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Influencers with Andy Serwer: Suze Orman

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In this episode of Influencers, personal finance expert Suze Orman joins Andy Serwer to discuss saving money during lockdown, her tips for tax season, and Suze's advice for young investors.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ANDY SERWER: From government checks to the hot stock market to the GameStop frenzy, the pandemic has made some flush with cash while others struggle to put away anything at all. No matter what, COVID-19 has raised new questions about how to manage your money, and financial guru Suze Orman has answers.

She started her career at Merrill Lynch in the 1980s. And before long, she went out on her own to start a consulting firm. Then, roughly two decades ago, she launched a show on CNBC that made her the go-to financial guide for millions. She's written dozens of books and now hosts a podcast focused on financial tips for women. On this episode of "Influencers," Suze joins me to talk about what to make of the latest investing fads, how to get the most out of your stimulus check, and why the pandemic has widened the gap between haves and have-nots.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. And welcome to our guest, Suze Orman, personal finance expert and author and host of the podcast "Suze Orman's Women and Money." Suze, so great to see you.

SUZE ORMAN: Thank you, Andy. But I got to correct you already, which is "Women and Money--" but this is important-- "and the Men Smart Enough to Listen." Because money isn't supposed to be segregated. It's not just for women. It's not just for men. It's for everybody. So I'm inclusive, never exclusive.

ANDY SERWER: My apologies, and I'm glad you are including men in the equation, Suze. Thank you.

SUZE ORMAN: Of course.

ANDY SERWER: So let's ask about-- dive in and talk about the news a little bit here. The Senate is likely to pass this $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, and the president will sign it. Does that do too much or too little, do you think, for people's wallets?

SUZE ORMAN: It depends whose wealth we're talking about, Andy. Because the truth of the matter is, in my opinion, the America now-- the United States is now made up of the haves and the have-nots. And that isn't distinguished, really, by $75,000 a year of income or $150,000 for a couple.

It's really all up to, what did people do with the money that they had, regardless of how much they were making? Because you have people making $200,000 a year that are in food lines. You had people who are making $40,000 a year that were able to make it because they had an 8-to-12-month emergency fund. They were prepared.

So I don't know if it's going to do enough for those who have nothing, for those who do not even have the perspective of getting their job back, to having a career that they know what to do with. So those people-- and those-- there are, like, 10 million of them-- it doesn't actually do enough, if you ask me. For others, is it going to do enough for the schools? Is it going to do enough for the economy? That I don't know, but I would not be lowering it if I was the Senate.

ANDY SERWER: What do you think people should do with those stimulus checks, Suze?

SUZE ORMAN: I think they should save them. I know everybody really wants everybody to take those stimulus checks and stimulate the economy. Buy this, buy that. I don't think so. If you don't have at least, like I said, an 8-to-12-month emergency fund, can you just save the money?

Because we don't know what's going to happen. We don't know if COVID's going to surge again. We don't know if those that don't have jobs are going to get their jobs back. So you have to be very careful here right now.

I think it's crazy that they are projecting, Andy-- and you probably know this-- that a good percentage of people are going to put that money in the stock market. That is not money that belongs in the stock market. If you are getting a stimulus check, that means you need the money to survive. You need the money to buy food, to possibly pay rent, to keep your utilities on. To put in the stock market? If you're going to take the money to put in the stock market, in my opinion, you do not need a stimulus check.

ANDY SERWER: Some Democrats are suggesting that we have a permanent reoccurring stimulus, checks just keep on coming until the pandemic passes. Do you think that's a good idea?

SUZE ORMAN: I would think that's a good idea if we could afford to do that. But we're not the only ones-- the American people aren't the only ones that are in such debt. The entire country is in debt. Who is eventually going to pay for all of this money that we're giving out to people that we, ourselves, don't have?

