While channel surfing after a long, unrewarding work day, it's getting easier than ever to get sucked into infomercials on how to trade currencies, start an eBay business or invest in gold. Making millions overnight has always been a tempting proposition, but even more so these days as you're feeling the pinch of the economic times. (Owning property isn't always easy, but there are plenty of perks. Find out how to buy in. Read Simple Ways To Invest In Real Estate.)
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From homes to stocks to retirement plans, Americans have less money in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Household net worth - the value of all American household assets - in the first quarter of 2010 was $54.6 trillion, approximately 17% below the pre-recession high of $65.9 trillion, according to data released by the Federal Reserve.
An uncertain economy - high unemployment, an unstable housing market and looming tax increases - means more of our wealth is in jeopardy. It is a time that financial experts say requires preserving capital rather than generating high-growth returns.
To avoid taking a few risky wrong turns and ending up bankrupt, be wary of the following investing tips (one or more that you've probably seen on late-night television).
Your money is safe in company stock options.
Back in the early 2000s, employees lost jobs, company stocks plummeted and pensions were depleted in the wake of the fraud scandals of major public U.S. companies such as Enron and WorldCom. This dispelled the notion that major corporations can't fail and showed how disastrous investing your entire savings into one entity can be to your financial security.
Roger Wohlner, a Chicago-based certified financial planner, suggests divesting company stock over a number of years to other investments (or give to charity as a tax write-off if your stock has appreciated). He advises not having more than 10% of your savings in one stock or company.
You can make a fortune by trading currencies, investing in gold and flipping homes.
Despite the boom years, where individuals prospered day trading and turning real estate, Wohlner adds that following the latest investment trends is difficult for the average person to emulate. Unless you are a day trader or an investment guru, steer clear of investments outside your line of work.
"It only takes a couple of wrong turns and then poof, it's gone," he says.
Your cousin Johnny is starting a genius new business and you have to get in on it.
Joel Ohman, a certified financial planner out of Tampa, Fla., who also heads the site creditcardchaser.com, says another tricky situation is loaning out money to family and friends who are starting new businesses. Unfortunately, the strength of a relationship doesn't guarantee the success of a new venture. If you want to show your support, but not empty out your retirement fund, Ohman suggests contributing a very small amount of money.
Real estate investments always appreciate, so buy the biggest home you can afford.
In the housing meltdown, the consumer mentality that home values were unfailingly headed upward was debunked. According to Michael Bluejay's guide on "How to Buy a House," you can afford to buy a house that is three times your household's annual income as long as you have the money for a 20% down payment and have little to no debt. Buyers who don't meet those requirements are subject to high monthly payments, higher interest rates and a greater risk of losing their home.
My buddy runs a hedge fund that can make a 12% return on your money.
Don't tell me you've forgotten about Bernie Madoff, who defrauded his investors of billions of dollars. When it comes to hedge funds, which are mostly unregulated investments that try to maximize returns, and other riskier investments, Ohman says to work with someone you trust and limit your involvement.
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Throw your money in the stock market until you need it next year.
Another rule of thumb is that investing for the long term outperforms the short term and minimizes the impact of volatile market swings. The S&P 500, a stock index of the largest U.S. companies, averaged a yearly gain of 9.8% from 1926 to 2010, reports CNNMoney.com. And investing for the short term means you are susceptible to devastating one-day drops, like in October 1987 when the market dipped 22.6% in one day.
The Bottom Line
Plenty of people have grown rich through stock options, venture capital, hedge funds and the stock market. It's not necessarily the strategies that will leave you broke, but the amount of money that you negligently invest in these riskier, high-growth avenues. You don't want to overweigh your savings plan in any area, and overall your portfolio should only include 10% or less of high-risk assets, says Ohman. The other 90% should be secured in bonds, mutual funds and cash. (For more on this topic, see Risk and Diversification: Diversifying Your Portfolio.)