5 Money Myths You Shouldn't Fall For

When it comes to these so-called money rules, following conventional wisdom can cost you.

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woman harvesting money bags from money tree
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By Geoff Williams

Conventional wisdom is often a good thing, or at least harmless. For instance, even if chicken soup doesn't help your cold -- and research shows it probably does help -- it won't hurt you. Plus, you'll help keep someone employed in the soup industry.

But there are plenty of times when conventional wisdom isn't just wrong -- it can cost you money. So the next time you're about to make a big financial decision, keep in mind that rarely is anything black and white when it comes to the green stuff. Here are five money "rules" that are largely wrong.

Carrying a credit card balance will help your credit score. Not at all. If you are carrying a balance you can't pay off, it will help to keep the balance as low as possible because credit bureaus don't like to see a high debt-to-income ratio. In other words, they want to see that you aren't maxed out to the limit every month. So intentionally carrying a balance on your card won't put your credit in better standing or save you money; paying interest only benefits the credit card companies.

Having a zero balance every month on your credit card is fine, especially if you're making regular or occasional purchases and paying them off monthly. Credit bureaus like to see that people are using credit cards responsibly. That's why never using a credit card that has a zero balance won't appreciably help your credit score, either.

Pay off credit card debt before saving for retirement. Ultimately, it comes down to how much debt you're talking about, and what kind.

"One myth that young professionals -- actually, many professionals -- initially question is whether they should pay off consumer debt, like credit cards and student loans,
before fully investing in their company's 401(k) plan," says John Oxford, director of external affairs at Renasant, a financial services company headquartered in Tupelo, Miss.

What's so wrong with paying off the massive credit card debt you accumulated in your early 20s before sinking money into a 401(k) plan? Oxford says if your company offers a 401(k) contribution match, and you instead shovel money into debt, you'll pass up on what amounts to free money that could have gone toward your retirement.

You're also losing out on the potential interest growth, he says.

So, yes, save for retirement at the same time, even if that means it will take longer to pay off your debt.

Stocks make you rich -- and bonds keep you rich. A good rule of thumb, but this is another gray area.

"The bond bull market for the past 30 years is coming to an end," says Jon Ulin, a managing principal at Ulin & Co. Wealth Management, a branch of LPL Financial in Boca Raton, Fla. "Interest rates will begin to rise when the Fed starts to taper the monetary stimulus program. Bonds tend to fall in value when interest rates rise. As [when] there is a greater degree of price volatility for longer bond maturities, investors should move more into short-duration bond investments."

Benjamin Sullivan, a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Scarsdale, N.Y., echoes that thought.

He says it's a myth that retirees should be fully invested in bonds. "Even retirees may have a relatively long time horizon for a portion of their money," he says. "They need the superior growth that stocks can provide to retain purchasing power over their life."

Home additions increase your home sale value. Usually they don't, says Patrick Roberts, a certified financial planner and CEO of PKR Investments in St. Louis. If you add on a room or an amenity like a swimming pool for the sole purpose of adding value to your home, he says, you're likely to hurt your pocketbook. That's because even if your addition does add value to the house, you've likely taken on more debt in the process, so you may lose money in the long run.

Now, if your house needs a fresh coat of paint, feel free to slather it on. You will probably sell it faster and maybe for a bit more. But when it comes to high-priced add-ons and features, proceed cautiously if your only goal is to add value to your home.

Your money is safest in the bank. Not exactly. Money market accounts, savings bonds, your 401(k), a 529 plan and index funds may all be better alternatives (obviously, do your research or talk to your financial adviser). True, if your money is in the bank, it's safe because it isn't going anywhere. Banks' checking and savings accounts and certificates of deposit are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation up to $250,000.

But if you have a lot of cash sitting in a savings account, you're technically losing money with interest rates so low these days, Sullivan says.

"You might have the comfort of seeing a stable account balance, but you are guaranteeing that your buying power will decrease due to inflation," he says.

Currently, inflation is at about 1 percent, which is pretty low. Unfortunately, the average savings account yields about 0.06 percent, so you're still losing a bit of money. But a couple of years ago, when inflation was about 3 percent, the loss was more pronounced: People were losing about 3 percent of their income's worth because their savings yields weren't keeping up with inflation, Sullivan says.

