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Archive for Saturday, September 19, 2009

Prophet of finance: Dave Ramsey establishes successful, if controversial, faith-based seminars

Financial guru Dave Ramsey is seen in his broadcasting studio in Brentwood, Tenn. Ramsey doesn’t deny mixing religion and business, and he doesn’t apologize for getting rich doing it, either.

Financial guru Dave Ramsey is seen in his broadcasting studio in Brentwood, Tenn. Ramsey doesn’t deny mixing religion and business, and he doesn’t apologize for getting rich doing it, either.

September 19, 2009

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A cross made of credit cards that radio listeners and television viewers have sent Dave Ramsey is displayed in Ramsey’s Lampo Group headquarters in Brentwood, Tenn.

A cross made of credit cards that radio listeners and television viewers have sent Dave Ramsey is displayed in Ramsey’s Lampo Group headquarters in Brentwood, Tenn.

Quotes from Dave Ramsey are displayed along with Bible verses in the lobby of Ramsey’s Lampo Group headquarters in Brentwood, Tenn.

Quotes from Dave Ramsey are displayed along with Bible verses in the lobby of Ramsey’s Lampo Group headquarters in Brentwood, Tenn.

Brandon and Julie Urban credit a man they’ve never met for helping to rein in their budget.

The Lawrence couple, parents of three children, ages 5 months through second grade, attended a session of Financial Peace University, the DVD/small group study that is the signature work of Dave Ramsey, a guru who mixes faith and finances to help couples out of debt.

“We’ve been trying to put a little more money away savings-wise,” Brandon Urban says. “We’re trying to stash more money in an emergency fund. We shop at different places — we’re at Aldi and Wal-Mart more than we used to be.”

Julie Urban adds: “We used to eat out a lot. The kids have asked why we only eat out on Fridays now, and we explain that we’re saving money by eating more together at home.”

The Urbans took the class through Lawrence Heights Christian Church, one of a few Lawrence places of worship offering Ramsey’s program to parishioners.

But as Ramsey’s popularity is skyrocketing — more than 750,000 people have taken his classes — some are beginning to question whether Ramsey’s hugely profitable, tax-paying business — which he describes as a ministry — fits with Jesus’ teachings.

It’s a question John Hoffman began asking as he immersed himself in Ramsey’s financial lessons for months. He listened on the radio, bought books, took Ramsey’s financial management course at a church and paid for a $10-a-month subscription to his Web site.

Hoffman came away from it all feeling like Ramsey’s intermingling of faith and finances was some sort of unholy alliance.

“It’s not a ministry. To me, it’s an insult to the word,” says Hoffman, who lives near Logan, in northwestern Kansas. “It would be nice if it got out of the churches and got into the mainstream.”

Work, ministry combined

Ramsey doesn’t deny mixing religion and business, and he doesn’t apologize for getting rich doing it, either. Business is a ministry, he says, and good ones prosper by serving people the way God wants them to.

“Worship is work-ship, so I don’t separate work from ministry,” Ramsey says recently at his headquarters in suburban Nashville, where he does his syndicated radio and cable TV shows. Bible verses, crosses and photos of Ramsey decorate the building.

In the beginning, as now, Ramsey’s refrain was similar to the financial teachings of John Wesley, who started the Methodist movement more than 200 years ago: Earn all you can, save all you can, give away all you can.

Ramsey added a modern injunction to Jesus’ teachings about not being a slave to money or possessions: Ditch your credit cards and pay cash. Callers to his radio show scream “I’m debt free!” after paying off loans, and Ramsey cuts up credit cards on his TV program.

Almost 4.5 million people listen to Ramsey on the radio each week; millions more watch his show on Fox Business or have read his best-selling books. Disciples — and they are legion — know his no-credit mantra and inspiring, riches-to-rags-to even more riches story.

There are plenty of Lawrence residents who have gone though Financial Peace University sessions. Derek Felch, a member of Christ Community Church, 1100 Kasold Drive, is one of them.

Felch first read a book by Ramsey a decade ago, when he says he and his wife were in financial trouble.

“It’s a great process for people to learn about money,” Felch says. “They need to come up with a plan. So many people don’t have a plan.”

Felch eventually started organizing Financial Peace University courses through his church. A new 13-week session starts Monday at the Hampton Inn, 2300 W. Sixth St.