I mean, would we ever say to an individual, go further in debt-- take money out of a credit card at a high interest rate so that you could keep buying something or help a family member who's in need? I would never tell somebody to do that. And it's almost as if the United States keeps borrowing and issuing money that they do not have. So I, personally, hope that this is the last stimulus that we have and then when we turn things around somehow-- by figuring out what kind of jobs can we create, what can we do without going further in debt that truly does stimulate this economy.

ANDY SERWER: I think, Suze, though, earlier in the pandemic, though, you did encourage people to increase their credit card debt if necessary, right?

SUZE ORMAN: And I still would do that to this day. And the reason that I would do that to this day is that I trust credit card companies as far as I can throw them. Do you remember back in 2007, 2008 when everybody was in such trouble? Do you know what many of the credit card companies did?

They lowered your credit limit. They closed down your credit cards. I had producers on my show come to me and show me a letter that they had gotten. I'll pay you $300 if you closed down your credit card. At the time, when people really needed their credit cards, they should have been expanding people's credit limits. They should have been there to help them, lowering the interest rates on the credit cards. But that's not what they did, Andy, and so I will never forget that.

So if you're somebody who has absolutely no money, and now what do you do? You pay off your credit cards in full and all of a sudden, things go wrong in the United States and they close down the credit cards and you don't have credit cards anymore and you don't have money in an emergency fund, now you're really in trouble. So pay the minimum payment due on your credit cards. I don't care what interest rates it's at. We can deal with that later. And make sure that you save as much money as you possibly can.

ANDY SERWER: You mentioned the stock market before, and some people have suggested that all this cash has been fueling things like the GameStop frenzy. What's your take on that?

SUZE ORMAN: Oh my god, those are two different things. I think the GameStop frenzy was just crazy. I think it's crazy. And I think some people, obviously, made a lot of money, but the majority of people, as you again may know, entered GameStop at $320 a share. And do you think they sold? And then you had personalities, famous people coming on saying do not sell the stock, as the stock started to go down from $400 to $300 to $200 to-- don't sell. Like, really, everybody?

So GameStop, I think, is just stupid. And I understand the philosophy behind it and the short squeezes and everything. That's not investing. You don't want invest in somebody or in something because you figured out a way to squeeze them. You invest in a company because you like the company, you like their management, you like their potential. They're ethical. They're honest. They have growth. They can help this world.

Now, maybe GameStop will turn into a company that's fabulous in the long run. They have a lot of things that they're working on now. But that wasn't an investment. That was a game, and that game needs to stop.

I don't think, however, that the stimulus checks really are what fueled this stock market I think really low interest rates and what else do you do with your money fueled the stock market. I think being able to buy slices of stock at no commission fueled the stock market.

I think you have millennials out there that were like, oh my god, look what I can do through-- whether it would be Robinhood or Charles Schwab or whatever the companies are that they could do it with no commission-- I think that fueled it. I think people not knowing what to do with money fueled it, and I think it was the fear of missing out. It's like, oh my god, look at this. What do you want to say, boyfriend?

ANDY SERWER: FOMO.

SUZE ORMAN: [INAUDIBLE]

ANDY SERWER: Hey, let-- so you mentioned Robinhood, and I wanted to follow up on that a little bit and drill down, Suze. Because, you know, on the one hand, it makes markets accessible. On the other hand, it may draw people into risky things they don't understand. So I'm wondering what your take on Robinhood is, for instance.

SUZE ORMAN: The very first time when Robinhood, a while ago, kind of closed down their trading and they weren't able to stay open-- I think it was a year ago or so when the pandemic was having those things-- I was like, I'm off of Robinhood. That's it. I'm out of there-- not that I have had an account there. But it's like, nope, I wouldn't be doing that. Because you need liquidity. You need to be able to get in. You need to be able to get out.

I also thought it was very irresponsible of Robinhood to allow certain people-- you know, there's-- you know your customer rule. Where customers that were able to risk money on GameStop and so forth, OK, but what if they weren't? Like, did you have you know-your-customer rule in place? Did you have a disclosure that said, what you're doing, you absolutely could lose all of your money. Do you understand that, yes or no?

Consumers need to be protected. Young investors that think they know what they're doing need to be protected. I think possibly, though, the greatest lesson that some of those people learned was-- especially if they were really young, Andy-- is that they lost money.

Because investing isn't about just making money. Investing is about understanding what you're investing in and doing it over the long haul. And the amount of money-- imagine if you had bought Apple when it first came out, Amazon when it first came out. It was in a trading game. This is an investment game.

And you invest with your money just like you invest in a relationship. You invest and say I do for the long run, for the rest of your life, not just for a month or two, although many people do. But-- and so maybe they learned.

I think the most dangerous thing is when people get into the stock market and all they do is make money. It goes up and up. And it's like, oh, this is easy. I'm going to take my student loans. I'm going to take this. I'm-- no. Losing money and watching a market go down is one of the greatest lessons an investor could experience.

ANDY SERWER: All right, here is a question I'm dying to ask Suze Orman. What is your take on Bitcoin?

SUZE ORMAN: I love Bitcoin. On my "Women and Money" podcast-- I think it was two or three weeks ago-- I did an entire-- I think I did two things on Bitcoin as to why I like it. I like the universality of it. I like that it's just there and the corporations that are investing in. I do not like Bitcoin, Andy, as a currency. I don't like it where you're going to buy a Tesla or you're going to buy something with it. I like it as a possible replacement for gold-- as an investment.

And I personally played Bitcoin through MicroStrategies. In June of last year, I bought MicroStrategies at about $125 a share-- right around there, I believe. And there was something about Mike-- the CEO that was just, this man's making sense to me. I rode it all the way up, and I sold it-- I think it was last week-- at right about $1,000 a share. Because I didn't like, for the first time, Bitcoin was going up, but MicroStrategy was going down.

Now, what I tell my listeners and what I to tell everybody, Bitcoin is seriously risky. I would not be investing in Bitcoin with money that I could not afford to lose. Because the swings are not just going to be a point or two a day. They're going to be $5,000 worth one day. It's going to be up 7%, down 10%. It's going to be all over the place. But I think it's something that wouldn't hurt people to maybe-- if they had to lose-- $100 a month in.

And I, personally, would do it through PayPal because PayPal makes it so easy, and it's not that big of a hit given, in terms of commission. It's like 1.5%, 2%, depending on how much you're investing every month. I don't think that big of a hit, right? To really just see what happens over the years.

But I happen to like Bitcoin, and I like the premise behind it a lot. And I really love how Cathie Wood loved Bitcoin. I love that a lot.

ANDY SERWER: You surprised me there and a nice hat-tip to Cathie Wood, too, who were a fan of as well. So great to hear that. She's something, right?

SUZE ORMAN: Oh my god, right? Ark Funds-- thank god I got in early and I told people to get in. Where they're going-- what's going to happen to them in the future, who knows. But there's something about that woman and her ability to disclose or her desire to disclose every single move that she's making, who does that?

ANDY SERWER: Right, right.

SUZE ORMAN: Now, obviously, since everybody loves Cathie Woods and she's disclosing it, they then all go out and possibly buy it on their own, which pushes everything up. I mean, there could be method to her madness as well.

ANDY SERWER: Right.

SUZE ORMAN: But I think she's absolutely brilliant. Hats off to you, Cathie Woods. Yeah.

ANDY SERWER: Interesting. Hey, it's tax season. Anything different this year? And how can people get the best returns?

SUZE ORMAN: You know, it's interesting is that taxes are taxes. And the main thing is-- I would still tell people, if you're getting a tax refund, you know, something's radically wrong. Because you're still-- even though interest rates are so low, you're still allowing the government to have an interest-free loan on your money for a year.

And if you really look forward to that refund every single year-- it's like, oh my god, look at this, I have all this money now-- that also says to me that you needed that money during the year. An extra-- because the average refunds can be $2,500 a year-- an extra $200 a month that you could have taken and put into your Roth IRA, if you qualify for it, income wise. And dollar-cost averaged into the markets, whether it was via slices or an index fund or whatever, would have returned far better for you than money that just sits there with the government.

Other than that, I don't have a lot to say about taxes, however-- except this, for this year. Given that the stimulus checks will be based on either your 2019 or 2020 income tax and there will be an income limitation, you're going to have to decide, should you file your 220? Should you not? Should you do it off of your 219?

Or if you made less this year than last year, then file your taxes right away because you would qualify then, possibly, for the stimulus. And just make sure that the government has your information via your tax returns and everything because you're going to be the first people that they send a-- you know, the money to, directly into your account.

And it's those people that qualify for the stimulus but don't file a tax return for whatever reason that, you know, they don't have your direct deposit information. You might not get your stimulus, even though you need it, for months from now. Other than that, there's not a lot for me to say about taxes. Taxes are taxes. There are always going to be taxes. Just pay them, people. Just pay them.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, that's some good advice there. Elizabeth Warren just introduced-- reintroduced, really-- a wealth tax of--

SUZE ORMAN: Yeah.

ANDY SERWER: --2% of every dollar of people's wealth north of $50 million. Is that a good idea or not?

SUZE ORMAN: Well, it's going to hit me, so I'm not quite sure. Is it $50 million a year income, or is it $50 million of wealth on your estate?

ANDY SERWER: Wealth.

SUZE ORMAN: Wealth, so it's absolutely going to hit me big time. Would it affect me? It's not going to affect me at all. You want 2% of what I have? OK. Is it going to change my life? Is it going to do anything for somebody like me? No. If it helps people, I don't have a problem with it.

But I'm not your normal person, Andy. I'm not somebody who's like I'm just going to pass that onto somebody else. I'm just going to do this, I'm just going to do that because I'm wealthy. I'm not going to let somebody take the money that I worked hard for and I earned.

I think anything that wealthy people can do to help those, especially the have-nots, would be great. But here's the problem. What are they going to do with that money, Andy? Who's going to be in control of that money, Andy? How are they going to use that money to really help those that need help? Or is that money just going to go into the pockets of other wealthy lobbyists, politicians, campaigns?

Where's this going to go, really? That's what concerns me. It's one thing to get money. It's another thing what do you do with that money. That's why I'm not necessarily backing it until I see it all the way down the road as to where is that money going to go.

ANDY SERWER: Right, it's the distribution part that is critical. Absolutely.

SUZE ORMAN: And nobody's really talking about that.

ANDY SERWER: Right, right, right.

SUZE ORMAN: And Elizabeth, who I love more than life itself, can talk about it and have good intentions, but she is just one person, one senator out of how many? That we now have a Senate that is just-- in my opinion, like, half of them are looney tunes. They just are. The other half are-- everybody-- I don't know. I don't even understand what they're doing anymore. I'm not even sure. Are they-- I don't get it. I don't get it at all, Andy.

ANDY SERWER: Well, there's a lot more to chew on there, but I do want to switch over to COVID-19 and the effects on women because there are some real questions about the effect of the pandemic on women's finances and women staying in the workforce, coming back into the workforce. What is your take there, Suze?

SUZE ORMAN: You know, there's a saying in China that women hold up half the sky. And in the United States, the truth of the matter is, women hold up the entire sky. When it comes to a woman and her family, especially if she has children, there is nothing that will stop a woman from doing what she has to do to protect her family. And it seems like it always falls on her, even if she's in a relationship with a man.

And so women have taken a really big hit because not only are they the ones that are going out and they'll work any job they can find, they-- you know, they're the ones who are still keeping the house running, taking care of the kids, taking care of the parents, taking care of everything. And it's taken an emotional and financial toll on them.

However, I also know that women have-- they can do this. They have what it takes to rise up when they need to rise up, and nothing is going to keep them down, especially if it has anything to do with their children. So while they've taken a hit, they've taken a right, a left, they will stand up, and they will be just fine because they're strong enough to do so. But it's really-- they have taken a hit more than anybody, if you ask me.

ANDY SERWER: Suze, I want to make sure to ask you about a fintech startup that you're involved in-- I think you're the co-founder--

SUZE ORMAN: Yes.

ANDY SERWER: --called Secure. Can you tell us about it? It sounds like you're pretty excited about it.

SUZE ORMAN: You know, out of all the things I've done-- and you've known me for a long time-- and I've done a lot in my 30 or 40 years that I've been doing this now, this may be-- in fact, no, this is the most important thing I have ever done. And for those of you who want to know more about it, just go to securesave.com. But here it is in a nutshell.

I have been an advocate of emergency funds now forever and a day. And the thousands of letters that I got during the pandemic, the emails that said, Suze, the only reason I got through the pandemic is because I had an 8-month emergency fund. That's the only thing that saved me, Suze Orman. Thank you, thank you.

But here's the problem. Because of the pandemic, those people used up their emergency funds. And what are they doing now? They are turning to their 401(K)s, their retirement accounts, and I don't want them to touch them. That's not what that money is for.

So my partners and I-- Devin and Bassam-- created-- Secure is the name of the company, which is an out-of-plan benefit for employers and employees where employees sign up for an emergency fund through their employer, automatically comes from their paycheck. Their employer can match their contribution. It could be $20 the first month as an incentive, $50 if it's still there in a year.

But the employees can access their money any time they want, but it's there for an emergency so that they don't go to their retirement plans. There are no fees to the employee whatsoever. They can get their money any time they want. When they go to take it out, though, a little message comes up-- this is supposed to be for an emergency. Are you sure this it's an If They say yes, then it's, bam, it goes right into their bank account.

So this is a way for employers to have, you know, out-of-plan benefits that are so affordable that encourage their employees to save. Why is that important? Because an employee that is secure is a better employee. A better employee saves money for who? The employer, so everybody wins here.

Again, go to securesave.com. We just launched. We went through our first seed round. It went right away. I'm so happy about that. And this is something that I know can absolutely change the fates of the employees and the employers in America.

ANDY SERWER: Well, it sounds like an interesting idea, and we look forward to following that, Suze. In some of the time we have left, though, I want to ask you about you. And you know, it may surprise people that you did not grow up with a silver spoon in your mouth, by any means. You grew up in, I guess, poor circumstances, really, in Chicago. And you said, I have to be very grateful to my parents for poverty.

SUZE ORMAN: Yes.

ANDY SERWER: What did you mean by that, and how did that shape you, Suze?

SUZE ORMAN: The reason-- you know what's funny is so many people write in. They go, why you, Suze Orman? You just tell people, have an emergency fund, stay out of debt. You're not telling them anything special. Maybe yes, maybe no. But here's what's important.

I'm able to speak with people because I am those people, Andy. I'm not somebody who married well, inherited money, none of that. And so when I talk, people believe me because I am those people.

So I speak in truths. I don't speak in words. I know what it's like to be shaking money out of a bottle that you put your change in because you over-drafted by $600. I understand all of that very well. So if I hadn't grown up in poverty, I wouldn't have that. And because of that, I am who I am today.

ANDY SERWER: What advice do you have for people, Suze, who are in the financial services business? Because that's where you've made your mark in your career. How should they look to manage their career?

SUZE ORMAN: Always put people's needs in front of your wants. Never do anything for money. It either makes sense or it doesn't. If you put people first, if you come from integrity, if you do what's right versus what's easy, you will be so successful it's not even funny.

ANDY SERWER: You navigated your way to the top of this male-dominated field. What barriers need to be addressed when it comes to women and maybe people of color as well and LGBT people as well?

SUZE ORMAN: Don't be afraid. Really go for it. Go for it in a way that you're not afraid to ask for what you're worth. And be powerful in that. You know, Andy, the very first year that I did the "Suze Orman Show" on CNBC, do you know that I didn't get paid a penny to do that show, that they gave me a contract and I didn't like the contract?

