Judge Judith Sheindlin is not kicking back in retirement like your typical 70-something. The four-time Emmy Award winner will be starting her 24th season of enthralling Judge Judy viewers with her hard-nosed, by-the-book approach to small claims court justice.
Despite Sheindlin’s formidable demeanor, she’s genuine. Her stern rebukes and trademark wisecracks impart lessons on love, parenting, career and faith.
The program is a gold mine of financial information, too. Here are 12 money lessons that parties in Judge Judy's courtroom learned the hard way.
1. Put a ring on it before pooling resources
Singles who share joint bank accounts, credit cards and property are just asking for a day in court with Judge Judy. And it won't be pretty.
Disputes between exes who shared a living space are common on the show.
But as the judge lectured one couple, "The courts aren't here to try to determine who gets the washing machine."
Here's how smart couples do it: Keep your finances separate until you get married, and hold onto receipts for big-ticket items that could ride off in a moving truck without you.
2. Get out there and find your dream job
Nothing incurs the wrath of Judge Judy quite like able-bodied people who don’t work. "Do you have a job? Well, get one!" she has thundered on numerous occasions.
You can't improve your quality of life or secure your future without a successful career. If your current job isn’t fulfilling or doesn’t pay enough, find a better one. The judge knows how it's done.
When she heard that Judge Joseph Wapner was leaving "The People's Court" in 1993, she called and offered to replace him.
The receptionist snapped, “Are you crazy, lady?” and hung up. But Sheindlin wasn't intimidated.
3. Never, ever co-sign
Nothing sours loving relationships like co-signed loans, apartment leases or rental car agreements. If Aunt Myrtle and Cousin Ricky haven’t spoken since Thanksgiving of 1998, there’s probably a co-signed document at the heart of the drama.
You’re financially and legally responsible for anything that bears your name.
If your lease-breaking son owes several months' rent, you’ll have to pay it. You’ll probably have to pony up for carpet replacement to boot.
“Never co-sign on anybody’s behalf for anything, and I mean not ever!” Judge Judy has bellowed.
4. Don’t lend to those you love
Along the same lines, loans among friends and family members may be a leading cause of bad blood in the U.S.
Unless you can afford to kiss the money goodbye and pretend that the whole thing never happened, never lend money.
When your unemployed teenage daughter begs for a car loan and swears to get a job, you can take this Judge Judy quip to heart: “You know how I can tell if a 17-year-old girl is lying? Her mouth moves."
Remind loved ones who want to borrow money that there are banks and personal loan companies for that.
5. Don’t live beyond your means
Wealth hasn’t made her any less frugal: She told The New York Times that the recent change to her look, a clip-on ponytail, cost $29.95.
She's quick to go after people for overspending: “You spent $72 getting your hair done? You wasted your money!”
Living beyond your means can result in credit card debt, home foreclosure and a world of hurt. Besides, Costco underwear is very well-reviewed.
6. Get everything in writing
Judge Judy goes nothing short of ballistic over handshake deals. If you do decide to lend money (but please don't), draw up a clear agreement of the terms.
Have the borrower and a witness sign it. This prevents thickheaded people from mistaking a loan for a gift or getting fuzzy on the details.
In one tirade directed at a man who had no memory of borrowing $5,000, Judge Judy said, “My husband once offended me on July 6th, 1978. I can tell you exactly where I was sitting, and what he was eating."
Mere mortals, however, need a written, signed record.
7. Be accountable for your future
Judge Judy harps on self-sufficiency, especially when it comes to women. She has no problem if they choose to be homemakers; what bothers her is if they have no plan for financial independence when disaster strikes.
"Women do stupid things when they’re in love," she once said. "That’s why I've been in business."
She turns a deaf ear to sob stories of financial woes caused by poor planning or lack of accountability.
"Save it for Dr. Phil,” she often interrupts.
8. Share money tips with your kids
Another important lesson from Judge Judy is to teach children about money early and often.
Unlimited handouts don’t do them any favors. The real world doesn’t work that way. If you teach them how to be content with less, you will train them to avoid impulsive spending.
A sense of financial responsibility, along with a little discipline, may prevent them from becoming “brawling animals in parking lots" — part of another classic Judge Judy rant.
9. File and pay your taxes
Judge Judy often grills defendants on their obligations to Uncle Sam. If they hesitate, she barks, "'Um' is not an answer! You’ve got to file your taxes."
In a 2009 interview, she told Larry King that she wouldn't mind paying more taxes. As she explained it: "The people at the low end can't give anymore."
Even if you're not as good-natured about taxation as she is, you still need to meet your tax obligations.
Failure to file or pay taxes can result in penalties and interest, a revoked passport or a future behind bars.
10. Stay alert for scams
Don’t fall victim to a phone or email scam. Your grandson probably doesn’t need bailing out of jail, and it’s unlikely that your bank account has been frozen.
Thieves once used Judge Judy as a ruse to try to obtain credit card numbers. They pitched skin-care products and claimed that Sheindlin had endorsed them.
"Slippery, sleezy, scammy" is how she described the fraudsters to Ellen DeGeneres.
Never give banking, credit card, health or personal information to someone who contacts you by phone. If you get an email asking for account information, delete it. Legitimate entities just don't operate that way.
11. Let integrity guide you
Judge Judy hates a cheat. Bernie Madoff, she remarked in the Larry King interview, "has an ego the size of Noah's ark and very little conscience."
Unethical behavior isn’t limited to Ponzi schemes and corporate con jobs.
Every day, married people open bank accounts that their spouses know nothing about. Small business owners fudge the numbers. Individuals live in debt denial and keep on charging.
You can’t get much more transparent than Judge Judy. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a working stiff, manage your finances with the same unwavering integrity.
12. Be charitable
Judge Judy earns $47 million a year for just 52 days of filming. She recently won an Emmy for lifetime achievement, and she consistently draws 10 million viewers per day.
None of that has gone to her head. She urges fans to be generous, saying, "There are all kinds of worthwhile charities around."
That was during a case involving payment for a woman's breast augmentation surgery — which, the judge noted, was not a worthwhile charity. But that's another story.
Sheindlin is the co-founder of a charity called Her Honor Mentoring that helps guide and inspire young women. If her kindness doesn’t inspire you to give, remember that donations to charity or your church are still tax-deductible.