“Dave’s appeal is he really reaches out to the non-numbers person,” Felch says.

Helping people

It doesn’t bother Felch that Ramsey has become wealthy with his classes, which typically cost $99 per session.

“He’s done pretty well, but it’s really helped a lot of people,” Felch says. “He helped my wife and I get out of debt.”

There was a time when few would have paid for financial advice from Ramsey, 48.

A broker with real estate investments worth some $4 million by age 26, Ramsey was forced to file for bankruptcy protection after lenders called his short-term debt. He was soon offering financial counseling at church as a Sunday school lesson with a simple message at its core: Don’t spend more than you have.

Using a biblical Greek word for light as the name of his company, Ramsey founded the Lampo Group Inc. in 1991 to offer one-on-one financial counseling. Financial Peace University had reached about 10,000 people by 1999, and the business exploded in 2001 when he created a department inside Lampo Group specifically to arrange courses through churches.

A version of Ramsey’s courses, minus the religious element, are taught in public schools and on 95 military bases, and he’s heard on 450 radio stations, only a handful of them Christian. Still, Ramsey acknowledges: “Churches are a big part of what we do. It’s a natural market for us in a sense.”

Possible confusion

The Lampo Group has grown to about 300 employees, most working on commissions. Ramsey is the owner, CEO and product.

He is building a huge home on a $1 million lot in a gated community overlooking Tennessee’s richest county. Tax records reviewed by The Associated Press show Ramsey and his company own property worth more than $7 million, and Ramsey says that’s low by a few million because of recent renovations to his four-story headquarters.

Ramsey doesn’t give out sales figures for his privately owned company, but he says Lampo is far larger than a leading nonprofit group that offers Bible-based financial courses, Crown Financial Ministries. Based in Gainesville, Ga., Crown reported revenues of $20.2 million in 2007; its course costs $55 for a couple, or about half what Ramsey charges.

Alexander Hill, author of “Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace,” says churches can inadvertently become a tool for marketers as they try to help members through a tough economy.

“I think it’s fine for churches to provide services for the congregants, and that can be profit or nonprofit,” says Hill, president of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry based in Madison, Wis. “It’s the potential confusion that is a concern.”

Not everything Ramsey does turns a profit. Ramsey held a “Town Hall for Hope,” which was simulcast to 1.3 million people gathered at 5,600 churches nationwide. The event was a success in some ways — “it was good for the brand” and “a moment in time for God,” Ramsey says — it ended up costing him about $60,000 once all the bills were paid, he says.

Fans can buy DVD copies of the event to give to friends — 10 for $38.95.

Terry Rombeck, features/special sections editor, and Christy Little, assistant features/assistant special sections editor contributed information to this story.

Comments

angel4dennis 4 years, 12 months ago

My church hosted a seminar session a few years ago. My husband and I went but never really followed the plan. After witnessing for myself the change in others that committed to the plan, I began listening to the cds once again. I got excited about the thought of being debt free. We began to really take a look at our money and started telling it what to do instead of it ruling us. In 3 months, we were able to pay off 3 credit cards and closed those accounts. We even got rid of 2 pay day loans which was costing us $300 a month in fees, plus paid off a few other small bills. It feels great to not receive any phone calls from collectors. More bills are getting paid and it is difficult to stick to the budget plan some days, but security and freedom is a great feeling. I recommend for everyone to take this seminar if you can. He is a very inspirational speaker. Focus on the possiblities of the program, not whether YOU feel it is biblical based. Debt is also a sin in biblical terms.

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larryndea 4 years, 12 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Megan Tugman 4 years, 12 months ago

I am curious as to why people might think what Dave Ramsey does is "against the word." There's no real explanation here other than the fact that me makes money at what he does, which is only responsible for any business owner. What makes Dave unique in this is that he doesn't exploit people to do it, where other self-help gurus would.

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chargdup 4 years, 12 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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chargdup 4 years, 12 months ago

Yes Paul, accountability. It's easy to say that, but the American culture is overwhelming geared toward buy now, pay later. You'd be surprised how hard that mentality is to be changed if you've never known any different.

Again, you don't have to go to a seminar, or the class.

