Monday, March 11, 2013

Personal finance gurus are dead wrong

Thank goodness somebody is stating the obvious, as if people today are just so much dumber and profligate with their money, when in fact we're the first ones to deal with retirement and very old age all on our own!:

[O]nce upon a time, a majority of us at least had the possibility of receiving a pension when we retired. That’s no longer the case. We’re now expected to do this on our own. And, frankly, most of us aren’t capable of this task, and we have 30 years of evidence – that is, the lifespan of the 401(k) – to prove this fact. We do everything wrong we possibly can. We are unable to save enough money and we don’t invest it well. At the same time, we lack the crucial ability to see the future. We don’t really know when we will retire and why that will occur. We don’t know if our investments will pan out. We don’t know how the greater economic environment will either play out or interact with our lives.

I was reporting on this stuff 15 years ago and I can tell you just about no one said anything like “oh, by the way, you’ll need more than $200,000 just for medical expenses in retirement.” It’s just unfair to expect people – who are not financial experts – to be able to pull this off. The fact is Social Security and other such schemes were created for a reason. There was no imagined past where people saved up for their old age.

Here's another sacred cow slaughtered:

Financial literacy classes sure sound good. But students who take the classes don’t seem to retain much of the knowledge. And, when you think about it for a moment, that makes sense. The idea that taking a class on how finance works at the age of 17 can save someone from a predatory 100-page small-print mortgage when they are 40 is just preposterous. 

[...] Wouldn’t it just be a heck of a lot easier to not offer certain products, or design them in such a way so that they are easily comprehended, than to take on the seemingly hopeless task of teaching a consumer what a structured product is? Of course. So why isn’t this happening?  Well, a cynic might say that’s because financial literacy works quite well at what it was really designed to do and that’s head off legislative protection of consumers.

And here's the simple truth that the Suze Ormans of the world will never utter:

Our best hope for our personal finances is to realize we aren’t in this alone. There is a powerful culture of shame around money in this country, and it is so powerful it actually seems to prevent us from stepping forward, saying things aren’t working out for us financially, and asking not for charity, but for substantive legislation designed to help us all.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore 
March 5, 2013 | AlterNet

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