In 1974, Orman's brother lent her the money to buy an Econoline van, which she drove out to Berkeley with a friend. "The whole first month we slept on the streets in that van," she says. Orman finished her degree in social work by correspondence. She worked as a waitress for seven years, and then presented herself at Merrill Lynch, where she was hired as a broker "to fill the women's quota," she says.

Orman says her background as an outsider helps explain her appeal to middle America. "It's sad because money touches absolutely everyone yet it's presented in a formal way, in a foreign language that's only relatable if you're wearing a three-piece suit or heavy-duty makeup with your hair perfectly done. I talk about money on TV the same way I talked about it when I didn't have any."

Orman's background may also help explain her antipathy toward the world of finance. She learned her lessons the hard way, back when she was making 100 cold calls a day as a waitress-turned-broker at Merrill Lynch. "I learned how brokerage firms operated in a really harsh way. My manager at the time told me I'd be gone in six months, and that women belonged barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. I saw how brokerage firms would unload stocks in their inventory onto their clients. And I saw how they were not looking out for the best interests of their clients."

Still, Orman insists that she's not against all advisors. "I'm for you and I want you to make a living. But let's promote the ones that really care, and get those who take advantage of clients out of the business." What she can't tolerate, she says, are advisors who put their own interests above those of consumers, advisors who sell universal life policies as investments to people who don't need them, advisors who take RIA fees on fixed-income accounts, and advisors who sell loaded mutual funds when no-load funds would be more appropriate. It just so happens that in Orman's view of the world, that rogue's gallery seems to make up the majority of the financial planning community.

The most frequent complaint about Orman is that she's a hypocrite, bashing advisors while gaily promoting her own commission-based products such as her Protection Portfolio (a do-it-yourself will and trust kit) and her branded GE long-term care insurance. "As an independent advisor, I don't endorse specific products," Dauenhauer says. "It makes me uncomfortable that she's selling products on her Web site, especially when she comes down so hard on commissions."

Orman scoffs at the criticism. "I have never complained about legitimate financial advisors making a living off consumers," she says. "If you're a fabulous financial advisor, you should make as much money as you think you're worth-as long as your clients understand what they're paying for." Orman insists that she's clear about how she herself is compensated-and that she has nothing against commissions per se.

As if to prove her point, Orman divulges that she herself uses a "commission-oriented" investment advisor and offers his phone number on the spot. She travels too much and has too much money to manage her own accounts, she says, though her advisor never makes a move without consulting her. She's eager to provide a rundown of her current investment strategy-she keeps most of her substantial fortune in municipal bonds with a "play account" of about $500,000 in the stock market. "But I don't care about that money," she says.

At first Orman's advisor is taken aback by the phone call. But John Claghorn, a vice president and wealth manager with the New York-based private client group of RBC Dain Rauscher, quickly warms to his subject. He admits that Orman is an easy target. "We all laugh when Suze says to save your change and take it to a bank," says Claghorn, who manages about $200 million in assets with the majority of accounts between $2 million and $5 million.

Claghorn admits to disagreeing with Orman on some issues, for example regarding the uses of insurance. But he's adamant about her integrity. "Suze spent several years researching LTC policies before she settled on GE Capital. She talked to Lincoln National and John Hancock. She had every schlocky carrier in America wanting to hook up with her, and she could have made a whole lot more money than she has. She didn't just jump in. She did her homework for a couple of years, and even had me at the library doing research. LTC insurance is something this age group needs badly, and she ended up with a good product tailored to the middle class." He may well be right, but it just so happens GE Capital's parent, General Electric, also owns CNBC, the cable network that has made Suze a household name.

This is not the first time that Orman has given Claghorn's number to someone she just met. "Suze seems to attract people from all walks of life, and she treats them all the same," Claghorn says. "She had one woman call to say she had a $10,000 IRA invested in treasuries and wanted to invest in stocks, so I told her to put it in a CD or something instead. Then I get another call from a woman who sounds like the same type of person, but come to find out she has $8.5 million to invest."