Charged Up! podcast: Lessons from a legend
Episode 10 with Robert Kiyosaki, 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad' on debt and taxes
By Jenny Hoff | Published: March 8, 2017
Robert Kiyosaki became a seminal voice in personal finance with his book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” published in 1997. He now talks about how those lessons are more relevant today than ever before, as well as how the rich are getting richer, why President Donald Trump doesn’t pay taxes and how you can learn to build wealth by learning the rules of the game. Not one to mince words, Kiyosaki’s advice is blunt, controversial and comes with some lessons you don’t learn in school.
Hoff: Robert Kiyosaki, thank you so much for joining us today. It is an honor to speak with you.
Robert Kiyosaki: Well, thank you.
Hoff: So, we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of your seminal book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” a best-seller that changed the way millions of people thought about personal finance and financial independence. Now, some people listening right now, if they haven’t read the book, they’ve surely heard its name. But they may wonder, are the lessons you teach in it still applicable today in the 20th century? Can you talk about some of the biggest lessons that you wanted to get across in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and how they are still very relevant today?
Kiyosaki: Well, I wrote “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” 20 years ago; it was 1997 and the economy was booming, if you remember. It was just booming. So I came out and said, “Your house is not an asset, savers were losers, and the rich don’t work for money.” It was blasphemous you know. The book was turned down by every major publisher. I was kind of laughed at. So, as you know, in 20 years we have now fundamentally entered a depression. In 2008 we crashed into a depression we can’t come out of.
So, yes, it’s more relevant today than before because most people believe in saving money yet back in 1970, when I graduated from school, if you once had a million dollars – which I didn’t – but if I had a million dollars, I would get 15 percent interest on my money. So that’s $150,000 on my savings. Today, if I have a million dollars in the bank, I might get 1.5 percent which means, my million dollars is worth only $15,000.
That’s how much the money has gone down, which means to say the middle-class or most people that are being crushed by now, it’s because their wealth is being ripped off via taxes and inflation.
Hoff: It’s incredible when you think about it because like you said, if that money just were to sit in a bank, it would’ve lost a lot of its value. So, what were the big lessons that you wanted to get across in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad?” One of them is that people need to have the basic accounting skills to know what their liabilities and their assets are. Can we talk about that a little bit? What do you consider people’s liabilities and their assets, and once we know what ours are, what do we need to do about it?
Kiyosaki: Well, to the layperson, they say your house is an asset. But if you look at a financial statement, for most people, their house is a liability. And the definitions are: assets put money in your pocket and liabilities take money from your pocket. So let’s say you buy a house for $100,000: Even if you pay cash, it’s still taking money from your pocket. Simply because you have insurance, taxes and you have wear and tear in it. Whereas for myself, I have 6,000 rental properties. So, that means every month, I have 6,000 checks coming in. That’s an asset.
So, a lot has to do with basic accounting which as you know, the average person doesn’t receive in school.
Hoff: So, let’s talk about assets that you go into this in the book. Are they still applicable today? I think you say there’s stock, bonds, gold. What are different assets that people should be having in their portfolio today?
Kiyosaki: Well, I don’t do that kind of stuff. For example, I was talking to this person and he says “live debt free.” You know, to me, debt is an asset if I know how to use it. It has nothing to do with the class of thing you invest in. I could have a house and it can be a liability. I can have a house and it can be an asset. I could have a car and it be a liability. I can have a car and it be an asset. For most people, their children are liabilities. But if a child is like, a movie star, that child is an asset. It has nothing to do with the asset class. It has to do more with basic accounting.
Hoff: Basic accounting and knowing how to make money with your money, right? So it’s not about using your money for consumption but using your money to generate more wealth.
Kiyosaki: Yeah, and can I be more contrary to that is I use debt to make money. I borrow money to buy assets. So that most people are saying to get out of debt. And for most people, that’s a good idea. Whereas because I’m classically trained in finance, I make money with debt. So, the average person puts the money in the bank, and they think they’re doing the right thing by saving money.
