A great article from TIME about the the finance tips you shouldn’t follow—

Personal Finance Tips You Should Rethink
It seems like everyone from bloggers to your next-door neighbors doles out financial advice these days. It can be difficult figuring out who to believe, and bad tips can pop up as frequently as thunderstorms in the summertime. In fact, some seemingly sensible advice can turn out to be a bad idea of the highest magnitude, and some “conventional wisdom” really isn’t. Even widely held beliefs can turn out to be clunkers, as this roundup from financial experts illustrates.

Use a Debt-Settlement Company
Debt-settlement firms make an appealing pitch: Contract with us and we’ll chop your debts for you. Just funnel monthly payments to them instead of your creditors and they’ll battle the banks on your behalf, they promise.

“This is the big lie of debt settlement. They tell clients who can afford to make at least some payments on their debts to stop,” says Natalie Lohrenz, director of counseling at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County inCalifornia. Lohrenz says that while debt settlement is a good option for people who are delinquent and who have access to a lump sum of money to offer for a settlement, very few people fit this criteria. Those who do don’t need a company to negotiate for them; they can simply call up the creditors and do it themselves, without the use of a middleman.

Debt-settlement companies also collect and hold on to payments for a period that can be as long as several months before they start the actual settlement process, which means borrowers have to endure months’ worth of phone calls from bill collectors and run the risk of being sued for nonpayment in the interim.

Just Pay Whatever You Can
A lot of people think that paying any amount owed on a debt acts as a good-faith effort and that creditors are obligated to work with you if you pay a nominal sum of, say, $5. This isn’t true. There’s no such thing as getting an A for effort when it comes to delinquent debt.

“The rationalization behind this theory is that some payment is better than no payment,” says Kimberly Cole, an education outreach coordinator at Novadebt. If you’ve worked out an agreement with a creditor to pay $5 a month, you’re in the clear, but there’s no automatic agreement that kicks in if you just send in whatever you want, she warns. “My clients are often shocked when I advise them that the collection activity will continue without an arrangement.”

Cole says borrowers who get in over their heads need to reach out to the creditor and work out a payment plan both parties agree to — and get it in writing.

Carry a Credit-Card Balance to Improve Your Credit Score
“Probably the thing I hear the most from folks is the misconception that one should carry a balance on credit cards, that only paying the minimum payment is a good thing to do in terms of one’s credit history,” says Kerri Cook, a counselor at the Financial Resource Center. Although it is important to use your credit cards regularly so that timely payment activity gets recorded on your credit report, Cook says many people mistakenly interpret that to mean that they have to revolve a balance from month to month for this usage to count on their credit score.

“In fact,” she says, “the goal is to not carry a balance and be as close to a zero balance as possible.”

While carrying a balance doesn’t hurt your credit, it can be an expensive mistake, because it costs you money every month in the form of interest on those borrowed dollars. If you carry a balance of greater than 30% of your credit limit on any one card, your utilization ratio may be too high and your credit could suffer.

Drain Your 401(k) to Pay Bills
“The suggestion to use 401(k), 403(b) or retirement savings to get out of debt is usually shared by well-meaning relatives of indebted consumers who don’t want to be tapped for help,” says Linda Humburg, a counselor manager at FamilyMeans Consumer Credit Counseling Service. This advice raises alarm for a few reasons, Humburg says, one of which is that “it’s often suggested as a first option and doesn’t necessarily resolve the consumer’s financial problems.”

Instead, tapping retirement funds to pay off unsecured debt should be a last resort that comes only after a borrower has considered all other options, including bankruptcy.

It’s deceptively easy to view retirement funds as a piggy bank that will solve a debt problem, Humburg warns. “Too often, consumers are not prepared for the future tax liability based on the fund withdrawal,” she says. In addition, without an overhaul to a borrower’s spending behavior, the underlying financial problems are unlikely to be resolved.

“Add to this the unlikely ability to rebuild those funds,” Humburg points out. “They’ll never recapture that starting base with 15 to 30 years of growth,” which will leave you worse off when you do want to retire.

Close Unused Credit-Card Accounts
Many people believe that keeping credit cards they don’t use is a liability to their credit score, so they close them. In fact, hanging on to cards that you rarely or never use can boost your score.

“A key component of your score is to practice self-control from tapping into all of your available credit,” says Dorothy Barrick, a group manager and financial counselor at GreenPath Debt Solutions. Lenders want to see that you have access to credit but the financial discipline not to exploit it. Closing open accounts will actually hurt your score by skewing your credit utilization ratio, which is the percentage of your available credit being used at any given point. “The smaller the percent, the healthier your score will be,” Barrick says.