So the next time you're faced with a big financial decision, do your homework rather than making a snap decision based on what you've heard your entire life. You probably won't lose much if you believe in myths involving vampires and zombies. But losing thousands of dollars or your entire life savings -- now that's scary.


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48 Comments

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joejoegolfn

Some people think paying 5000.00 in mortgage interest to get a 1500 tax deduction is a good idea. If I can't pay cash for something then I don't need it. I have always done the exact opposite the experts said to do since 1968 and have beat them to death. Gold and whole life insurance was always a waste of money. My insurance pays an average of 6 percent dividends every year since I bought it. Even during the crash in the 80s,90s and 2000s. Gold was was less than 150 an once and now who knows where it will go. To me experts are has been drips under pressure

December 08 2013 at 9:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
npc317

Where did they come up with inflation at 1%?? Apparently this guy hasn\'t been in a grocery store lately.

December 08 2013 at 6:31 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to npc317's comment
betty_brock

Liberal spin.

December 08 2013 at 8:58 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Scott

Paying off debt before you begin socking away money for retirement is ALWAYS the best move. First, you have a guaranteed increase in net worth. If you're paying down a 7% loan, you're increasing your net worth at the same rate you would if you were earning 7% on an investment. And I don't know of any investment that will guarantee you a 7% return consistently. Second, when you have debt, you're obligated to a monthly payment that's higher than the interest alone. What happens if you lose your job? You're still obligated to pay that monthly bill. You're still a slave to your creditors. But, when you pay off that loan, you have freed yourself from that obligation and lowered your monthly budget requirement. Sure, take advantage of the match on your company 401(k). But make it a priority to pay off your debt--all of it, including the mortgage. It's a great feeling!

December 08 2013 at 5:32 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Scott's comment
Kent

There's a difference between using every spare dollar to pay down debt versus paying down a reasonable amount of debt, while putting money towards retirement.

I opened an IRA while I was in college, accumulating college loan debt. It was a very good decision, since that money has been growing for 30 years.

By the same token, don't be in a hurry to pay down the mortgage. Once the mortage is paid, you have lost a nice deduction. If you want to cut down on what you owe, refinance for a shorter loan period. I've refinanced 3 times, and the house will be paid off about 9 years earlier than the pay-off under the original 30-year mortgage.

December 08 2013 at 7:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ED

I am paying off my mortgage in 6 years, instead of the original 12. The interest savings? About $22,000. I do not know of an investment with such a return. If I were still working, and had an employer willing to match a 401K (which is getting to be much less likely), I wouold be hard pressed to take the match and continue paying this mortgage. I just can't see it.

December 09 2013 at 8:18 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jgesselberty

A sad fact is that due to the fed, banks can lend you money via credit cards, at double digit interest rates, but the taxpayer is discouraged from saving with savings interest rates in the decimal points. Greed is rampant.

December 08 2013 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jgesselberty's comment
Kent

A credit card as 0% interest, if you pay off the balance every month. I learned long ago not to spend what I couldn't afford to pay each month. In other words, a credit card is for when you don't want to carry a large amount of cash.

December 08 2013 at 7:09 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
ED

Greed is what makes capitalism work. You just have to figure out how to make it work in your favor. There are ways.

December 09 2013 at 8:20 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
xraybrain

the best advice would be live way below your means. If you make 100K live like you are making 50K and keep half your money in cash half in pre 1965 silver Americans coins. Keep about 5 grand in cash at home. Stock up on long shelf life food. Sell your big house and buy a smaller one with a yard big enough for a garden. A long rough ride is in the American future

December 08 2013 at 2:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to xraybrain's comment
Valerie

@xraybrain: I agree with most of your general advice that people should try their best to live below their income.

However, have you looked at the spot price of silver, lately?? It's been falling like a rock thrown off a tall building for months. It's gone from $50 an ounce to $20 and is still dropping. Just flush your $$ down the toilet. You will achieve the same effect as loading up on pre-1965 silver coins.

It probably wouldn't hurt to have a small amount of your savings in silver coins, assuming you recognize that for the speculative investment that it is. But 50%?? No way. (The last time silver fell to a very low level, it took 50 years for it to climb back up to 50 bucks, again. Do you have a 50 year time horizon AND the patience to wait that long to recover your losses on those purchases??) And please don't reply with the skewed logic that silver/gold will be the new American "currency" after the dollar fails. That's a survivalist pipe dream.