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chargdup 4 years, 12 months ago

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

What could I have possibly said that was in violation of the usage agreement?

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chargdup 4 years, 12 months ago

I've reviewed your usage agreement with the cached copy of my comment. I'm dying to know, what in this thread was said by me or anyone else that prompted deletion?

Need an answer on this one.

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chargdup 4 years, 12 months ago

Quick to delete but not quick to respond, LJW?

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quik 4 years, 12 months ago

Couldn't you get the same advice for free from your local ACORN office?

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chargdup 4 years, 12 months ago

porch,

I recognize that, but I would prefer an explanation so we all can "learn."

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chargdup 4 years, 12 months ago

I heard back from Jonathan Kealing. Apparently because I said where once could read the material for from a public entity, that is, in his eyes, considered "solicitation."

Even though, there's a whole STORY about it.

Unbelievable.

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Christine Anderson 4 years, 12 months ago

I'm gonna get my butt kicked by some folks on this, but that's okay. I've always had trouble with the teaching that if you are truly a "believer", God will make you rich. What about the Christians in other countries who don't even have three square meals a day, or a roof over their childrens' heads? According to Ramsey and others who think like him, being poor means there is something wrong with, or inferior about one's faith. Come on, this can't be right. Good stewardship and management is biblical, but is it biblical to think of God as an atm; where you "call it into being even though it's not"? Are we talking about marching around the Cadillac saying, "I claim this in the name of Jesus"? I find that mindset disqusting.

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chargdup 4 years, 12 months ago

misplaced,

I totally agree with you with your thoughts on prosperity gospel, but there's nothing in what Ramsey says that even comes close to that.

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wagenseil 4 years, 12 months ago

I was also expecting a "prosperity gospel" scam here, but seems to me all Ramsey is doing is providing solid advice and, in the grand scheme of financial advisors, charging relatively little for it.

Associating thrift with Christian values has a long history -- Quakers got there a long time before Wesley (and some made a great deal of money in the process...), and the Mennonites a half century or so before the Quakers. Ramsey just seems to be translating this into contemporary terms, and if he can save some folks from bankruptcy and sleepless nights, he seems to be doing good.

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twinetowngirl 4 years, 12 months ago

So do you think that you have to have wealth to be rich?

That makes me pretty sad for all of you who think that.

I wonder month to month how I will pay my bills, rent, put food on the table, so I by far am NOT weathly. I am however "RICH' as I have my health, my children are heathly, I have a loving, hardworking husband. I have faith in Jesus Christ. My family is honest, have good core values. I am one of the RICHEST women in the world!!!

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Ace_Ventura 4 years, 12 months ago

What a great man in general. He is a great person to listen to and learn from. I have been doing so for the past 6 months and I'm doing well. He tells you things you already know. But he makes it real. Simple and Easy. I am glad that he makes money doing this. He has worked his butt off to be what he is today. Congrats to Dave!!

Advice from me. If you don't have money in the bank and live paycheck to paycheck. Buy his book and read it. You will be surprised how much better you will feel.

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chargdup 4 years, 12 months ago

On Ramsey's plan (not that I'm "soliciting," I'm only sharing my own experience) my wife and I got on the program and paid off $20,000 in about two years. We're not completely out of debt, but our lifestyle changed dramatically. When gas prices went way up last year, it was bad, but for us, it was completely manageable because we had freed up so much of our income.

I suppose I don't see much of what the controversy is here. Are churches being “used” to market the classes? Yes, Ramsey primarily utilizes churches to get his messages out. But, you don't have to be a Christian to follow some common sense guidelines (which I admit, I simply didn't have) to getting your finances under control.

In this age of griping about how the government bails out every tom, dick and harry, I'm surprised anyone would gripe about anything educational (that they choose to pay) that teaches accountability.

That's backwards.

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George_Braziller 4 years, 12 months ago

Uhhhh -- this isn't high math. You spend less than what you make. It's called living below your means.

But wait, Dave Ramsey has to explain it to you --- just as long as you send him a check.

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persevering_gal 4 years, 12 months ago

George - believe it or not, not everyone knows how to manage money, because they never developed that concept. Your opinion is your opinion on Dave Ramsey, but don't you think that paying $99 to get your life back on track is better than being $20,000 in debt as chargdup mentioned?

