The blogoshpere is alive with posts that trumpet that Suze Orman has changed her financial advice .. some of it inspired by this excellent article from Yahoo Finance News:
Personal finance gurus usually treat credit card debt as the plague and urge consumers to pay it off–ASAP. But this week, Queen of Personal Finance Suze Orman announced on The Oprah Winfrey Show that the old advice is wrong. The recession has made job loss so prevalent, she says, that consumers now need to make creating an emergency fund with eight months worth of expenses their top priority.
Now, I also happened to be watching that Oprah show [AJC: I can blame my wife … she watches religiously … can I help it that I am sometimes also standing withing ‘eye shot’ of the TV 😉 ] where Suze said:
If you have an unpaid credit card balance [and] not much saved up in emergency savings, I need you to listen up. My advice has changed. I want you to only pay the minimum due on your credit card balance, and instead, make it your top priority to build as much of an emergency cash fund as you can.
Now, I think that Trent at The Simple Dollar hosted the best discussion on Suze’s comments, and I suggest that read both Trent’s post and all of the comments before you read on; Trent said:
In this environment, making the decision to jump from debt repayment to emergency fund building is about two years overdue.
I propose a different solution.
First of all, ignore a huge, long-term goal like an eight month emergency fund. Instead, if you’re worried about the downturn, focus on three key things through the rest of this year (and thus, likely, through the bottom of the downturn):
One, apply some realistic frugality in your life.
Two, acquire no new debt.
Three, build up your emergency fund a little now, but be prepared to reduce it in 2010.
I agree with Trent, asking people to save up to 80% of their salary for the next 12 months is way too much too late 🙂
And, I agree with Trent’s basic ‘bunker mentality’ of tightening the belt, but I am actually going to advocate a totally opposite three-step strategy, and here it is … 7million7years’ Patented Bunker Strategy For Surviving A 12 to 24 Month Recession:
One, ramp up your Making Money 101 strategies …. during recessionary times, double them if you can (i.e. save 20% – 30% of your income; save 100% of any ‘found money’).
Two, acquire some critical new debt.
Three, use that new debt to build up your emergency fund a lot for now, but be prepared to dramatically reduce it when the recession turns.
Question: Who of sound mind acquires new debt in a recession?
Answer: Anybody who wants to survive!
Look, if you didn’t start storing nuts for this recessionary winter in 2005 / 2006 then you probably have NIL chance of building a large enough emergency fund to tide you over if you do lose your job now or soon … worse, if you do lose your job, it could take months to find another one in the current market.
So, what to do?
Simple, look for where you already have nuts stored: for many of you, it will be in your house.
IF you still have equity in your house, simply refinance out as much as you can up to Suze Orman’s 8 months emergency fund limit (however much that may be for you) PLUS a sufficient ‘buffer’ to make 12 – 24 months of mortgage payments. Now may also be a good time to consolidate your credit cards and other higher interest loans into the same loan (not normally a strategy that I would recommend … but, this is an unusual plan that we are executing) …
… and, fix the interest rate (so long as the loan conditions allow you to pay off as much extra as you like when you like!).
Well, you now have peace of mind … for only the price of 12 to 24 month’s interest on your mortgage, perhaps a very small price to pay for surviving the deepest recession that you will likely see in your lifetime.
If you don’t lose your job, you can pay back the loan whenever you feel that things are somewhat coming back to normal (i.e. jobless rates are dropping again), and if you do lose your job, you have the cash buffer to help you survive.
Sure, this is a drastic strategy, which will cost you some unecessary interest and lost investing opportunity as you borrow money at 6+% just to have it sitting in the bank at 1.9% if you are lucky, so I am aiming this strategy only at those who:
1. Believe Suze Orman, but have no hope of meeting her criteria at this late stage, or
2. Believe that their job is at reasonable risk.
For a person on a gross income of $50,000 a year, with a current mortgage of $250,000 (a lot of house!), this rather unique ‘insurance policy’ would cost you less than $100 a week … a lot of money, sure, but small change if it helps you survive the Second Great Depression (well, at least the worst recession since the Great Depression).
If so, this is counter-intuitively probably your best chance of protecting your home and family and riding the storm … but, if you don’t get a new job within a few months then you are probably slightly closer to foreclosure.
Or, are you?
You have 12 to 24 months protection (by way of the 8 months living expenses plus interest payments buffer), whereas without doing this you have whatever you can scrape up. Compare that with the alternative: what would you do if you lost your job next month and you didn’t put this plan in place? How could/would you survive?
Your honest answer dictates whether this admittedly ‘unusual plan’ is for you …
… if it is; if you do have the spare equity; and, if you do meet the two criteria listed above, now is the time to execute this plan. If you wait:
a. You won’t be able to refi if you have lost your job, and
b. A HELOC won’t save you, as the bank will probably pull it.
So, refinance your home now and put the spare cash into another bank instead!
Of course, if you don’t have the ‘spare equity’ in your house … cross your fingers 🙂