And I said, I'll just do it. And they were like, no way this woman's going to do this for free. Oh, I did. And then it was their top-rated show, and then I had them where I wanted them.

So what makes you powerful? What makes you powerful is when you don't have debt, you have an emergency fund, you are able to do what you want to do, not you have to do something. So don't be afraid to stand in your truth. Don't be afraid to stand up for who you are. Do not compromise, people. Don't compromise.

ANDY SERWER: Do you like doing podcasts more than TV? What do you prefer?

SUZE ORMAN: No, TV. I-- there's something about the camera where I love the camera. I love you, little camera. But I love doing my podcast. And we've just passed our 11 millionth download, which is really extraordinary in the little amount of time that it's been on. And I love that I can say and do anything.

And you know what I really love is just a day or two ago, I was doing a whole thing on the United States versus Billie Holiday. And Lee Daniels, who is the director of that movie, somehow listened to my podcast. And he did, the other night, an Instagram Live with it to 700,000 people.

Now, if I can do a podcast that somehow comes to the attention of Lee Daniels, that means it's a different podcast. It's not just about money. It's about who you are and how you-- and how you can become anything and everything you are meant to be. So it's like I said, it's inclusive. It's not exclusive. And I don't have to worry about advertisers. I can say anything I want anytime I want, and I do.

ANDY SERWER: I know you do. You were talking about women going for it, but it's a fact, I guess, that women are more risk averse, when it comes to investments than men are. Why is that, and what advice do you offer for them?

SUZE ORMAN: I'm not as sure that women are more risk averse. I think women don't like to do something that they don't know what they're doing. Men are financial fakers. I will believe that forever and a day. They will do anything that their friend did, that this one did.

I would imagine that if we went and looked at all the people who purchased GameStop, in terms of are they a man or are they a woman, I bet you 95% of them would be men. Because all these guys were on, and they were all doing this with Wall Street Bets and everything. And yet, I had women coming up to me saying, I don't understand it. Can you explain it to me?

Men would come up to me and go, did you do it? I did it, Suze. And then I would ask them questions, and I would get that they didn't have a clue what they really did and why it was going up.

And so women tend not to do something unless they know what they're doing. And I have a saying, it's better to do nothing than something you don't understand. But once women start to invest, once women start to understand how it really works, oh, they go for it. But they don't tend to be traders. They tend to be long-haulers, which I think is a fabulous way to invest. And so they're learning. Little by little, they're learning.

ANDY SERWER: Suze, this show is called the "Influencers," and I'm just wondering if you've given any thought to how you use your influence on the world and what you want your legacy to be.

SUZE ORMAN: You know, people ask me that all the time. And I'm staring over there, and I see my two Emmys right there. And I see the Gracies, and I see all the awards that I've gotten. I want my legacy, truthfully, to be a world where there aren't have-nots, where people think, I have what I have because I did what I knew I should do and I learned what to do by listening to Suze Orman. That's what I would like my legacy to be.

ANDY SERWER: Now, last quick question-- have you ever thought about running for office, or would you consider it?

SUZE ORMAN: No, are you kidding me? No way. Because look at them. They're spending all their time arguing with one another. I can get more done on my little podcast, I can touch more lives and change more lives on my little podcast, I can have more of an effect on the United States of America and how employers treat their employees and have benefits for them through my Secure Save, I can help this world so much better just by being me, not by being elected to an office that I'm not sure even matters anymore.

ANDY SERWER: Fair enough. Suze Orman, personal finance expert, author, and host of the podcast-- now let me get this right-- "Suze Orman's Women and Money and--"

SUZE ORMAN: "--the Men Smart Enough to Listen." Yeah, baby.

ANDY SERWER: Love that. Thank you so much for joining us, Suze.

SUZE ORMAN: Any time, Andy.

ANDY SERWER: You've been watching "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. We'll see you next time.