If measured by volume (either definition), the vast majority of investing advice out there is terrible. In the spirit of David Letterman’s Top 10 Countdowns, here are the ten worst places to get investing advice.
# 10 Unsolicited Emails
Have you looked at your email junk folder lately? Aside from ads for Viagra, genital enlargement pills, and x-rated material, there are plenty of “hot stock tips,” usually for penny stock pump and dump schemes. Trust me when I say that if somebody truly has a hot stock tip, they don’t send it out to 10,000 people they don’t know.
#9 The Typical Internet Forum
There are hundreds of internet forums out there dedicated to investing. Frankly, the vast majority are terrible, with the blind leading the blind advocating all kinds of non-evidence based methods of investing. Stock picking, market timing, options, futures, FOREX etc etc. Are there good forums out there? Of course. These include the Bogleheads (primarily index fund investing), Bigger Pockets (primarily real estate) and the WCI Forum, WCI Facebook Group, PoF Facebook Group, PIMD Facebook Group, and WCI Subreddit. There are probably a few other decent ones out there, but remember the barrier to entry to getting on the internet and sounding authoritative is pretty darn low (just look at me, right?)
#8 The Doctor’s Lounge
If the majority of investors in any given enterprise are physicians, there’s an awfully good chance it is a bad investment. Are there exceptions? Sure. But double your regular due diligence to make sure. However, over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that doctor’s lounge investing conversations, both in real life and online, are showing signs of improvement. I hope I’m responsible for some of that.
#7 Your Family or Friend Who Recently Started With a Financial Services Company
Most people who sign up with a financial services company wash out after a few months. They’re simply not cut out to be salesmen. However, one benefit of this high turnover rate is that the company gets the chance to sell to the family and friends of these wash-outs. Don’t be the mark.
#6 Anyone You Attend Church With
Now, I go to church and you may also. But it’s rather unbelievable just how many investment scams are run through churches. Churches are a lot like family, and you tend to be vulnerable and trusting with those who share the same beliefs and values. Investing, however, is best done with the brain, and not the heart.
# 5 Your Stomach
Just as your heart gives bad advice, so does your stomach. Cold, hard logic is an investor’s ally. Excitement, greed, and fear, especially the kind that leaves you lying awake at night with heartburn, is an investor’s enemy. Don’t take investing advice from your stomach, especially during a bear market.
# 4 Your TV
There is almost no useful investing information on television. TV is great for current events, but the library is probably a better source of solid investing information. The stuff you really need to know just doesn’t change that often. A long-term investor doesn’t care what the S&P 500 did this month, much less today, and certainly doesn’t need to see it go up and down in real-time.
#3 Your Insurance Agent
I know lots of insurance agents. They’re great. They know all kinds of details about types of insurance I need, such as term life, disability, and malpractice. However, their training is in insurance (and mostly in how to sell it), not investing, and is primarily provided by their insurance company. Insurance-based investing solutions, such as annuities and cash value life insurance, have serious downsides, and commissioned insurance agents (that’s all of them, by the way) are likely to gloss over these downsides, if they understand them at all.
#2 Your Local Brokerage Shop
There are all kinds of local places for you to get investing information. For some reason, they usually seem to have two names, such as Merrill-Lynch, Edward-Jones, Waddell and Reed, Raymond James, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (4 names must be better than two right?), or Wells Fargo. However, I also include local offices for more reputable firms, such as Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, and Charles Schwab. The issue is that these offices are hotbeds of commissioned salesmen. They don’t make money unless they sell you something, and taking advice from someone trying to sell you something besides their advice is usually a bad idea. (Yes, I am aware that some of these firms also offer a fee-only advisory service usually based on an AUM fee.)
#1 Your Bank or Credit Union
You’ve trusted them for years. You know the tellers by first name. You have your mortgage there, and perhaps even a car loan. They’ve had your checking account for 15 years. When it’s time to invest, why wouldn’t you trust them for advice? They have IRAs, right? Well, here’s the reason. The guy at the investment desk in your local bank is also a commissioned salesman. To make matters worse, he’s probably an under-educated, captive salesman who only sells that particular bank’s investment products, which are likely high-load, high-ER, poorly-performing, actively managed mutual funds or worse, poorly designed insurance-based products. The worst “professionally designed” portfolios I’ve ever seen come from “the investment guy” in your local bank.
So, where can you go to get trustworthy advice? If you’re willing to pay for it, you can go to a good fee-only advisor. Although the price is often quite high, there is no price too low for bad advice. You can limit the damage to your wallet by using an advisor charging an hourly rate to give you a second opinion on a portfolio you design yourself. You may also find an advisor with a reasonable annual retainer fee or Asset Under Management charge.
There are dozens of high quality investing books out there. If you’re too cheap to purchase them, borrow them from the library. The latest ones aren’t any better than the ones that came out 5 or 10 years ago. In fact, the older ones are better because you can then see if the author knew what he was talking about.
As mentioned earlier, there are reputable places on the internet where high-quality information can be found. In general, the less anonymity and the more longevity of a forum or blog, the better. Surprisingly, I’ve found some excellent investing information on the websites of the more reputable mutual fund companies such as Vanguard, DFA, Bridgeway, Fidelity, and T. Rowe Price. While I’ve been disappointed at articles I’ve seen in even reputable financial publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Money, there has been a vast improvement over the last five years, and these publications were always heads and shoulders above the advice found in other publications.
High-quality investing information and advice is out there, but if you don’t know how to recognize it, you’re likely to fall prey to the far more common bad advice and drown in the sea of useless information.
What do you think? Did I miss any bad sources of investing information? How about some good ones? Comment below!