Sometimes I feel like we need a new word for debt—it seems advisors worry that if they discuss debt, they’ll attract clients with more of it.
It seems like I’ve been harping on about the importance of debt management as part of an overall financial plan forever, and yet I still hear a lot of the same flawed reasoning against it from so many of my peers.
An advisor I know very well recently argued that because his clientele is primarily doctors they wouldn’t have debt. I refrained from bursting out laughing, as I get doctors coming to me all of the time.
(I understand why he would think they were debt-free; I find doctors to be the most reluctant of clients to share debt and cash flow issues. I suspect this is because they don’t want to tarnish the intellectual luster that their MD license bestows, but it could also mean they fear their advisor’s reaction.)
But the advisor was not sure his clients didn’t have debt; in fact, the intonation in his voice indicated he was simply crossing his fingers and hoping their assets were evidence they had no debt.
What I find odd is the “no debt” claim is rarely based on confirmed knowledge.
“I know all of my clients do not have debt” is seldom backed up by how they know this. I always get other random truths, unrelated to the existence of debt like, “my clients are professionals” or “I deal with high net worth clients”.
Last week I got this one: “I don’t think any of my clients have debt, because I don’t take clients with less than $500,000 in assets.”
None of those details have anything to do with whether your clients still carry a mortgage, renovated their kitchen on their line of credit or put their baby sister through medical school on a loan (yes, I have seen this).
It’s like completely ignoring a missing leg of a three-legged stool, and then wondering why the thing won’t stand up. After all, the first two legs are perfectly fine so why worry about the third, its superfluous right?
You don’t know what you don’t know, and making assumptions based on other factors is shortchanging your clients and ignoring truly valuable advice.
All of this makes me so curious, so I’ve been asking people for months to define high net worth. Consistently the overwhelming response has to do with investable assets and not net worth. Why?
Let’s be honest. It may not actually affect you if your client has $500,000 in investments with you, and still owes $200,000 on their mortgage, $20,000 on a home equity line and $35,000 on the most recent car loan. Today all you really have to worry about is keeping and growing the investment part.
To be fair, that is what you’ve been trained to do and also what you are rewarded for.
However you can still accomplish your business goals while managing their net worth, and that means you MUST know how to talk about debt and cash flow.
You MUST be able to make recommendations that ensure your clients can pay off debt before they retire, or manage other investment debts more efficiently if they are to be carried into retirement.
Do you really think your client with $750,000 would scoff at an addition to their plan that saves them $180,000 in interest? I’m sure if you came up with an investment concept that could create that kind of result both you and your client would be all over it!
If you are reading this, and we ever end up face-to-face, think carefully before you tell me your client’s don’t have debt. And while you are at it, stop telling yourself that too.
Debt is not only a threat to your clients’ wealth and yours, but it’s also a powerful tool—when used effectively it can help your clients build additional wealth.