The exception to this, says Lohrenz of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County, is if you’re unable to control the urge to splurge. Her advice is to leave accounts open and use each one at least once a year for the highest score effect. “However,” she says, “if you can’t use self-control and closing accounts is the only way to stop yourself from incurring too much debt, the credit-score impact is worth it.”

Stop Paying Your Mortgage
Some people claim that defaulting on a mortgage will put homeowners in the express lane for mortgage modifications. This is a horrible, horribly expensive misconception, says Tina Williams, a housing counselor at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Chattanooga inTennessee. “I have never given this advice, but I see it pitched repeatedly when there is imminent default,” she says. “This is pitched no less by the mortgage lenders themselves.”

While it’s true that some government-backed mortgage-modification programs are available only to people who are delinquent on their mortgage payments, it’s still a bad idea, akin to wrecking a perfectly good car because you want 0% financing on a new vehicle.

Skipping mortgage payments torches your credit score and lets the creditor pile on the penalties — which you’ll still be stuck with even if you do get a modification. “Obviously, this is just adding on late fee after late fee after late fee,” says Jennifer Peters, a counselor at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of West Georgia/East Alabama.

The biggest risk is that you’ll fail to get a modification; many foreclosed-on homeowners tried in vain to get a modification and wound up losing their house anyway. What’s more, most modification programs available to delinquent borrowers only affect interest rates and loan terms rather than lowering the principal, which mitigates the financial relief.

Tap Home Equity to Pay Unsecured Debt
People who are hounded by credit-card or medical-bill collectors might think that taking out a home-equity loan to pay those debts is an easy way to stop the annoying phone calls. Be warned: “This is very dangerous to do unless you have a good spending plan in place, and determination to keep it,” says Ginny Schroeder, lead counselor at the Financial Information and ServiceCenter. “Otherwise, you may end up with a home-equity loan and credit-card debt, and could find yourself in a place where you can’t pay it all.”

Think this sounds bad? That’s not the worst of it. “You are taking unsecured debt and making it secured, which means you could lose your house if you can’t pay it,” Schroeder says.

Luis Caraballo, a counselor at InCharge Debt Solutions, goes so far as to call this “the worst advice I have heard.” He says, “It is never a good idea to convert unsecured debt to secured and risk losing a home.

Buy a Car Based on the Monthly Payment Cost
“It’s dangerous to think about a big purchase, like a house or a car, in monthly terms,” says Jim Wang, a blogger at Bargaineering.com. “It doesn’t illustrate how much of your total wealth has to be surrendered in order to own that house or car.”

“It’s also easier to swallow $200 a month instead of a five-figure number, so salespeople are trained to go after the monthly number,” he says. Whenever a salesperson is giving you financial advice, he says, step back and evaluate whose best interest they have at heart, yours or theirs. Always do the math on what the purchase will cost you in the long run.

“I’d say focusing on the monthly price of anything, and ignoring all else, is terrible advice,” Wang says. “While it’s important to look at that number for the purposes of budgeting, you always want to know how much you’d be paying in total.”

Take Investment Advice from Friends
“I took a stock tip from a good friend of mine who was a stockbroker,” says Stacy Johnson, publisher of MoneyTalksNews.com, who says his friend assured him this investment was a “sure thing.” Johnson says he invested $30,000 based on the advice and wound up losing everything.

“If there’s anyone who should have known better, it was me,” says Johnson, who had been a stockbroker for a decade before acting on the ill-fated tip.

“Any ‘investment’ a friend or family member recommends that could possibly earn the money back is likely way too risky to get involved in — and possibly not legal,” says Cristy Cash, director of counseling at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Central Oklahoma.

No matter how attractive an offer sounds, Johnson says, keep the following in mind: “If somebody knows how to make a quick buck, they’ll be making it, not telling you about it.”

Borrow the Maximum on Student Loans
Student-loan providers often approve borrowers for an amount that’s higher than the cost of tuition and associated costs like books. This can seem like found money, especially for financially strapped students, but using student loans for living expenses can give you a financial headache that lasts well beyond graduation.

“Take out loans on only what you need for books and tuition,” advises Cristy Cash of the Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Central Oklahoma.

By some indication, college students are fairly likely to use student loan money for beer and clothes rather than their education. Unlike other unsecured loans like credit-card debt, student loans are extremely difficult to discharge in bankruptcy, which means you could be paying off — and paying interest on — those trips to the mall and late nights of partying long after graduating. (Assuming you manage to graduate, that is.)

Borrowing more than you need — especially when it comes to private student loans, which have come under fire from advocacy groups for high costs and poor terms — can cause problems for decades.

 

Source: http://moneyland.time.com/2012/08/23/terrible-financial-advice-top-10-tips-you-shouldnt-follow/?hpt=hp_c2#all