Sound financial advice doesn’t change much from year to year. Bad money management ideas, however, seem to mutate and flourish with each passing season…Ultimately, it’s up to you to resist bad advice and protect your own financial futures.
She writes that the three pieces of bad money advice currently en vogue are:
Use a home equity loan to pay off credit-card debt
This is tempting because home equity rates are lower than credit card rates and the interest is tax deductible. But if you make this move without ditching the credit cards, you risk digging yourself into a deeper hole. “Nearly two-thirds of the people who borrowed against their home equity to pay off credit cards had run up more card debt within two years,” writes Weston.
I’m one of the minority: when I moved my debt to home equity, I destroyed my personal credit cards. I’ve been lucky. There were certainly times I was tempted to take out new credit cards and acquire new debt. Those urges are gone now, and seemingly for good.
Cash out your retirement
Weston’s article discusses borrowing from a 401(k). This is a poor move, she says, because it puts your retirement at risk. People often find it difficult to repay the money borrowed from a 401(k). Worse, if you’re not able to re-fund the retirement plan on schedule, that investment is lost to you forever.
My family’s business offers its employees a profit-sharing retirement plan. When an employee leaves the company, she may cash out the portion in which she is vested. To date, every employee who has left us has done this. When they withdraw the money, it is taxed as a lump-sum and is subject to penalties. One employee cashed out $50,000 early, but sacrificed nearly $20,000 to do so.
Overextend to buy a home
Real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and banks are all anxious to get you into an expensive home. Even friends and family sometimes join the act. Don’t take the bait. A high house payment can be a soul-crushing experience. Weston notes:
Buying too much house could mean giving up other things you want: vacations, eating out, a college fund for your kids, a sufficient retirement kitty. Or it could mean ever more debt, as you borrow to try to maintain your lifestyle.
When we bought our first house in 1994, we were told that our regular housing expense — principal, interest, taxes, and insurance — shouldn’t total more than 28% of our pretax income. When we bought again in 2004, that number had risen to 33%. This difference may seem small, but it can make a huge difference. Many experts recommend ratios as small as 25%. After thirteen years of homeownership, I’m inclined to agree — for our new house, we aimed for a payment less than 20% of our pretax income.
These three moves can be very tempting — they promise quick and easy money. It’s the lure of a wonderful today at the expense of a miserable tomorrow. Be careful.
[MSN Money: The three worst money moves you can make]
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This article is about Choices