With a degree in finance from the University of Tennessee, Dave Ramsey was a millionaire at 30 and again at 40 but, in between, he lost everything. Now he crusades against credit to a radio audience of 2 million and growing, offering a how-to, step-by-step plan to eliminate debt.
60 Minutes sat in on the show on a day when listeners called in to perform what Ramsey called an "on-air plastectomy," which means chopping up their credit cards. Kenny from Mississippi used a blender to chop up his seven credit cards.
Ramsey: "Hey, dude, you know that might break the blender, don't you think?"
Kenny: "I don't care."
Ramsey: "Does your wife know this is happening?"
Kenny: "Yes, she's listening."
And when the noise of the blender came, Ramsey commented, "I'll bet that next daiquiri tastes different. Way to go, Kenny!"
For three hours a day, Ramsey takes calls from listeners he calls "typical Americans," buried under student loans, car payments and over $30,000 on their credit cards.
"This is not a game," says Ramsey. "Debt has become a part of who we are. It's become that spoiled child in the grocery store with their lip stuck out: 'I want it. I want it. I deserve it because I breathe air.' And, well, that's an uphill climb in our culture right now, to go against that and say, 'Hey, let's be grownups here. Let's be mature, learn to delay pleasure, save up and pay for things.'"
Ramsey is tough on his listeners, but he's also a harsh critic of car dealers and bankers who hand out easy money and 5.2 billion credit card offers a year, even to people they know can't make the payments, playing on their self-esteem.
Says Ramsey, "It's kind of like, still, 'I'm somebody because they called me. Oh, oh, I'm a platinum! Look at me.'"
Companies will offer credit cards even to dogs and dead people. Ramsey says: "Consumers got to wake up and just say no."
He's a stand-up comic, a noodge about debt. Ramsey takes his show on the road, drawing in some 40,000 people a year, often in churches. His message is both old-fashioned and radical: Save money for a rainy day (as most Americans don't) and don't spend more than you earn (as most Americans do).