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The World According to Suze

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America's financial idol on banks, bailouts, and business.

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Suze Orman
With more than an hour to go before her arrival, both the energy level and temperature were rising on the cavernous fourth floor of the Barnes & Noble store overlooking Manhattan's Union Square. Suze Orman was in town to promote the paperback release of her updated bestseller Women & Money.

Lady GaGa music blared (Orman's choice; she'd just seen the concert at Radio City). The crowd was 400 strong (200 seated and 200 standing). They showed up early on a Thursday night for the chance to see their financial idol in the flesh.

The room was dominated by women -- of every age, shape, and ethnicity. A few men were there, too. They just adore her. Jack, a financial adviser from Long Beach Island, New Jersey, told me he once bid $900 at a charity silent auction for an hour-long private consultation with Orman. A New York City-based ad sales exec said he dressed up as Suze last Halloween. Ayana, a savvy fourth-grader from Westchester County, told me she has $1,600 in savings. She and her mother are religious followers of Orman's Saturday night show on CNBC (GE).

Some in this audience knew Orman only from TV, her podcasts, her website, or her Twitter feed (she swears she answers every question herself). Many clutched multiple copies of her books to sign.

I sat next to a young woman named Renata, who confessed she bought and read Orman's books on the sly for about a year before opening up and having "the talk" with her husband about money.

As a successful interior designer and the owner of an arts café in her native Gdansk, Poland, Renata lost her inner compass after the birth of her son and was flailing for a few years when the family moved to the US (her husband is American). She credits Orman with restoring her equilibrium and her economic mojo.

On my other side was Martha, a New York City municipal worker just five years from retirement who is struggling day-to-day to make ends meet. Behind her sat a retired foundation worker who expected to be skimming some interest off her investments at this point, never anticipating that interest rates would plummet to below 1%.

Whether it was the beat of the music, the people I met, or the message reminding me to own my power, I was unexpectedly uplifted by Orman that evening. She strode through the crowd surrounded by lights from CNBC cameras -- dressed head to toe in black. Waving, shaking hands on her way to the stage, she was clearly in her element.

"Money alone won't make you happy, but lack of money will sure make you miserable," she exhorted her followers from the stage. If you can't resist spending, her advice is this: "Buy what you want. Bring it home and stare at it. Then bring it back the next day."

Then Orman got down to business. She's not happy with banks. At all. She names names. "I couldn't hate the banks more. Citi (C), Bank of America (BAC), Chase (JPM). I am absolutely appalled that people with good FICO scores are seeing their interest rates increased to 29.9%. Your taxpayer money went into these banks and they're making fortunes off all of you now. At the same time they're not giving you loans."

As she's been doing on her TV show, she encouraged all 400 in the room who can't negotiate a satisfactory credit card interest rate to take their business to a credit union. Specifically, she plugs Credit Card Connection as the website to research the ratings of credit unions across the country. (See also, How to Break Up With Your Big Bank)

And as cliché as it might sound, Orman "still wants to throw up" when she hears the number of women who hand their paycheck (i.e. their power) to their husbands to mind. "I thought things would have changed by now," she says.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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