Devil’s Advocate Column

If you read enough personal finance news articles or watch enough television, you’ll notice the pundits telling you the same exact principles. Buy for the long term, invest in index funds, don’t try to time the market, your home is the best investment you can make, etc. In this column, we argue the other side of conventional personal finance wisdom to shed light on whether these beliefs are justified or merely the echoes of nicely dressed parrots. Sometimes these articles are paired with an Angel’s Advocate post.


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 Devil's Advocate 
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Borrowing From Your 401(k)

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

One of the oft-discussed cardinal sins in personal finance is to borrow from your 401(k), 403(b), or other eligible retirement accounts. The reasons against borrowing are obvious – those assets are for you to consume in retirement, not right now. By borrowing those funds, they can’t grow with the market tax free and you lose one of the great vehicles for retirement planning.

Not everyone can borrow from their 401(k) or 403(b), the plan administrator has to permit it, but this Devil’s Advocate post will discuss reasons why this may make sense for the limited number of employees who can borrow from their 401(k) plan.

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 Devil's Advocate 
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Credit & Debt Are Good For You (In Moderation)

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

One of the big lessons from the post-credit crisis era, and you could argue we’re still fighting through the crisis itself, is the idea that cheap credit and cheap debt are bad for you. In general, I’d agree that racking up double digit interest rate debt is a very bad thing, but having access to that credit can be a very good thing.

It’s been a while since I wrote a Devil’s Advocate post but I felt that it was time. There’s been a huge backlash against credit and debt lately, in part because they were a cornerstone of the credit crisis, and I think that anger and fear is a bit unfounded. For every irresponsible borrower, there’s a responsible one taking full advantage of credit and using it in a way that enriches their life. Today, we’ll look at just a few of the reasons why you shouldn’t abandon credit.

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 Devil's Advocate 
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5 Reasons to Skip College

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

USAF Academy Graduation Hat Hurray Toss, Thunderbird Fly OverWhen I was younger, the plan for my future was pretty straightforward. You go to high school to learn, get good grades, and get into a good college. You go to college to get good grades and then get a good job. After that, just circle the mouse wheel until retirement. OK, that last part about the wheel was my own addition but that basically was my “job” as a kid. That plan worked for me and it’s the path many people have walked with great success, but it’s not the only path.

With the government looking at additional regulation on the for-profit colleges, I started to wonder again whether college is “worth it.” In general, it is. However, recently with all these for-profit schools, a lot of people are going to college unnecessarily. They’re being promised things that the schools can’t deliver. They’re being sold something they don’t need, depending on what they want to do, and they’re only buying it because we’ve put “college” on a pedestal. In this Devil’s Advocate post, I explain why you might want to skip college.

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 Devil's Advocate 
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Being Frugal is Foolish

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

I bet this Devil’s Advocate is going to ruffle a lot of feathers! Frugality is a pretty big topic in the personal finance blog community because there are so many things you can do to trim a few cents or dollars off here or there. You can buy gadgets like a Kill-A-Watt to find out how much energy your appliances are using and disconnect them when they’re not in use. You can make your own detergent for your washing machine or buy a rack to line dry your clothes. There have been books filled to the brim with thousands upon thousands of ways to save a few dollars and cents here or there… however they never get to the heart of the issue – being frugal should be the very last thing you try to be when all other options have been exhausted.

If you think of yourself as a business, you have two ways of generating a profit. You can increase your income or you can decrease your expenses. When you focus entirely on being frugal, you only look at half of the equation. That’s foolish.

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 Devil's Advocate 
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Don’t Invest In The Stock Market

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

We are led to believe that the best place to invest our money is in the stock market. Low barriers to entry, low barriers to exist, plenty of information, high probability of success in the long run and a lot of success stories. We also hear some of the horror stories of people who day traded tech stocks in the early 2000s, gamblers who lost it all on penny stocks, and all the chop shop, pump and dumpers like in the movie Boiler Room. However, through it all, we’ve been taught, over and over again, that if you buy for the long term, you will always win.

For today’s Devil’s Advocate post, we’re going to break down the stock market and show why we really are just little guppies hoping not to get eaten by the sharks.

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 Devil's Advocate 
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Automating Your Finances is an Expensive Mistake

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

Automation Robots!The allure of automation is obvious. Look at the famous Ronco Rotisserie catchphrase – “Set it and forget it!” Automation is appealing because it lets computers do the work and lets you do something else more interesting. Set your 401(k) contribution each month, set the allocation, and then go spend time with your family. Set credit cards on auto-pay, go all electronic for the statement credit and for the environment, and spend more time playing video games and watching television.

I get it and I love automation too, but there’s something you should know… automating your finances can lead to bad habits, bad habits can lead to tragic losses and big mistakes. In this Devil’s Advocate post, I explain why automating all of your finances can be an expensive mistake.

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 Devil's Advocate 
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Your Home Is Not An Investment

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

Farm House with Rising SunA few years ago, when the housing market was sizzling hot, everyone and their mother talked about how their home was a fantastic investment. They talked about how a home that sold ten years ago had quadrupled in value over the last five and cursed themselves for not buying more. I knew someone who owned four rental properties, all bought on ARMs, and was making a “killing” on the rents and appreciation. I knew someone else who was looking at his paper riches and marveling at how wonderful homeownership was.

Then the housing market stalled. ARMs reset. People were in rough shape. Those who overextended learned something the prudent have always understood, as much as your home is a great place, it’s not an investment.

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 Devil's Advocate 
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Monitor Your Credit Score All The Time

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

The conventional wisdom is that you should check your credit reports at least once a year and your score only when you need it. However, with services like MyFICO and Credit Karma, checking your credit score “all the time” has become just as cheap as checking it infrequently once a year.

Credit Karma is 100% free and they give you a TransUnion credit score using TransUnion data. It’s not technically a FICO score but it’s free and good enough for the reasons I give for monitoring your score all the time. You will have to provide sensitive personal information, since they will be accessing your actual TransUnion credit report, but you’ll never need to pull out your credit card.

MyFICO is run by Fair Isaac Corporation, the creator of the FICO score, and it costs money, about $9 a month. You get an Equifax FICO score every week, among other services. I don’t think it’s important to get an official FICO score all the time if you can get a credit score from one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion).

This is part one of a two part Devil’s Advocate, Angel’s Advocate article in which I argue both sides of an issue. This is the Devil’s Advocate post, here is the Angel’s Advocate post arguing why monitoring your credit score all the time is a bad idea.

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