What you can "count on" with your silver hoard is that those American coins will probably always be worth their face value......and that's all. In the Great Depression of the 1930's, cash was king. It still is.

December 08 2013 at 4:43 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
naojf22936

Got an 11 room, 3 story house that is over 100 yrs old...on a nice 1/2 acre lot. Not leaving here for anything else...no matter the upkeep. Even if you make 100k/yr...after taxes you really don't have much in today's world. Be satisified with where you are and what you have.
As you age....nothing gets better...it all goes downhill.

December 08 2013 at 6:05 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to naojf22936's comment
betty_brock

So true.

December 08 2013 at 8:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
julietjdx3

that's why I don't use credit cards

December 08 2013 at 12:46 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to julietjdx3's comment
ED

Want to know a "given" about not using credit cards, or credit in general? Not many people have made a lot of money by not using credit. And only a fool would risk his cash on a business venture when credit is available.

December 09 2013 at 8:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Valerie

I think an editor must have read this goofy article and decided that "Money Myths" was a good title for the misleading "advice" contained in it.

Really sad when the so-called "financial experts" on internet websites quite obviously have NO idea what they are writing about. Mutual fund money market accounts can lose value the same as every other uninsured investment choice. This was proven when one of these funds "broke the buck" a few years ago.

Also, just ask anyone (who had money invested in a 401K or other retirement account) how "safe" their investment was when the stock market crashed back in 2008-09.

Plus, promoting anything connected to the stock market as a "safe" investment choice is just insane. Yes, it is possible to make money with index funds --- but, it is by no means a certainty that you will get the entire amount of your investment back. The stock market rises and falls over any period of time. Also, all index funds are not created equal. Plenty of them are losing money or just breaking even right now even if we are still in a bull market.

Additionally, If you are unfortunate enough to retire during a prolonged bear market and have no choice except to withdraw funds from your 401K, etc. then you are going to get a real tough lesson about "safe investments".

I sure would like to see Geoff"s retirement portfolio (assuming he even has one of those). It must be a real work of art with all those "safe" investments in it. LOL

December 08 2013 at 12:19 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Valerie's comment
ED

I get a kick out of reading these articles. Most that I read give me the impression the author assumes most of us are in the $150,000 + per year bracket, and have all of this money laying around to invest. Hell, my hole life it took everything I could earn to keep up with the necessities of life.

December 09 2013 at 8:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mismoltd

As a Certified General Real Property Appraiser, I can assure that additions and repairs increase the value of the home, but it is no where near what people think. People think that if they spend 30K on a home remodel that the home is now worth 30K more. NOT!!! The value it adds is not even a fraction of what they paid out for the remodel. People are being duped and mislead by these Home fix it shows when in reality you never recoup the full amount of money you put into the home. Yes you will benefit some - but in this example, it won't be 30K worth!.

December 08 2013 at 12:17 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mismoltd's comment
John

Maybe the concept was too much for you to understand. Inflation is higher than bank interest. You lose money leaving it in the bank.

December 08 2013 at 2:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to John's comment
landzone5

How can you lose money in the bank when it is insured up to $200.000 ?

December 08 2013 at 4:57 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down
betty_brock

Inflation

December 08 2013 at 8:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
ED

Cosmetic is key to getting money out of a home sale. You should know that. Too bad these financial experts don't.

December 09 2013 at 8:25 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
crazy ray

Amazing that you can contradict yourself in the same paragraph. Not safest in the bank? Oh, yeah, that's right, it's insured and none of your alternatives are. Maybe English simply isn't your first language.

December 08 2013 at 9:46 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to crazy ray's comment
ED

I think you misunderstood the author. He was referring to losing savings to inflation. When earrning less than 1% interest, and groceries go up 3%, eventually you will lose your savings to inflation.

December 09 2013 at 8:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mouse

Paying off your cards every month isn't helping your credit history. We found that out, they call anyone who pays off their cards each month "deadbeats" [used to be we were the ones who were good risks] instead of good credit risks because you don't have a history of paying off a long term debt.

December 08 2013 at 8:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply