I have had a bird's eye view
of Suze Orman's "career" as a supposed personal finance "guru" because I was
based where she was in the San Francisco Bay Area during most of the 1990s. At
that time, I worked as a financial advisor who strictly provided advice on an
Suze's Background - Fact and Some Fiction...
Orman doesn't make claims to
being a rocket scientist and her own website biography states that she was "surprised"
to be admitted to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign "...even though
I didn't score well on my SATs," she says. She actually says in her biography
that it took her seven years to complete her degree because she dropped out of
school unable to successfully complete the school's language requirement.
According to the University
of Illinois, she
graduated in August of 1977 (at the age of 26) with a bachelor's degree in
Her first job, which she says
that she did for six years, was as a waitress. As with Bernie Madoff, for many
years, there have been major concerns raised about Suze Orman's representations
and stated background which have largely been ignored and kept underground. As
far back as 1998, Forbes' columnist
William Barrett did a review of Orman's background compared with her claims.
Barrett found and documented major misrepresentations and falsehoods about her
background. At the time of his column, he exposed the fact that while Orman
claimed 18 years of work in the financial services industry, she had in fact
only 7 years of experience.
Orman claims to have been
operating a small financial planning practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Actually, she was selling commission-based products and Barrett actually
exposed the fact that her own license to sell such products was expired so she wasn't
even doing that legally! Barrett told me in a recent interview she was selling
single premium deferred annuities to laid off workers. So in addition to
grossly misrepresenting her credentials and a thin educational and work
background in the financial field, she sold inappropriate products (retirement
account money is already tax sheltered) to laid off workers so that she could
earn hefty commissions.
Barrett's piece, although in
a major national business magazine, didn't get much coverage elsewhere in the
media. Mark Veverka with the San Francisco Chronicle covered it and did an
investigation and condemning follow up piece which demonstrated that Forbes'
Barrett got all his facts correct and that Orman and her publicist did nothing
more than spin, stall and obfuscate.
In describing the aftermath
of his piece and Veverka's, Barrett recently told me, "Orman laid low for a few
months. She stripped down her biography in her books and got out of the
business of selling products which got her into trouble."
The Oprah Endorsement Despite Faulty Advice...
Orman's earliest books weren't
particularly remarkable but she got on Oprah and that's what put her and her
books on the map. Like Madoff and with Oprah's endorsement, Orman has
successfully used affinity marketing (to women in her case) as her shtick. Oprah
and her staff don't have a particularly good track record with regards to
checking out authors they put on their program. This NY Times article
documented some high profile book author embarrassments for Oprah and there
have been many, many others over the years.
Veteran financial reporter Chuck Jaffee
has done numerous articles for the Boston Globe, MarketWatch and MSN detailing the inadequacy and shallowness of much of Orman's
financial advice. He also said, "...I couldn't help but do a double take when
during one of her recent shows on CNBC. In talking about debt, Orman said: ‘One
of the books I wrote, I did a whole section on good debt and bad debt. In fact,
I was the one who created that terminology, good debt/bad debt in the United States
back in 1999.' A quick check of a not-too-complete database found hundreds of
stories written throughout the 1990s using the terms good debt and bad debt and
describing them roughly in the fashion Suze claims to have originated." Another
lie. (I know I was using the term
back in 1990 and used it extensively in my best-selling book, Personal Finance for Dummies, which I
wrote in 1993 and is now in its 5th edition).
A final and important point
relates to Orman's financial ties with companies that she recommends. A number
of readers expressed concern to me that Orman has appeared in commercials and
advertising for a specific long-term care insurance and credit reports (among
others) and asked if I thought this was a conflict of interest. Jaffe also
documents her having been in bed with Lending Tree. These relationships are clearly
a conflict of interest - how can she objectively review and recommend products
and services in the financial services industry if she's receiving fees from
those same companies?
Copyright Eric Tyson, 2008 - 2013 all rights reserved.
Eric Tyson is the only best-selling personal finance author who has an extensive background as an hourly-based financial advisor and who does not accept speaking fees, endorsement deals or fees of any type from companies in the financial services industry or product or service providers recommended in his articles, books and his publications.