year where you have the information to save yourselves." Let the advice-a-thon begin!
I want to buy a house, but in this economy, am I better off renting?—Anonymous man on the street
Suze Orman: You know, that's a hard one to answer. Listen, if you can afford a house and it makes sense and you're going to live in that house, I'd rather see you own any day than rent. The problem is, many of you own homes that you can't afford to own. Many of you are thinking because the housing has gone down so much in value: This is the time to buy. Wrong. It's the time to buy when and only if you can afford it.
How do you know if you can afford it? You can put at least 20 percent down. You have at least eight months of an emergency fund besides the fact that you're putting 20 percent down. You're getting a steal of a deal because if you think this housing market is going to go up from here, I'm here to tell you, it's not going anywhere for a long time. If you think interest rates are going up from here, I'm here to tell you, they're not going anywhere for a long time. So, therefore, 20 percent down; eight month emergency fund; a steal of a deal—you have to get a good deal because prices could continue to go down. You need a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. If you can't afford a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, you can't afford the home. You have to know that you can afford the mortgage payment, the property tax payment, the insurance payment and the maintenance to keep that house. Otherwise, just continue to rent and do yourself a favor.
Suze, I remember when the emergency fund used to be six months. Now, you say eight months. Why do you keep changing it? Is it supposed to keep increasing? How do you now arrive at the eight months?—Gayle King, host of Ask Oprah's All Stars
Suze Orman: I did it because I knew it was going to take at least eight months to one year to get a new job if you lost the job that you already had.
You should be wanting to know from somebody like me, where's the economy going? Is it getting better? Is it getting worse?—Suze Orman, Ask Oprah's All Stars financial expert
Suze Orman: It will get better. You're going to find, in my opinion, this year, 2011, is going to be a great year. If I was going to give you advice, I'd be telling you that stocks will be fine this year. Bonds are going to have a little bit of a hard time, but then in 2012, I'm asking you to be careful again because I think we're going to have another rough ride in 2012.
Do you remember when I went on The Oprah Winfrey Show? It was 2007, 2008. I wrote a little book and put it in writing called The 2009 Action Plan where I said: 2015. And everybody went, "Oh, Suze, it'll be fine by 2010. What, are you kidding? That's two, three years from now." 2015, you mark my words.
We just got married and we have our finances still separate. And, we've mainly kept them separate because I like to maintain my independence and I also really love to shop. So, Suze, now that we're married and we're trying to save for our family, we wanted to know: Should we continue to keep our finances separate? Or shall we merge them together?—Komel and Jim
Suze Orman: Obviously whenever we have guests on, we ask you to fill out all of your expenses, what assets you have, how much money and what's going on here. And a lot of what went on is, Komel, you actually were angry at Jim because you felt you were separating expenses, but that you were paying more per month than he was paying in expenses, even though you make $15,000 a year less. Correct?
Would you be interested to know that Jim is actually paying a thousand dollars more per month in expenses than you are paying? But Jim, would you be interested in knowing that your wife, who you think loves to shop, [has] $40,000 worth of money in her name and you only have $17,500 of money in your name? What is that about? So, your little shopping wife actually has almost three times more money than you do.
But here's what I want you to get: You're both doing fine with money, but we have a problem because we have $25,000 of credit card debt. So, let's clear up the debt. Here's how I want you to do it: My dear, Komel, you have $10,000 in a savings account. You have $15,000, Jim, in investments and things. Let's get rid of those. Get rid of the debt and let's start all over again. You don't have to share expenses where you're sharing accounts; you can keep things separate for now.
My advice would seriously be: Share your time together and pay your bills together, but at this point in time I would not be merging money until you get a little bit more financially intimate with one another.
How do you get financially intimate?—Dr. Phil McGraw
Suze Orman: I'll tell you how. We had [a husband and wife] - Komel was thinking that she was paying more in monthly expenses than Jim was. They don't know what's really going on between the two of them with their money. So, [if] they can merge their money, they could have it all in one account, but that isn't going to solve the problem of, "Oh well, I'm putting more into that account than you're putting in." And "I'm spending more than this."
[Couples] need to just slow it down a little and get familiar with the bills that they both are paying. [They need to] see what their things are, deal with the credit card debt that they came into this relationship with and start from there. After that is done, then they can start on the same footing.
Suze, what's your take on how many dates before you start talking about money seriously?—Gayle King, host ofAsk Oprah's All Stars
Suze Orman: Well, you know, you start talking about money from the very first date, even if you're not verbally talking about money. Because how are you going to share the bill? Who's going to leave the tip? Where are you going to go? So, you can watch somebody's financial habits and notice very quickly: Are they honest or are they dishonest with what they're doing with money. But I can tell you this; what's really important, if you ever do get serious with somebody, is you better be as financially intimate with them as you are personally intimate with them. You know how you meet somebody and you wonder: Do you leave your bra on the doorknob? Do you leave the toilet [seat] up? Do they leave the hairs in the sink or whatever it may be that you've got to know. Are they spenders or are they savers? Are they respectful with money or disrespectful? Because "M" just doesn't stand for marriage, it also stands for money.
