Personal finance guru Dave Ramsey works in his broadcast studio in 2006. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Did you know that Dave Ramsey is actually the third highest rated talk radio host in America? He has a listening audience of more than two million people. His message is well received in the Christian community, and churches pay him millions of dollars every year to share his financial ignorance with the masses.

No matter what we think of this guy’s advice, people love him! For years, I tried going head to head with him in churches and through radio and television, telling people how wrong he is. I even went toe to toe with other members of the academic community who fell victim to the one-size-fits-all message. Colleges and churches are so focused on this guy’s message of being debt-free, they can’t see the reality beyond it.

But here is why we must embrace Dave Ramsey if we are to ever get our message of true financial literacy out to the people who need it.

What I’ve noticed, when dealing with Ramsey’s loyal followers, is that they are oblivious to any true financial understanding. They simply hear the “debt free” message and feel that is the brass ring.

Since so many people are buried in debt these days and have no real education on how they got there or how to get out, they grasp at anything that sounds practical. This is where I’ll actually give Ramsey high marks. He does a good job helping people in low-income jobs and the uneducated cut their expenses and live within their means.

Even though we all know that debt can be the greatest wealth generator (i.e., using other people’s money) we must also keep in mind that this is the type of information that, when placed in the wrong hands, could be harmful. If we give someone with no self-discipline the idea of how to use debt for good, they could use it the same way politicians do. They could see it as an open-ended credit card and eventually realize financially devastating results.

Accurate financial information is like fire — it can be used to create a comfortable environment for us, or it can be used to burn down the house. If used improperly or without proper guidance from an expert, introducing some people to certain financial concepts could be worse than not knowing at all.

By now, you’re asking, “Why should we embrace Dave Ramsey as an expert, and on what authority?”

I’m glad you asked. I’ve learned that if we approach one of his cult-like followers with a message of how wrong he is about financial topics, we are hit with a brick wall and basically shut out from further dialogue.

If, on the other hand, we agree with these people and acknowledge the great work Ramsey has done in the field of financial education, we are accepted as a supporter. These people now find common ground with us. Now we can slowly begin to introduce new thoughts to them beyond the basic debt-free message.

Think about it. Aren’t you more likely to listen to someone with whom you have common ground and agree with on a certain topic? That’s what I’m talking about here. We all recognize that Ramsey has no clue about anything beyond telling people to sell everything and live on rice and beans until they save enough money to do what he wants them to do.

When we think about it, though, don’t we want people to have access to some money when they come to us? Don’t we want people to visit our offices because they realize there might be more to life than just being debt-free? Don’t we want to be viewed as a trusted source for financial facts, and not dismissed as an angry insurance agent with an axe to grind?

You’ve all read my articles on this subject before. You know I can’t stand the uninformed and ridiculous message regurgitated by this arrogant radio guy. What we must agree on, though, if we truly want people to move beyond that “buy term and invest the rest” mentality, is that we care enough about those people to try to understand them.

If we emotionally connect with the people where they are in their life, we can help guide them to where they eventually want to go. If we try to tell them how wrong they are to follow someone they love, we will only drive them further away and never get a chance to help them have that “aha” moment for themselves.

 

For more, see:

What Justin Bieber can teach you about your practice

What most retirement gurus get wrong

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