So let’s say they get 1.5 percent from the bank for their savings. Today the bank’s lending it to me at 4 percent. But I use that money the bank loans me to make 20 percent on debt. So the average person has a saver’s mentality, whereas a professional investor has an investor mentality. They’re very different mindsets.
Hoff: I think what’s interesting in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” is that your real dad was your poor dad and yet, by most people’s accounts, he can be considered as very successful. He was very highly educated, had a good, stable job, saved his money, took care of his family, and yet, he was poor, especially compared to today’s wealthy people that we see.
Kiyosaki: And that’s where it starts. It has to deal with what you consider good and bad or right and wrong. And my poor dad was, you know, a PhD. Stanford graduate. University of Chicago. Northwestern, and all of that. But as you know, most academics have no idea what money is. That’s the problem. You look at President Obama, he pays 30 percent in tax and Donald Trump pays 0 percent in tax. And that’s because Trump is an entrepreneur and Obama’s an employee.
I don’t like to give answers. I just like to compare things. And, most people get upset because Trump doesn’t pay taxes, but he does that legally. And the average person gets angry rather than say “how does Trump get away with not paying in tax?” That’s what you should learn. That’s what financial education is – how do the rich use debt, and pay no tax? That’s the question. Because for the average person, taxes make them poor, where for the financially educated, taxes makes them richer.
Trump says horrible things but people just get angry at him rather than say “how does he do it?” That’s what I bring to people – you should question what you’re thinking. That’s all I’m saying. Because most highly-educated people are financially-ignorant. That’s not their fault. Their school teaches nothing about money.
Hoff: So, from your experience, what should we really be doing right now to start thinking about how to use debt that way? How do you use debt, go get a loan, and invest it in a way that’s going to reap great rewards? How do we need to think about it? What are some steps that we should be taking?
Kiyosaki: Well, I’ll just give you an example. I have an education. I was in the Naval Academy in Annapolis and military Academy in New York and I still learned nothing about money. So, when I came back from the Vietnam War where I was a pilot, my poor dad said to me “go fly for the airline.” And if I was flying for the airlines today, I might be making $600,000 a year, and paying 40 percent in tax. Whereas, rather than listening to my poor dad and going to get my MBA and becoming a pilot, I went to take real-estate classes. I learned how to use debt to invest. Through those real-estate classes, I learned to use debt, and I pay zero tax legally. That’s the difference in education, that’s what I’m trying to say.
But, most people their viewpoint of the world depends upon their education. So my poor dad, again Stanford graduate, Chicago Northwestern graduate, he had no financial education, like Obama. And his viewpoint of the world is like Obama. Whereas my rich dad was more like Trump. The education was different. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying one’s right or wrong.
But my concern is, the reason I wrote “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and then 20 years later it is coming true now, is I’m just asking people to question what they were taught in school. You know, what they were taught to go to school, get a job, and save money, get out of debt, and invest in the long term on the stock market at the 41k or the Roth IRA. Most people think that’s intelligent, that it requires no financial education for any of that. And for most people, they’re in trouble because they’re following that advice. And I know that it’s rough, and it sounds nasty to people, but that’s what I said in 1997, 20 years ago. Every publisher turned down my book.
Hoff: Yeah, and you self-published it, right?
Kiyosaki: Yeah. They couldn’t see what was coming. See, what happened, we left the Industrial Age in the year 2000, and the Information Age began in 2000. We’ve had 3 major crashes in the first 10 years of the century. The first crash was 2000 which was the dot com crash, which was a lot bigger than the 1929 crash. Then came the 2007 real-estate crash – subprime crash. Then 2008, came the banking crash. And all of those crashes are a thousand times bigger than the 1929 crash. And the average person doesn’t know that because they can’t see the difference. So that’s why I wrote “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” because I could see the crash was coming.
Hoff: And what do you see now? Do you see that continuing to happen? And if that is the case, what can we do right now to start preparing for that and become financially independent and not dependent on jobs that we could very quickly start losing?
Kiyosaki: Well, that’s a great question. I’ll repeat what I said. You might want to question what you were taught – you know, go to school, and get a job when jobs are disappearing and student loan debts are going through the roof. Then they tell you to buy a house because it’s an asset when it’s really a liability. And they tell you to save money when interest rates have come down from 15 percent to, in some parts of the world, negative percent. And most people say, get out of debt, when in 1971 the US dollar became debt after President Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard.
