financial literacy

The Next Best Thing to Free Money

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / turk12

We are always gratified when clients find themselves with money to invest and their first thought is to put it to work with us. We pride ourselves on our ability to help clients work towards their financial goals, and believe that we provide a compelling service. But regardless of how good we might be at what we do, there are some situations where you can definitely do better with your money elsewhere.

Occasionally, younger clients who find themselves with extra money to invest will ask us whether they should contribute to their brokerage accounts or their employer retirement plan. Sometimes, their employer plan has an employer match they have not yet maxed out, which makes this question a real no-brainer. A dollar-for-dollar employer match is essentially a guaranteed, instant doubling of your investment. We might be good—but we’re definitely not that good. Even if you are unhappy with your employer plan’s performance, an employer match lets you take quite a lot of losses and still come out ahead of a more successful portfolio that doesn’t have the match.

Another situation where it makes sense to put your money elsewhere first is debt. In today’s low interest environment, you might not feel a lot of pressure to pay off cheap loans. However, if you have debt you’re paying 8, 10, or even 12% on, you should put some serious thought into paying off that debt before you invest that money in the markets.

If you pay off $5,000 of credit card debt that you are paying 12% interest on, your $5,000 “investment” will save you $50 a month, $600 a year, like clockwork. You’d be hard pressed to find any other investment that will pay you that kind of return—and if you did, it would likely have many risks associated with it. But once you pay off your debt, those interest payments are gone forever. We can’t really compete with that.

This is basic financial literacy you can use to improve your financial situation before you think about investing. As always, everyone’s situation is a little bit different, and we’re more than happy to discuss the particulars of your situation with you—even if the obvious conclusion turns out to be that you have more important places to put your money.


Investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Buyer Beware: 4 Tricks to Inform Yourself With

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Investing offers a seemingly infinite range of approaches, methods, products, services, and theories. The abundance of alternatives can be confusing, or even paralyzing. We can equip you with four ideas that may help you to winnow the choices down to ones that are more likely to help you.

  1. Some of the highest-cost products attract the most persistent sales people. If you are being pursued by a seller who is willing to spend a great deal of time and effort and travel to connect with you, assume that there is a very healthy paycheck in the deal and know that you’re ultimately the one who will pay for it.
  2. Sellers love to spend a lot of time with the glossy sales brochures that are full of hope and promise, not the prospectus. You will learn about the dangers and risks and conflicts of interest and the costs from the prospectus, not the brochures. Two things to do: read the front cover of the prospectus, and have a knowledgeable third party review the whole document. If you encounter resistance to the idea of studying the prospectus, you know there is information in there that you should have.
  3. Some financial firms have gotten into the business of manufacturing their own ‘house brand’ products. These products may be impossible to move from that firm should you later elect to do business elsewhere. And companies that manufacture and distribute products have conflicts that independent firms do not. Beware of house brands.
  4. Second opinions do not cost, and may reward you. If you have any questions or concerns about a product being sold to you, call us for a complimentary review.

Bottom line, avoid being “sold.” Take advantage of the legally required disclosures in the prospectus. Beware of house brands. Seek second opinions.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.