I Like Dave Ramsey, But He Is Still Wrong

by Kevin on July 1, 2008

I was planning on talking about buying a scooter to save on gas costs today, but I got an interesting comment yesterday that I felt warranted discussion.

The comment was left on my post about earning more than $400 in free cash back using my credit card. I said in the post that I think Dave Ramsey is flat out wrong for his anti-credit stance. Here’s the comment:

Nice try trashing Dave Ramsey for no reasons. I sincerely request to think twice before you trash him again. He is not preaching to cut plastic or get out of debt for normal people like me and you who manage debt prudently. His target audience is way over the head in credit card debt and their finance charges for one month is greater than your annual cash back from Amex Blue. For people like these it makes perfect sense to not use credit card. Think about it before you cash in your rebate check next time – Amex/Discover charge about 3% for gas station operator, you are paid 5% rebate for charge the gas expense to their card – guess what – the rest of 2% is paid to you from the 29% interest rate and insane finance charges and cruel penalties these credit card companies charge to people who are already in deep trouble. Pick up the documentary “In debt we trust” from the local library and open your eyes.

For starters, I’m glad this person commented on the blog. It opens up the discussion, and heck, I love getting opinions that challenge my own. So I am not writing about this to just rip this person’s argument apart or anything. I just disagree.

Dave Ramsey is a big name author and radio personality in the personal finance world. He went through very hard financial times in the 1980’s and has bounced back to make millions of dollars. He has written several popular books, and always tells his listener’s to stick with his “Baby Steps” to financial freedom.

Here are those baby steps:

  1. $1,000 to start an emergency fund
  2. Pay off all debt using the debt snowball
  3. Save up 3-6 months of expenses
  4. Invest 15% of your income into Roth IRAs and other pre-tax retirement vehicles
  5. College funding for children
  6. Pay off home early
  7. Build wealth and give; invest in mutual funds and real estate

Now that all seems well and good on the surface. And I agree with the commentor’s point — Ramsey’s system is not designed to be used by me. I have a handle on our finances. His system is the life buoy thrown from the coast guard ship to the people on the sinking vessel who don’t know how to get out of their situation. I buy that.

And I am also not arguing against the point that his system gets people out of debt. It does. But, like any system, it has flaws and could be improved. I have three major beefs with his system.

First, Dave wants you to pay off all of your debt with the debt snowball. For those that are not familiar this is where he tells you to pay the minimum payments on all of your debt, and any extra money you earn or find gets applied to the debt with the lowest balance first. He claims that finance is 80% psychology, 20% money or something like that. Paying off a few small bills give you a psychological boost to tackle the big debt.

While that may be true, it is mathematically flawed and ends up costing you money. A simple example: you have two credit cards with balances of $1,000 and 3,000. Card A ($1,000) has an interest rate of 9.99% and Card B ($3,000) has an interest 23%. Dave wants me to keep paying 23% interest while I knock out the first card. That makes absolutely no sense and is costing me money along the way.

My second beef with Ramsey is that he wants you to do steps 5 and 6 before step 7. This isn’t a major concern of mine, but I don’t think children’s education should come before retirement. For some people, saving 15% will set them up for life when they retire. For others, not so much. You can’t borrow for your retirement. You can borrow for your kid’s education. Remember that.

The third concern I have with Ramsey is his anti-credit card stance. This is my largest issue with the Dave Ramsey system.

I understand that there are people out there in the world that simply cannot manage a credit card safely. For those folks, I have no problem saying you should use cash and debit cards for the rest of your life.

However, I don’t understand why Dave’s system starts with getting out of debt and stopping the use of credit, and ends with building wealth… but continues the theme of not using credit. If his system was there to truly rehabilitate people, he would train them how to safely use credit.

This may seem minor to some people. So you’re missing out on $400 of free money per year. Big whoop, I can deal with that. But there are many extra benefits to using credit cards and if the person following his system is truly following it to a T, then it applies just as well to credit cards as it does to cash and debit cards.

The bottom line for me is just because I have a credit card, I don’t have to use it to buy things on credit. Technically, yes, I do. But I have the money sitting in my bank account waiting to pay the bill. So use your credit card like a debit card or a wad of cash. It’s all the same. It’s a representation of money. Again, I’m not saying every person on his plan could handle it. Obviously many can’t in our country. However, I think one of the final steps should be to reintroduce people to credit in a safe manner.

There are so many benefits to credit cards it just seems silly. I’ve talked about them in the past. It helps automate our finances. I pay most of our normal bills with the credit card (electronically), and pay one bill to the credit card company (electronically) at the end of the month. I’m not sending ten envelopes with checks to various companies, trying to time them correctly so I don’t overdraw my checking account. I get security when I travel or buy things online. If my card is stolen, no big deal. American Express steps up to the plate and takes care of me. If I’m on my honeymoon in Mexico and someone steals all of my cash… well, that’s a different story.

Dave Ramsey is a Great Guy

Let me finish by saying I like Dave Ramsey. He’s a Christian influence in the personal finance world. He’s a huge Tennessee Vols fan. We have a lot in common. But I do think that his system — like any system! — has it’s flaws.

What do you think? Is Ramsey a nut case, financial genius, or something in between?

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