So, the people that are being crushed right now are people who are following that advice because inflation and taxes are making them poor. And, as I said, I’ll just go back as a comparison. In 1970 when I graduated college, I got 15 percent interest from a million dollars and today I’m lucky if I get 1.5 percent. That’s how much the value of money has been destroyed. And people still tell their kids to save money even though they’re going to have every penny wiped out. That’s why I wrote “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” I wasn’t trying to make anybody happy. I was just kind of warning people.
Hoff: So, I’ve followed you in social media and you’ve been mentioning in a lot of posts that we need to really start creating passive income streams. And in the 21st century, there are opportunities obviously online for businesses and not having to start a business brick and mortar. Can you talk about some ideas for passive income streams that we could get going?
Kiyosaki: Yeah, sure. I met this one young man, 21 years old. He has an app, and he makes a million dollars a month off of it. But he’s very happy. 22 years old, 21 years old. So the good news is, the iPhone or technology has made it easier to become an entrepreneur than ever before. But the caveat is that the skill set to be an entrepreneur are opposite of the skill sets to be an employee. For example, to be a successful entrepreneur your most important skill is the ability to take risks. Whereas, you don’t need that to be an employee. And then for an entrepreneur, he must understand debt and taxes which most people don’t understand. And the third part is accounting. As I said, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” is a basic book in accounting – that’s what it is. But most people have not had accounting in school. So, to be an entrepreneur, you really got to have accounting. And the average person doesn’t. So, that’s why the failure rate for entrepreneurs are so high. Nine out of 10 fail.
Hoff: So, what are other ways that people can try to create passive income?
Kiyosaki: There’s a lot of ways. Like what that kid did with an app. You know, those guys who did Angry Birds, they did fabulously. And you look at Steve Jobs, he never finished school and created Apple. I do mine primarily through real-estate because I can use debt and pay no tax. So that’s why at 6,000 rental units, I never sell them. I don’t flip them. I just get income off them every month. So that’s about a million dollars a month. It’s not Donald Trump money but it’s tax-free money. That’s what education does. It teaches you those things. I’m not saying you should do it but I’m saying that’s what I do. Whereas Dave Ramsey, my friend, says live debt-free. I don’t do that. I’m deeply in debt but it’s debt that produces income. So, that’s what education should be. It gives you the comparison between advice.
And then I met a woman who works for the Federal Reserve Bank and she’s highly educated – PhD – and she says, you should buy municipal bonds. And I say that they pay you 1 or 2 percent percent. She says that’s really good. If you understand, if I used debt, my return of investment is infinite because it’s not my money. It’s the bank’s money.
I’m just basically saying that financial education is not what they teach you at school. It’s how you use debt because I get an infinite return and I pay no tax, legally.
Hoff: Yeah. I mean like you said, the tax structure was there to incentivize the people to do things that the government wants. And if you’re investing in real estate, and buying land, and doing those things, then you get rewarded for that.
Kiyosaki: Yeah. And you’re fabulous. Thank you so much because you’re one of the best interviews I’ve ever had because most of the times they get angry at me when they fail to realize that the tax laws are incentives. For example, when I buy real estate for low-income housing, I get tax breaks for that. You could do the same thing. But if I buy a house for me, I don’t get that big a tax break. If I drill for oil, I get huge tax breaks because the government wants us to be energy independent from Saudi Arabia. So let’s say, put in a million or a $100,000 into an oil project – not Standard Oil, but put it into an oil project, I get an 80 percent return, day one. If I put money in Standard Oil, I’m making 2 percent. But it’s because the government is incentivizing us to drill for oil. If I grow food, I get huge tax breaks because the government wants me to provide food. But if I buy food at Safeway, I get charged tax [laughs].
What I attempt to explain to people is that money is like a 3-sided coin: heads, tails, and the edge of the coin. And what “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” was attempting to do is have people stand on the edge of the coin and look on one side, and see what the poor and middle class are doing, and on the other side and look at what the rich are doing. You know, 1 percent of the rich hold 80 percent of all the wealth.