You pay to go to college to learn, why not pay this man who seems to be teaching valuable information to those who want it.

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Christine Anderson 4 years, 12 months ago

Okay, here's my situation. Income in my household consists of my son's SSI. The older he gets, the worse his autism gets, and I have found it impossible to hold a job because of it. No employer on the face of the earth is going to put up with a person never knowing when they have to leave work to pick up their child due to behaviors, etc. It's that way forever, folks. The best thing I can do for myself and both my sons is accept it and yes, live within what we have. And yes, that means several different types of help with food, housing, medical, etc. As tight as things are, if I actually had $99 left after utilities, etc, I would be a very stupid and irresponsible person if I took that $99 and spent it on a seminar! And Ace, do you feel it is proper stewardship to have no money in the bank, yet go out and spend it on a book? Uh, if you're down that far financially, chances are whatever Ramsey's book costs is needed for doing laundry, bus fare, and toilet paper. I'm going to be sick. This guy is starting to sound more and more like a certain evangelist based out of Tulsa, Ok who built an entire university as a monument to his ego, and then tearfully went on t.v. and said God was going to take him "home" if he didn't raise a million dollars. LOL

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Godot 4 years, 12 months ago

I am a big Dave Ramsey fan; he gets some things wrong, (like investing in mutual funds) IMHO, but most things right...

I looked into becoming an Endorsed Local Provider, then decided against it. Could not do the church thing.

It is more than possible to do the right thing, to eschew debt, live on current income, and save, and "starve the beast," regardless of your religious, or lack thereof, belief. Math is math. Do not spend more than you earn. period.

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alm77 4 years, 12 months ago

misplaced, you can listen to Dave for free on the radio. He doesn't hold back and keep all his "secrets" in his book or in his program. Everything he teaches, he teaches for free on the air and on his website. The $99 is basically the book plus 16 weeks of motivational speeches (via DVD) and structured group accountability.

To your specific situation, Dave would say if you can't find an employer, then become your own boss. Figure out what you can do instead of focussing on what you can't do and do that for money. Could you start mowing grass? Could you do book keeping for a few small businesses? What about starting a daycare? Is there a craft that you make? The list goes on and on. Everyone has something they are good at and/or love that people will pay them to do.

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thelonious 4 years, 12 months ago

OK, so here's the deal:

1) Staying debt-free is generally good, although not all debt is "evil", i.e. a mortgage to buy a house where the mortgage payment is less then renting would be considered a "smart" thing to do, debt used to finance a business investment can be a "good" "non-evil" thing, etc. Reducing the concept of debt to a simple "good-or-evil" argument way oversimplifies the matter. But certainly, Americans have taken on too much "toxic" debt like credit card debt, and reducing that makes sense.

2) And it makes sense whether you are religious or not.

3) Religious faith is fine if you have it, and if you don't, that is fine too, and whether you have religious faith or not has nothing to do with the merits of debt.

So the way I see it, Mr. Ramsey profits handsomely personally by mixing religion and financial advice, peddling some over-simplified truisms to folks that are already accustomed to black or white thinking. On the one hand, more power to him, wish I'd thought of that, brilliant idea. On the other hand, doing this while putting on a face of religious piety earns Mr. Ramsey serious de-merits. I'd suggest he NOT read Dante.

Personally, what I think a truly Christian person with financial expertise who truly wants to help people would do, if he/she were living their faith, is simply tell people who are listening the basic facts, i.e. spend less than you make, invest for the long term, differentiate between wants and needs, differentiate between spending and investing, etc., in other words "spread the gospel", without collecting a "tax" from them for it.

Jesus didn't collect from the crowds listening to his messages, did he?

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thelonious 4 years, 12 months ago

There is a difference between success earned honorably and exploitation.

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Christine Anderson 4 years, 12 months ago

Oh Marion, you schmuck! I don't know if it's really that some people are "success haters". I'm guessing what some of us hate is making it sound as easy as the fairy godfather waving his wand. I imagine that if I had something to work with( a built-up amount of cash from one of the very good suggestions offered by aim77) that it would take a very long time, perhaps longer than my given years, to pay off all I owe. To get brutally honest, if this Ramsey guy were completely secularly based, no, I would not resent him. I just can't get words like charleton, sheister, etc. out of my mind. Now Marion, be good. After all, when your picture was published, I said you were good-looking. Say, you own Lynn elecrtic? If that's you, know anybody who wants some rose bushes planted this fall? Landlord is a turd-would rather have an ugly, bald yard than let folks plants things.

