If you ever watch late night (or early morning) television, you see all kinds of weird products being advertised. When a certain type of ads come on the tube, you know that you are watching a really old movie or a sitcom that has been in reruns for 20 years. Like those ads for the about animal cruelty. Animal cruelty is not funny, but if an ad for the ASPCA comes on, you know you are watching television that no one else is watching. The other kinds of ads that tip you off that you have stumbled away from the beaten path is when washed-up celebrities start to pitch fishy financial products. When a formerly big name actor comes on the screen to talk to you about reverse mortgages, you can be sure of two things: a) this is someone who is broke after making more money in a year than I will make in my lifetime and b) no one should take financial advice from this person.
All of that got me wondering: What are the worst financial products that show up in television advertisements? Here is the list of my Top 10 Smarmy Financial Products as seen on TV:
#10: Buying Gold
Gold is not the worst investment in the world. Enron employees and Madoff clients have stock that they would gladly trade for gold coins or bullion, however, gold is not a practical investment for the average person for many reasons: high fees, high price, low intrinsic value, and the list goes on. Gold is often pitched as a hedge against the coming financial Armageddon, but unless you can eat gold, plant gold, use it to heat your house or fuel your car, your gold bars will be worthless if the worst should happen.
#9: Cash for gold
My children are always telling me to “get some cash for our gold”. What they do not realize is that we do not really have any scrap gold and if I did, the last thing I would do is put it in an envelope and send it to an appraiser who works for the same company that is offering to buy the stuff in the first place. If you want to sell your jewelry, fine, but I suspect you might get a better deal from the pawn shop a couple of blocks from your house.
#8: Whole Life Insurance
I fell for the Whole Life insurance pitch a few years back – biggest waste of $300 ever. You are much better off purchasing a term policy and investing or saving the difference between the term premium and the whole life premium. Whole Life is a great deal for life insurance companies.
#7: Auction Buying
I signed up for this one too several years ago. These are the advertisements that talk about the great deals you can get by buying houses, cars and other kinds of valuables through government auctions, foreclosures, law enforcement seizures, etc. The catch is that the only way you can find out about the auctions is usually by paying a monthly fee, but even after you pay the monthly fee, it is difficult to figure out where the sales are being held and even if all of that falls into place for you, you will never outbid the professional buyers. Buy at auction type memberships are not a scam, but you pretty much have to work full-time to make it profitable. You are better off keeping your day job.
#6: Liability Lawyers
There are times when real injuries occur because of real negligence, but many times these ambulance chasers are out to manufacture a scenario where a company has to pay up. Remember these trial lawyers are not really working for you and if your case does not pan out, you will never see them again. It is true that some folks win major legitimate settlements, but frivolous lawsuits just drive up prices for the rest of us. Just remember that the coffee you are purchasing from McDonalds is hot, very hot. That is the point of coffee.
#5: Bad Credit Car Loans
If you hear, “Your tax refund is your down payment!” or “Bad credit history? No problem!”, then you are probably watching an ad for a used car dealership that specializes in transportation for people who cannot qualify for a traditional car loan. I walked into one of these places not too long ago and they were dealing in loan interest rates of 19 to 28%! Not a good idea. You have to have other transportation options – mass transit, bicycle, walk, carpool, buy a junker for $500, skateboard, scooter and more. Not too many people need a car so badly that they have to pay 25% interest.
#4: Leveraging home mortgages
This is a get rich quick scheme aimed at home owners. Typically we are shown scenes of luxury and people “making $10,000 a week by working 20 minutes a day!” There are a lot of different permutations, but most require you to liquidize some of the equity in your home in order to purchase other property and eventually build an effortless stream of income. This was a really bad idea in 2007 and nowadays, the scheme has not improved much.
#3: Debt consolidation
Debt consolidation is a sneaky one. Combining all of your little debts into one great big loan might seem like a good idea. Who doesn’t want to lower monthly payments? The problem is that you almost always pay more interest over the long run and most people simply spend the surplus money in their budget and end up in larger debt than before. Just pay off the loans that you already have.
#2: Reverse Mortgage
Do I really have to explain what a bad idea a reverse mortgage is? If you have paid off your home and you need cash, sell the home and live off the proceeds. Don not dig another hole of debt. A reverse mortgage is just about always a bad idea, no matter what Robert Wagner has to say about it. If he was so good with his money, why is he pitching shady financial products on late night television?
#1. Payday Loans
Everyone knows that a payday loan is the financial equivalent of sticking your head in a plastic bag, yet payday loan stores are still popping up everywhere, even in neighborhoods that used to seem upscale – and commercials are all over television. I once lived in a town where the aldermen forced such stores to display the average annual percentage rate that customers were paying in the front window. That sign almost dried up payday loan business overnight.
What are your top ten smarmy financial products? The only good thing about these commercials is that they allow me to watch television shows from the ’70’s and ’80’s in 2010!