Hoff: And that’s actually something you talk about in your new book which I wanted to get to, “Why the Rich are Getting Richer.” It’s yet to come out but I want to talk a little bit about what you have in that book? What are the lessons that you want to teach us? What are the points that you really want to make that an average person needs to learn?
Kiyosaki: Thank you for that question. First of all, I recommend “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” first because the next book, “Why the Rich are Getting Richer” is like Rich Dad graduate school, so that’s why I go more specifically into debt and taxes.
So, most people, again they get angry because first of all, they weren’t taught this but it looks like guys like Trump and myself are cheating. But we’re still following the tax law. And the facts are the tax laws are there for everybody but without financial education you can’t follow the tax law. So the laws are fair from my point of view, but most people cannot do what Trump and I do because they don’t have financial education. And financial education in our case is imperative – we understand debt, how to use debt, and how to use taxes.
Again, it’s a little bit more sophisticated. And that’s why the rich are getting richer. And I’m very concerned about the middle class and so is Donald Trump – that’s why he’s working to bring jobs back into America. He’s very concerned, he’s been a friend of mine for many years. I don’t agree with some of the nasty remarks he’s made but I ask you to look at how he does it and how I do it and keep an open mind.
Hoff: I will definitely reading that book because I think there is a lot to learn to about using the tax code to your advantage. I think a lot of people feel guilty or that they shouldn’t write something off, it’s their duty. But again, if you are able to write it off, as you say, there’s a reason for that. And it’s not going against the law and people should use it to your advantage because the more money that you’re paying out is the less money that you get to keep and invest.
Kiyosaki: The primary reason that people are struggling today is because they’re so-called “money” is being destroyed by inflation and taxes. You know, the average employee pays 40 percent of their income in taxes. A self-employed person like a doctor, or a small entrepreneur, like somebody who owns a restaurant or something, they’re going to pay 65 percent of the money in taxes.
So, all of these guys who say, well I’m going to start my own business, you walk into the trap of self-employment. And self-employment tax is 60-65 percent, 75 percent in California. And so you wonder why there are no jobs coming out, it’s because most of the entrepreneurs would start their own business and are wiped out via taxes [laughs]. I hate to laugh but I know. God, can anybody see what’s happening? But that’s what I cover in “Why the Rich are Getting Richer,” how I use debt and how I use taxes.
Hoff: Wow, that’s incredible. Those numbers are incredible. I just moved back from Germany and it was 55 percent plus in taxes which is strangling in a lot of ways. And yet, in a lot of states in the United States, it’s the same or more.
Kiyosaki: Like I said, if I have a doctor – my friend’s a doctor in California. He pays 70 percent of his income in taxes. So, he’s really happy he made a million dollars but he netted $300,000. So, that’s what they don’t understand. And people forget America was actually a tax-free nation before the Boston Tea Party. I’m not a Tea Party member but taxes only came in to effect when the Federal Reserve Bank was created back in 1913. So, the Fed was created in 1913 and so was IRS. And that’s interesting.
So, the average person doesn’t know that. They think it’s patriotic to pay taxes because in 1943 the current tax payment was created. And the current Tax Payment Act was created to pay for World War II. And what the current Tax Payment Act granted the government the power to do was when the employee gets their paycheck, you wonder where the money went. Well, the money disappeared because of the current Tax Payment Act and so the government can get paid. And Americans say it’s patriotic. [laughs]
Hoff: And so it never changed? World War II ended but that money is still taken out of the paycheck.
Kiyosaki: Right. And that’s why Eisenhower said, beware of the military industrial complex because ever since they start collecting their tax, America’s been at war. I was in Vietnam, I went to Vietnam twice. And I get sick when I think about it. I get sick when I think about our troops in Iraq and Syria and all that. It’s all about financial education but at the same time you as an individual can decide what’s for you. You know, my friend Dave Ramsey says to live debt-free. Well, that’s fine but I’d rather learn to use debt to get rich. [laughs] but you have to study. So Dave Ramsey’s advice was good for people who don’t want to study finance or money. It’s a free country, it’s your choice. So I can either live debt-free or I can learn to use debt to get rich and pay no tax.
