Dave Ramsey knows how to capture your attention. Normally he uses that skill in the service of doling out financial advice to the more than 7. 7 million people who tune in to his radio show every week, which makes him the third-most-popular radio personality in the country, behind Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and ahead of Glenn Beck. Or to the thousands more who throng to his live events, like his planned appearance at a 3,000-seat arena in New Jersey in November. Where Should You Invest Their Money June, however, Ramsey took to Twitter and engaged a very different audience: financial advisers. I help more people in 10 min.
Ramsey tweeted at a group of advisers in response to a discussion they had kicked off about him. Strong words, but so were those of the advisers. Ramsey’s tweet sparked more debate online, in barbed blog posts from other advisers and investment writers. Which goes to show that Ramsey is one of the most compelling figures in the world of financial advice, as well as a polarizing one. When MONEY readers were asked in a recent survey whom they would most want to read more about, Ramsey ranked near the top. It makes sense: He’s an eloquent, relentless preacher for habits any reader of this magazine would embrace, like saving a lot, staying out of debt, and planning for the long run.
Yet he gives investment advice that drives many financial advisers crazy, and with some cause. In Ramseyland, you can let everything ride on equities, and the bull market of the 1980s and ’90s goes on forever. Ramsey’s scrap with advisers is also over who are best qualified to give investment advice — and how they should be paid. The radio star has aligned himself, and part of his business, with brokers who earn commissions selling mutual funds with front-end sales charges. Ramsey’s origin story of collapse and rebuilding, told again and again on his radio show and at live events, has become the cornerstone of his popular appeal. By the time Ramsey was 26, he has written, he had become a real estate millionaire, but the leverage inherent in the business caught up with him.
Ultimately, Ramsey has said, he had to declare bankruptcy. Ramsey, who declined to be interviewed for this story, attaches a simple lesson to this: Debt is corrosive, almost to the point of being a moral failure. Ramsey, 53, got his start in radio with a show in Nashville in 1992. By the time he came to the attention of the coastal elites in the mid-2000s, his show was already a national force, with 2 million listeners. Ramsey tells people that no matter the state of their financial lives, there is hope for recovery if they will just take responsibility and start to take action.
Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers, a radio-industry trade magazine, and someone who has followed Ramsey for years. His core message is of culture: We are a society that is drowning in debt. The radio stations that carry his show are in debt. The government that provides the airwaves for the radio show is in debt. Ramsey’s credibility is a valuable commodity. Zander Insurance Group, a Nashville-based company that sells term life insurance, has Ramsey’s face and warm endorsement plastered all over its website. Ramsey also lends his name to a mortgage company, a business that buys gold, and family web-filtering software.
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