A man who inherited a 6-figure trust fund at 20 and wound up in debt anyway shares the advice he'd give his younger self
- Brandon Neth inherited around $123,000 from his late father and grandfather when he was 20.
- He used part of the money to pay for school and spent the rest on cars, TVs, clothes, restaurants, and gambling. By the time he graduated college, he was nearly $25,000 in debt and out of inheritance money.
- If he could give his younger self advice, Neth said it would be to make a plan for the money and don't be impulsive.
- Several years later, Neth turned to the online personal finance community to get out of debt and learn how to make the most of his money. At 33, he achieved leanFIRE and he now works as a credit card and travel expert.
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Brandon Neth was only 18 when he discovered he and his two siblings would be inheriting millions of dollars from their estranged father and grandfather. The men had just passed away within months of each other.
"I met my dad twice my entire life, so I was upset, but at the same time it was like, 'Holy crap, I'm rich,'" Neth, a credit card and travel expert at FinanceBuzz, told Business Insider. "I remember being in my house with a friend jumping up and down screaming 'We're going shopping in Vegas!' We were so excited. That was my mindset at the time."
But Neth soon learned his father's family was involved in toxic waste dumping in the 1960s. By 1980, the US government had established the Superfund to hold any participating parties financially responsible. The fund collects money to clean up the contaminated sites and Neth said a "massive chunk" of his family's trust fund was taken.
Neth was 20 years old and in college by the time he received his share, which totaled around $123,000 and was growing in an investment account. That's more or less the size of a typical inheritance in the US, according to Federal Reserve data. About 85% of inheritances are worth $250,000 or less, and the majority are actually smaller than $50,000.
Neth used part of the money to pay for school and got a monthly stipend of about $1,200. He could also submit a request to the trust to pull out larger sums whenever he needed, which he says he used liberally.
"I pretty much used the money in college to buy cars, TVs, clothes, to go out to eat, to gamble. I was just a complete train wreck. I had no idea what to do," Neth said. "If it was in my pocket, it was gone. I had a hole in my pocket."
He believed that even if the trust fund did run dry, there was a six-figure job waiting for him after college. "My lack of financial literacy led me to believe that it was never going to end," Neth said.
A $40,000 a year job, tons of debt, and no more trust fund
It wasn't the salary he was banking on, but as long as the bills were getting paid, "life was good," Neth recalled.
"I was so ignorant to the concept of money because I had never had it. I lived in a car with my mom at one point, that's how broke we were. I just had no idea about saving. I had no idea about investing and I had no idea how to make my money work for me," he said.
Looking back today, Neth has some advice for his younger self: "If I had to narrow it down to one thing, it would be: Don't be impulsive … have a plan. You just have to educate yourself."
The wake-up call came four or five years later when Neth's now-wife gave him an ultimatum. "She looked at me one day and said, 'Either you're gonna figure your money stuff out or this isn't going to work.'" He says he immediately jumped online and began teaching himself about personal finance. Within six months, he'd sold most of his stuff to help pay off the debt and started "saving like crazy."
Now, Neth says he's grateful for his mistakes because they ultimately brought him to the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community. At 33, his passive income, mostly from rental properties, exceeded his annual expenses and he became financially independent. He now travels 180 days out of the year, largely through credit card points and miles.
"I feel like if I wouldn't have lived this, what I would call a fancy lifestyle ... if I didn't have that stuff, I think there would be a part of me even today that would be like, 'I want to experience that' or 'I want to try that,'" Neth said. "I don't think I would be a financial expert or a credit card points or miles person without this whole thing because it drove me to understand finance."