Financial Tips by Index Card – Does it Work?

Have you been told to engage in a particular investment by a financial advisor and come to regret listening to that advice?

Many people have been shackled with this unfortunate situation, even me, but I was checking out an online video chat between Harold Pollack and Helaine Olen, and I noticed something amazing: that Pollack postulated that the best financial advice can be placed on a small three by five index card.




This was one of the key points that Pollack had to make, and its simplicity really resonated with me. He went on to say that “if you’re paying someone for advice, almost by definition, you’re probably getting the wrong advice, because the correct advice is so straightforward.”

As a result of this little tidbit of information, Pollack was inundated with emails asking what kind of financial advice could fit on an index card and be worthwhile.

Pollack was a bit flustered at first, but then he decided to place the best financial advice that he could think of on an aforementioned three by five and post it on the web via his daughter’s iPhone.

The index card then went viral, showed up in classical financial newspapers, and even was tweeted by famous economists.

Harold Pollack Interview:

Heck, it was even mentioned on sites like Lifehacker. He wrote fairly standard financial advice; things like pay off your credit cards, maximize your 401K or equivalent employee contribution, buy inexpensive and well diversified mutual funds, etc.

This concept seems so simple and interesting, but does it work in practice? This initial index card was very popular.

So popular, in fact, that Ollen and Pollack went on to write a book about it that did very well.

This is interesting, especially considering that the advice in the book is based off of what’s supposed to fit on an index card.

In my opinion, the truth of the matter is that sometimes you need supplementary information for even the simplest of instructions. Pollack explained this by comparing his advice to people’s general knowledge about tennis, “We all know, for example, in tennis, how you win a tennis match? You hit the ball low. I could tell you that, but I haven’t told you how to do that.”

Most financial advice is really simple, which is a point that many economists will agree upon, but there are more subtleties about being wise financially that can help you achieve financial success. This even includes who should be brought on for advice.




Most investors act as if their financial advisor is free, especially considering that his or her commission comes from your investment.

The truth of the matter is that your adviser isn’t free, and as a matter of fact, they’re interests can supersede yours. With this in mind, Pollack suggests having your adviser look out for your interests first by committing to a fiduciary standard.

This practice is a bit undefined when it comes to regulations, so it’s often suggested by many economists to seek out a “fee-only” adviser that won’t take commissions from your investments.

This way, as we all learned from “Wolf of Wall Street”, we can avoid advisers who are looking to pad their pockets via commissions on things like overpriced mutual funds.


The two authors of the index card also say that if it feels awkward talking to your adviser about these things, then maybe this is the wrong adviser for you.

This adviser isn’t out for your best interests, but for their own. Despite this, Pollack and Ollen also state that a adviser can be useful if they have a reasonable price and more complex investments are in the cards.