Suze Orman Sets Up Free Advice Stand

PHOTO: Suaie Orman

If you build it, they will come. And they certainly did, when "Nightline" built a booth and invited the "Money Lady," financial guru Suze Orman, to sit in and dispense advice, for free.

Suze tweeted about the event and put the word out on her Web site. As a result, a line had formed an hour-and-a-half before her scheduled appearance at Bryant Park in New York City on a sunny spring lunch hour.

VIDEO: Suze Orman gives advice on how to survive this recession.
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The crowded park was a far cry from Orman's usual domain, a studio with a few techs and her producers as the audience.

"I love today," Orman said. "I love today because you have to remember ... on my set, every Saturday night, I'm looking into a blank camera. And all I'm hearing are people's voices. So I have to take my cues just from their voice."

With signs on the booth announcing "Ask Suze" and "Free Advice," Orman hopped up on her stool and got right down the business. The first question on most peoples' minds:

... Is Now the Time to Buy a House?

Suzy Orman
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Amy, married with one child, was Orman's first customer. She and her husband earn a combined salary of about $225,000 a year. They had offered $610,000 on a San Diego condo and were hoping to receive a little government bailout money. Orman stopped her mid-sentence.

"OK, stop for a second," she said. "Everybody listen to me, very, very carefully. You just said to me that you want to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit. Here's the problem."

Orman explained that there are some catches to getting that tax credit. First of all, the tax credit can be as much as $8,000, but it cannot exceed 10 percent of the purchase price of a home. More importantly, there are income limits on who can receive the credit: $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for married couples.

Amy and her husband earn too much to qualify. But that wasn't Amy's only issue.

"My husband's job is not [secure]," she said, adding that signing the contract on such an expensive home "has been keeping me up the last two nights here in New York."

Orman broke down Amy's situation quickly.

"If your husband loses his job, almost 100 percent of your income is going to go toward this home," she said. "I now have your monthly expenses at probably, almost at $8,000, $10,000 dollars a month.

"Girlfriend, you cannot afford this home that you are thinking of buying."

Case closed.

Suze Orman: Free Money Advice

Next up was Katherine, a first-time New York homebuyer. From the sound of her conversation, she might have wanted to consult Orman before purchasing.

"I just bought my first apartment on the Upper East Side," Katherine told Orman. She said she paid $275,000 last year for a studio and got a $7,500 tax credit. But last year's tax credit, she discovered, has to be paid back, at the rate of $500 a year for 15 years.

Katherine wanted to know whether she should invest the $7,500 from the credit and risk losing it -- or keep it safe in a savings or money-market account.

Orman's answer was swift.

"Keep it, because it's $500 over the next 15 years, at 0 percent interest rate," Orman said. "So for the next 15 years -- too bad you didn't do it this year, you would have gotten a tax credit and NOT have to pay it back. ... What are you going to do?" Orman shrugged. "Just over the next 15 years, just pay $500 [a year] and that's that."

Calvin, a 24-year-old CPA, was wondering if he should throw caution to the wind and get on the property ladder now, with prices and rates at incredible lows.

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