Hoff: So, speaking of that, what would you have done if you were your friend who’s making a million dollars as a doctor in California, paying 70 percent in taxes? If you were him, what would you be doing differently?
Kiyosaki: Well, the very smart thing is – because he did listen to me, it took about three years to pound him in the head – but I said, “you got to go to real estate.” So what he did, because, you know, he was working out of an office. So, he went and bought a large piece of real estate using debt and then he put other doctors in it so he’s collecting rent. And now, he pays no tax because he became a real estate owner. So, he’s not doing anything different except he owns the building.
Hoff: And yet it’s generating cash flow for him and at the same time he’s got an asset that he’s not paying taxes on.
Kiyosaki: Correct. Other doctors are paying him rent. He pays no rent. And then the government says you can depreciate your building, and the building’s advertising, etc.
Hoff: And those doctors who are paying him rent are first paying their taxes to the government, and what’s left of it, they pay rent to him.
Kiyosaki: Correct. Well, actually because of the business, they pay the rent but it’s an income expense. The point here is this – the average person has no idea what you and I are talking about right now because they listen to Dave Ramsey and live debt-free. And my doctor friend now has probably three million dollars in debt, and he’s making a lot more money because he’s not paying taxes. It’s the opposite.
Hoff: Yeah. So, do you cover a lot of this in your book, “Why the Rich are Getting Richer?” Do you educate us on what we need to know about tax law and debt?
Kiyosaki: Yeah but I also have my accountant, who’s my personal adviser, who wrote a book called “Tax-Free Wealth,” which people should read. Not that they’re going to be an accountant. But so they can interview their accountant. Most accountants don’t do what my tax adviser advises me to do. Most accountants are employees. My accountant is an entrepreneur. Very different mindset.
Hoff: There’s a lot to chew on there. I love to give my audience three actionable items that they can take away with them. I know the biggest one is educate yourself about finance. What would you say are the three major things that everybody listening to this podcast should leave and start doing immediately?
Kiyosaki: Well, just realize that all coins have three sides: heads, tails, and the edge. And the most important thing is to get to the edge of the coin and decide what’s best for you. For example, for the poor and middle class - debt makes them poor. On the rich side - debt makes them richer. And then they can decide, well I can listen to Dave Ramsey and go debt-free. Or I can take a class on how to invest in real estate using debt. That’s a choice. Be an active investor.
The other thing right now is there’s a great book “The Road to Ruin” by the smartest guy I know – his name is James Rickards. I would read that book because he does a better job at explaining the crisis we’re in now. And the third thing is, I would be holding physical gold, not in a bank. And I wouldn’t be buying gold ETF, I’d be owning physical gold. You know, let’s say your expenses are $3000 a month, I’d buy two gold coins – with eagles, that’s about $3000 – and I know because gold is an investment. I look at it as kind of an insurance policy. I hold about $36,000 in gold because I don’t think the dollars will last much longer.
Hoff: That’s what I was going to ask. So you think there’s going to be a monetary collapse?
Kiyosaki: Yes. And Rickards doesn’t call it a crash. He calls it a thermonuclear meltdown. [laughs] But he packs it up with facts and figures. The “Road to Ruin” is a relatively easy book to read. I think Rickards is the smartest guy around today. He advises the richest people on earth and he is kind of like me, kind of being like Paul Revere. He would say that you need to pay attention, that something’s coming. So I think it’s most important. I really thank you for a great interview and to be open-minded right now. And question what you’ve been taught. That’s what it is.
Hoff: Absolutely. I think a lot of people learned that in 2008, right? They should be questioning what they thought about in real estate and everything else that we were involved with.
Kiyosaki: Yeah, and one more thing. These crashes are great because in 2008 when the whole thing came tumbling down, I borrowed $300 million to buy real estate. So, crashes are good. That would be like Walmart having a sale at 50 percent. Everybody would run to Walmart. But if the stock market or real estate market’s going to crash, everybody runs away [laughs].
