I can't recall exactly when it began, but among celebrities, a peculiar species has begun to emerge -- I call them the "money celebrities." The most famous one who comes to mind is Suze Orman, a self-proclaimed personal financial guru. Orman serves an excellent purpose in getting us thinking about things like credit, budgeting, and saving. But the danger comes when people apply a one-size-fits-all strategy to their own personal financial situation.
The pitfalls of celebrity advice
Early in a conversation I had with a young couple looking to get financially fit, they told me that they "did" Dave Ramsey. If I hadn't been familiar with Ramsey's shtick, I would have been quite clueless as to what they meant.
In short, Ramsey is a TV and radio personality who often does his audience a disservice by giving blanket financial advice. He encourages people to pay off all their debts, despite the fact that not all debt is bad. A home mortgage is one of those kinds of debts that is not all bad, as it makes home ownership possible and may provide a tax deduction. And paying off a mortgage by dipping into your emergency fund is not smart, as it may leave you without the liquidity you need when a crisis strikes. He also recommends the same mutual funds for his entire audience, claiming these funds should average 12% per year -- and they very well might, but Ramsey implies that everyone can put their assets into these same types of growth funds and collect 12% per year into eternity. He speaks little of assessing one's risk tolerance or using smart asset allocation strategies.
When I told the young couple mentioned above that neither I nor anyone else could promise them a 12% return on all of their money, they decided to go elsewhere.
The bottom line on money celebrity advice
For the Average Joe living paycheck to paycheck, Ramsey and Orman impart excellent rudimentary advice. But many people's situations require much more detailed and personalized advice, and they run into trouble when they attempt to fit themselves into the cookie-cutter plans the money celebrities serve up.
Simply put, the money celebrities' advice is not generally the best for those who have graduated from Finance 101 in terms of their financial status. They need to be cognizant, for example, of income taxes -- as in, the four ways one can incur a tax liability from that 12% returning mutual fund! This may not matter much to Average Joe right now, but once you've reached the point where you can begin to invest in your future, things like this will matter a great deal. A few hours spent with a financial planning professional can put you on the right track for your individual situation.
So don't fall into the one-size-fits-all trap when it comes to your financial planning. Listen to the money celebrities, sure, but remember that there's no way to ensure that their generic advice is right for you.
Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.