Suze, what is FICO?—Gayle King, host ofAsk Oprah's All Stars
Suze Orman: Are you kidding me? It is 2011 and not everybody knows what a FICO score is? No!
All right. FICO actually stands for Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that about 50 years ago created what's known as the credit score. A credit score, a FICO score, is a three-digit number that determines the interest rates that you pay on credit cards. FICO scores run from 300 all the way up to 850. Anything under 500, let me just say it this way, you are FICO'd. Okay?
Your goal should be 760 or above. FICO scores just don't determine the interest rates that you pay on credit cards, car loans and home mortgages. A FICO score will determine if a landlord will rent to you. It's starting to determine if an employer will hire you. It determines if a telephone company will give you a phone and it even determines what your car insurance premium happens to be. Nothing is more important today in your finances than your FICO score.
Hi, Suze. I'm Debbie. Growing up I was spoiled; I would spend about 300 to 400 [dollars] each week just on shopping. I had, like 200, pairs of jeans. When the real estate business crashed, my parents pretty much lost all their money, and if I needed help with my bills, they couldn't help me pay for them. Next thing you know I was over all the limit fees and eventually I just kind of stopped paying. I have at least a hundred debt collectors calling me. I didn't know that having bad credit ruined my life. I need your help, Suze. What can I do to get out of this mess?—Debbie in San Diego, California
Suze Orman: On these 19 credit cards here, Debbie has charged approximately $56,000. Dr. Oz, please do me the pleasure, sir. As you roll out Debbie's credit reports, okay, and her FICO scores. All right? If we look at the very first page of this, it will show you her FICO score of 491. Okay, now what did I say? Anything under 500, you're FICO'd.
Now, here is the problem: When we ran this on Debbie, the $56,000 that she owes on these 19 credit cards have all been charged off. Which means, if you don't know, that the credit card companies and the collection agencies have given up on trying to get their money from Debbie, so they've just written it as a loss and they've charged it off. What's so very sad about that is there is no difference between doing that, my dear Debbie, and walking into a department store and shoplifting and taking out $56,000 worth of items that you've never paid for. What is the difference? If you put it on a credit card and you never pay for it, there is no difference because the people in this audience, on some level, are paying for it, the banks are paying for it, everybody is paying for it but you. And I'm sure this great outfit that you have on, why do I think that you just went out and bought it for today's show? Did you?
So, this is a very, very serious problem. And Dr. Phil has said it better than anybody can say it: You don't solve a financial problem by throwing money at it. It does me absolutely no good to tell you how to get out of credit card debt because you've already gotten out of it, so to speak. They can come after you, they can sue you, but so many things are going on in your life. Besides this $56,000 that's been charged off, you have a $20,000 car loan that you got your brother to co-sign for you.
You have $12,000 of student loan debt that you're never going to be able to discharge in bankruptcy 'cause you can't. You've been working for three years as a manicurist, living for free in your sister's house and making $800 a month. Girlfriend, your life is being wasted and you are too beautiful and too vital to let this... drag you down. So, with that said, there is one person who can turn this around for you, really, in my opinion, 'cause it's not a financial problem. Dr. Phil, I invite you to meet Debbie.
Suze Orman: You know what's so important, especially when it comes to money? The contracts, the documents, the tax returns that you all sign. So many times, somebody's saying to you, "Sign this," and you say, "Okay." Many married couples, you just sign the joint tax return of your spouse and yourself and you never even look to see is it accurate, is it not? And you are legally held responsible for it, even if it isn't accurate. So, therefore, I just wanted to see: Do you pay attention to what you sign? You all came in today, and you all were asked to sign something, weren't you?
So our audience member Melissa had to sign some forms. I want you to read what you agreed to by your signature. What did you sign?
Melissa: By signing this agreement I unconditionally agree to get into a staring contest with Dr. Oz for no shorter than two hours, and no longer than six. If I lose, which I will because said-contest will be rigged, I will have to listen while Dr. Oz gloats over his victory and sings, "We are the champions."
Suze Orman: Now, this could have been "I want you to give me all of your money." Don't think it doesn't happen; it happens all the time, people. When somebody asks you to sign something, you better check it out. It's okay if they're in a hurry. You take a few minutes, read it before you do it.
The point really is: Read before you sign, everybody. [I read] everything that I sign, and most of the time I will make a change to something that somebody's having me sign. So, I go to these things and I have to sign and I will cross out, sign and say, "Nope, it's under my conditions or I'm not interested."
Every day when you go to your wallet, I want you to line up those bills in order. You know, when you respect your money, you also respect yourself. So, all the ones, fives, tens, twenties, should all be in the right order facing the right direction, and you should be counting them so you know how much cash you actually have.
And third, I did this a long time ago, I remember, on The Oprah Winfrey Show and it was so successful only spend paper money, do not spend change. So, if you go into a place and you want to buy something for $4.50 and you give them a five dollar bill, and they give you fifty cents back, put it in your pocket. If you go to the next place and you're buying something for a quarter, give them a dollar and get 75 cents back. If you only spend paper money, I promise you, you will save in change $30 to $60 easily without even having known, well, where did that come from? Try that and you'll see, it works. And then, at the end of every month, take it into the bank and put it towards your credit cards.