Hoff: Yeah, that’s true. And sells. At a loss.
Kiyosaki: Yeah, yeah. It’s human nature. And the reason I like real estate, I like gold, is that I can touch and feel it. I control it. Every ounce of gold in the world, for every ounce of gold, there’s 5000 ounces of paper gold. That’s like you owning 1 acre of land, and 5000 other people think they own it too [laughs].
Hoff: OK, so your rule with gold is: if you can, every month, buy as much gold as you spend every month, so you have something to back it up. Don’t put it in a bank, don’t put it in a safety deposit box, don’t buy it in paper. Keep it as a tangible object, somewhere safe where you can access it no matter what happens.
Kiyosaki: I call it plan B. you know, plan A is being optimistic. And plan B is being pessimistic. In a lot of times, plan B makes you richer because you can be open-minded. I have lots of gold because I’ve been saving gold since 1972 and I never spend it. Just like my real estate, I never sell my real estate. I just keep money coming in. I don’t have anything in the stock market because I like to control what I have.
Hoff: Very interesting. So nothing in the stock market. No asset funds. Nothing like that?
Kiyosaki: No. because I can make more money with debt and taxes with no risk. They’re just different perspectives. I am a professional real estate investor. I’m not a professional golfer, you know what I mean? I don’t try and make money playing golf. So if I was a professional golfer, maybe I’d have stocks but most of my time I’m buying property and starting businesses.
Hoff: So, for people listening, before you go into debt to do these things, educate yourself, learn the skills. Like you said, you’re a professional finance person. You understand finance so you understand how to use debt. And read these books: “Why the Rich are Getting Richer,” “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, understand the concepts. Look further into it so you really have a good grasp before you can make any financial decision. And then be prepared.
Kiyosaki: Yeah, because I see a lot of people are afraid right now, and rightfully so. And the book again is “The Road to Ruin” by James Rickards. I couldn’t put it down once I started to read it. It’s very well-written and it explains better than I could ever explain my point of view. And I think that’s what people are looking for – somebody who says something they don’t believe in so their minds can get opened, at least. But if you believe in going to school to get a job, most people already cut me out. People are racking up student loan debt and robots are coming to take those jobs. They can’t stop that. So they’re probably just going to tax the robots.
Hoff: [laughs]. Well I loved
this conversation. To me it’s very enlightening. I think that it’s so important
to open your mind and to look at things that you don’t agree with, try to see
that point of view because there were a lot of people before that crash who
said the crash was coming but nobody paid attention to them and they ended up
losing a lot money in the process.
Finally, our podcast is called “Charged Up!” What charges you up about teaching people about true financial mastery?
Kiyosaki: I just came back from Spain and we had like 800 people in the room. And they paid a lot of money to be in that room. It was myself, my accountant, my attorney, and my – who I call my Donald Trump, Jr, and we co-talked. So my accountant has one point of view. My attorney has a point of view. I have a point of view. And my Donald Trump, Jr – Ken McElroy – has a point of view. People’s minds are just blown apart because what I always say to everybody is, inside all of us is a poor person – it’s the part that made us real cheap. There’s a middle-class person – somebody who wants security and comfort. But then, there’s also the person that’s rich, wants to be rich.
And so when people realize that it’s not about going to school to get rich – they don’t teach you anything about getting rich at school anyway – they could be rich, too. That’s when you see the lights go on. They still have to study, but instead of trying to be secure and comfortable like the middle class do, they understand that they have the potential to have as much money as they want with a little education.
Hoff: Absolutely. Well, very, very interesting. I’m going to get go reading myself, because I think there’s a lot of lessons that we should be learning to how to control our financial destiny.
Kiyosaki: Yeah. And get “Tax-Free Wealth” by Tom Wheelwright. Read that and then have your accountant read it. And then you’ll understand taxes are the key. Remember Trump pays zero, Obama pays 30p percent. It’s just a point of view.
Hoff: Mr. Kiyosaki, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been a very enlightening conversation.
Kiyosaki: Well, thank you because you’re very open minded – I usually end up in an argument, so thank you.
Hoff: Thank you.
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