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Christine Anderson 4 years, 12 months ago

Surprise-I voted for McCain. And if your gonna call me something, please, please, let it be b@#$*. Really, I'd wear it proudly. Gnite, you old fart, schmackelhead, dingleberry, etc. And on second thought, you're butt ugly. Pffffttt!

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jonas_opines 4 years, 12 months ago

Marion wrties:

"Ignoring the grammatical issues in your post"

Oh, my head. . . . .

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Bill Griffith 4 years, 12 months ago

Ramsey's philosophy works well for the average household/investor. It is not the only way to financial security without taking on excessive risk, however. Ramsey's views leave out folks who are capable of acquiring income-producing real estate-especially before paying the first property off. Kind of cross-purposes with the parable of the three servants who were given some coin by their lord and told to make it multiply. He is a good marketer and knowledgeable for the average Joe and Joanna's needs.

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alm77 4 years, 12 months ago

The Biblical teachings of Ramsey are pretty much "The borrower is slave to the lender." "We need to be good stewards of what we have." "Give to God first, then pay the rest."

The only problem I think secular people would have is with that last one. But, I do believe (and have experienced) that when you give (out of the right motives), it does come back to you exponentially. Actually, I've heard non-Christian "spiritual" people promote this idea as well. The reason he links his faith and his job is because his way is built on that platform. He's just giving credit where credit is due (pun intended).

misplaced, Dave would say, sure, it's going to take you a long time, but it has to be done at some point, so why not start now.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

That's the other thing Dave does, he gives people hope. When you're swimming in bills and have a huge mess that you don't think you'll ever get out of it, you need some hope. You need direction. You need common sense and you need to feel empowered to "get your life back". As he puts it.

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thelonious 4 years, 12 months ago

Marion -

Yeah, my post should have read "There is a difference between success earned honorably and SUCCESS EARNED BY exploitation." I violated a rule of sentence construction that I think is called parallel construction. Perhaps you should become an English teacher.

Way to nit-pick on something unimportant instead of addressing the real issues.

Oh, and by the way, I did explain whatintheeverlovinghades, as you so eloquently put it, I was talking about in my earlier post - you did read it, I suppose? I thought it was well-written, even if you don't agree with the sentiment, which you apparently don't.

To sum up my point crisply and succinctly - my view is that folks who claim to be Christian should live their faith, a.k.a. walk their talk, and charging people who are desperate for "knowledge" or "advice" that is freely available and not much more than common sense is incompatible with basic tenants of Christian doctrine and counter to the examples of Jesus, if I remeber much of my New Testament reading and Lutheran confirmation training correctly.

Mr. Ramsey could probably make a pretty good living just off his radio show, where he could enlighten folks without further lining his pocket by charging them for the seminars, web site access, etc.

It's a little too much "do as I say not as I do" for me.

So if you feel compelled to address this again, please tackle the issues I raised, not my grammar, if you can handle it.

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fuel_for_the_fire 4 years, 12 months ago

the ionious - First, I agree with your point regarding the incompatibility of charging people for freely available advice with the basic tenets of the Chrisitian faith.

Second, your original sentence was formed using an ellipsis and was therefore perfectly grammatical.

Third, just ignore Marion; most of us do.

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denak 4 years, 12 months ago

Being rich is not a sin. Money is not a sin. It is the love of money that is a sin. When one puts money before one's relationship with God and before others, then it becomes a sin.

From what I can see, Dave Ramsey is providing a service at a price that most people wouldn't get from a "secular" financial advisor. Save for non-profits, I'm sure most finanical advisors charge way more than $99 for advice. And 40 dollars for 10 tapes, that isn't a bad deal. Again, I'm pretty sure that other financial planning tapes are equal, if not more, than that. As long as his advice is sound and legitimately helpful, I don't see a problem with what he is doing.

Dena

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MyName 4 years, 12 months ago

I agree with fuel_for_the_fire. There wasn't anything wrong with the ionious's sentence grammatically: the second "success earned by", could be easily implied as he stated. Moreover, "exploitation" stands perfectly well on its own. You can tell this because the sentence still makes sense if you put "exploitation" ahead of "success earned honorably".

