This is the sixth article of the A-B-C's of credit and debt. Today is F for Free advice.
If you can get something for free, you should do it, right?
Well that all depends. Free beer - that sounds great! But a free puppy - well, that could be lots of fun. And it could be LOTS of work and cost you lots of money! It all depends on which one you end up with more of - fun or work. So, free isn't always great. And free isn't always free.
When it comes to financial advice, there's free ADVICE. And then there's FREE advice. Big difference!
There's been a lot of talk recently about the pre-paid debit card from financial celebrity Suze Orman. That's what got me thinking about this entire free advice thing. Let me say for the record that I'm not opposed to any of these financial "experts" you see on TV. They all have their areas of expertise. And I'm sure most of what they say is good, honest advice.
But I'm just a bit skeptical when they try to be everything to everybody. If I have car trouble, I bring it to my mechanic. But if I get into an accident, I bring it to the body shop. They both know about cars. So why doesn't my mechanic do body work? And why doesn't the body shop do brakes and oil changes?
Because they each provide service on the type of work they do best.
Again, free financial advice can be great - but only if it is good advice for you and your situation. Uncle Joe might be a great guy. And he might know a lot about making money or saving money. But just because something worked for him doesn't mean it will work for you!
When is free financial advice good financial advice?
Let me give you a few examples to make my point a little more clear:
Suze Orman and the other TV "experts"
- Suze Orman is a financial planner by trade. She helps people who already have money to find ways to make more money. Great profession. And she is probably very good at what she does. So if you have money you need to invest, or learn about estate planning, tax shelters, and things like that, talk with a financial planner.
- But helping rich people get richer is a lot different than helping people struggling to get out of debt. Both rich people and struggling people need help with money. But these are 2 entirely different situations. With 2 entirely different solutions. Just because someone is trained on building wealth, investing with mutual funds, and protecting your wealth from Uncle Sam does NOT mean they know about the best ways to pay off debt, avoid bankruptcy, and fix your credit problems. Her advice is free. But is it the best advice for someone with debt and credit problems? Not always.
- Writers are typically good at taking a bunch of facts, quotes, and news items and making them into a good story. Their talent is to make the story interesting enough for the average person to read and enjoy.
- But writers are typically not experts in the field they write about. They may shave some experience. Or they may just be interested in the topic. Or it might just be their job. Or they might be like the TV experts from the point above. So, just like cooking isn't simply about taking a list of ingredients and throwing them together, neither is taking a bunch of facts and quotes and making them into expert advice. Not that the writers are useless. But their writing can't always be taken literally as "advice" especially when it comes to finance.
- Online message boards are a great way to get information on a particular strategy or company, from someone who used that strategy or company. If you want to know about Company X, reading what other people have to say about them can be helpful.
- Just keep in mind that one person's experience does not always translate into every person's experience. So while Susan from Dallas might have had a bad experience, realize you are not necessarily getting the entire story. Her goals, her situation, and her understanding of the company or service might be quite different from yours. Ands her expectations might be entirely different, too (with debt relief, expectations are often quite different!) So there is nothing wrong with gathering information, but don't make your decision based on one bad comment.
- Ads are a great way to learn about different products, services, and companies that can potentially help us solve a financial problem. You've probably seen many different types of debt problems - personal debt, business debt, tax debt - and many different types of solutions - debt consolidation, debt settlement, bankruptcy. So advertising can be informative.
- But ads can also be misleading. Even if a company is completely "above board" the ad probably won't give you all the details. And can leave you thinking "hey this is right for me" even if it is not. Sure, you can call the company. But unless they somehow can't make money from you, they're going to do what they can to sign you up.
So where do you find the right financial advice - for free?
Before you fall for the next "get out of debt in 6 months and save $50,000" type of scam, do your research. For example, if you're looking for information on how debt settlement really works, go to Google and type in "how does debt settlement work". Pick out 5-10 articles and learn as much as you can. Then go back to Google and type in "best debt forums" or "debt message boards" and check out people's experience. If you find a company you like, check the Better Business Bureau website and read the review. Then type the company name into Google and see what you find. Each step of the way, ask questions. The more you can learn the better. Whether you do it yourself. Or get professional help.
And that's how you get free advice that can really help you!
Where else do you find free financial advice?
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