Also, it's usually best to ignore Marion's personal jabs. Especially since he doesn't know you, you don't know him, and so 99% of what you have to say to each other along those lines is going to be wrong.

As far as the article goes, I have listened to Ramsey's show (a coworker was really interested in it). Most of his advice seemed to be sound. He wasn't in the business of making people believe that God was going to magically fix their situation (his advice is generally along the lines of "God didn't get you into that situation in the first place").

However, most of his advice only seemed to be useful for people who could probably have figured out how to get out of the situation themselves with a little common sense (I know, one can also reply that "common sense isn't all that common"). If you're in more dire financial straits (a serious or chronic medical condition, lengthy unemployment during a recession, a messy divorce, etc), then practicing frugality and a little puritan work ethic, which is most of his more useful advice, will only succeed in making you feel beat up on top of being under a mountain of problems. So buying his tapes or listening to his program would be kind of useless outside of some entertainment value.

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imastinker 4 years, 12 months ago

The entire gist of Ramseys advice is that you can't help others if you can't help yourself.

His advice does have some things I don't like - but it's conservative. Most people who truly follow his advice will be able to handle the loss of a job, or unexpected medical issues without getting so far behind. I do not like his investment advice, and as pointed out above, there is "GOOD" debt - although even with a mortgage most will spend 3x the price of the house before it's paid off. Paying off the house early and paying cash for cars has HUGe benefits, especially for people without big incomes. Even folks that make 40 or 50k/year combined may be paying 10k or more in interest per year.

I have never paid him a dime either. He has free podcasts that I listen on the iphone when I am driving.

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sunny 4 years, 12 months ago

Dave...Don't you know dear, that people like to spend spend spend. They spend money they don't have. Then when a crisis comes along, like medical bills or loss of job, or any other excuse they can dream up, they cry and turn to the old Bankruptcy trick leaving the rest of us to pay for their stupid spending.

People need to be responsible for themselves.

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Matthew Fowler 4 years, 11 months ago

I was already debt-free long before I first heard Ramsey's show a couple years back, but I still listen to it. For the most part I think he gives pretty sound advice, and yes, most of it is common sense. What sets him apart from all the other financial hacks, I think, is his view that MOST problems (but certainly not all) relating to debt are behavioral in nature--meaning, of course, that it's a person's bad habits (such as credit card spending) that get them into financial trouble.

Occasionally, I'll catch Ramsey saying stuff that I don't always agree with. For example: His so-called "debt snowball," a term he uses to describe paying off debts with the smallest balance first, regardless of interest rates; the rationale being that paying off small debts gives a person a psychological boost that will keep them motivated toward paying off all the others.

I don't necessarily agree, because, like someone pointed out earlier, "math is math." A person simultaneously holding large credit card and student loan balances would be much better off getting rid of the credit card debt first (regardless of the balance), before doing ANYTHING else. Student loan repayment options and interest rates are an absolute bargain compared to credit cards. A person who follows Ramsey's advice by paying off a student loan before a credit card might get a "psychological boost" with the small victory they think they've accomplished, but not when they crunch the numbers and find that the credit card at 20% interest has cost them far more money than the student loan charging them five to eight.

Also, I don't really get Ramsey's blase attitude toward college (and college financing) in general. Often, a student will call his show and Ramsey will offer flip advice about "delivering pizzas," "cleaning houses," etc. in order to pay for college "without any debt." I don't know what year Ramsey graduated, but I find his advice on this matter extremely unrealistic and short sighted, no matter how well-intentioned. Perhaps it's the trained economist in me that disagrees with him on this issue, but when one considers the current economic climate--coupled with skyrocketing tuition in the last decade and a half--it's time for a serious reality check.

It would be great for a student to to pull off a bachelor's degree without debt--and I certainly commend those who are able to do so--but for most kids this is simply impossible and, for some, not even advisable. Pharmacy or engineering students, for example, who undertake enormously expensive, mentally demanding, and potentially lucrative five-year training programs would be much better off hitting the books for the highest possible GPA instead of wasting their time, energy, and future earnings potential "delivering pizzas" or "cleaning houses."

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