Forgive us our debts: National program helps people get grip on finances

akennedy@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 9, 2011 

  • IF YOU GO:

    What: Financial Peace University class preview

    Where: St. Paul United Methodist Church, 2101 Wildwood Ave.

    When: 9:45 a.m. Sunday, then the 13-week course begins Aug. 3 (6 p.m.)

    For more information: 706-327-7419

    More upcoming classes in the area:

    July 18: Faith Fellowship Church, 1118 C 280 Bypass, Phenix City, 334-298-3545

    Aug. 17: Trinity United Methodist, 800 Second Ave., Opelika, Ala., 334-298-4140

    Aug. 28: Beallwood Baptist Church, 4519 Hamilton Road, 706-322-2709

    Sept. 11: MyChurch, 6720 Flat Rock Road, Midland, 706-221-8668

    Sept. 11: Calvary Freewill Baptist Church, 6165 Billings Road, 706-563-7031

    Note: Each class costs $99. This is a “lifetime” membership in that you can take it more than once.

When Amanda and Jonathan Hicks moved to Columbus 2½ years ago, they were deeply in debt and looking for a church. When they found St. Mark United Methodist, Amanda spotted an announcement about Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. She’d heard of it before when the couple lived in the Atlanta area.

She took it as a sign.

“I said, ‘We need to go through that,’ ” said Amanda, an account manager for Omega Financial. The Hickses went through the 13-week course in 2009.

Now, the couple is just $700 shy of paying off $42,000 in debt. That total included credit cards and their car payments. Next they’ll focus on paying off school loans.

“You have to decide what’s important,” Amanda said. “We cut back on a lot of things that used to be so important.”

For her, that meant no more bi-monthly pedicures and occasional massages.

A preview class for Financial Peace University is Sunday at St. Paul United Methodist. The 13-week class begins there Aug. 3.

Though Ramsey is a Christian, and this particular program is Christian-based, the overall teaching can be for anyone who wants to get personal or family spending under control, Ramsey has said.

The Rev. John Fugh, associate pastor of St. Paul, went through the class about five years ago with his wife, Lisa.

“His main push is getting out of debt and living within your means,” Fugh said of Ramsey’s teaching.

A practical way to achieve that is budgeting and using envelopes with cash for various funds, the minister said.

“We’ve been doing that for awhile,” he said, “even though some days and some months we slip up.”

Dave Ramsey, 50, is a financial author, radio host, television personality and motivational speaker.

His syndicated radio program, “The Dave Ramsey Show” is promoted with a tagline: “It’s about your life and your money,” and airs on more than 450 radio stations throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as on XM and Sirius satellite radio. He has written numerous books. The most recent is “Entreleadership.” It’s about how he grew his company from his living room table, with practical tips for starting a business.

Ramsey’s company, The Lampo Group, is headquartered in Brentwood, Tenn., and includes three divisions geared toward financial counseling. He founded it in 1992.

Ramsey has been featured on many media outlets including The Oprah Winfrey Show, 60 Minutes and The Early Show on CBS. Until last summer, he was the host of The Dave Ramsey Show on the Fox Business Network.

He was born and raised in Antioch, Tenn. Ramsey graduated in 1982 from the College of Business Administration at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. By the time he was 26, through his brokerage firm, Ramsey Investments, Inc., he built a rental real estate portfolio worth more than $4 million and became one of Tennessee’s youngest brokers to be admitted to the Graduate Realtors Institute.

Ramsey’s success soon came to an end as the Tax Reform Act of 1986 began to have a negative impact on the real estate business. One of his largest creditors was sold to a larger bank, which began to take a harder look at Ramsey’s borrowing habits. The bank demanded he pay $1.2 million worth of short-term notes within 90 days, forcing him to file for bankruptcy.

Ramsey then began counseling couples at his church. Soon after offering private counseling services, Ramsey began attending every workshop and seminar on consumer financial problems that he could. He developed a simple set of lessons and materials based partially on his own experience and on works and teachings by Larry Burkett and Ron Blue. In 1992, after many requests from his clients, he wrote his first book, “Financial Peace.”

In 1994 at the Lampo Group, Ramsey hired Russ Carroll, Ramsey’s lead financial counselor, and together they began teaching the first Financial Peace University classes on overhead projectors. Between 1999 and 2004, The Lampo Group grew from 18 to 105 employees. Now there are about 300.

Ramsey runs his business completely debt-free, an accomplishment he says was critical to the success of his company.

Ramsey created Financial Peace University, a 13-week video training series for adults, and a companion series targeted at teenagers that has been offered in schools across the country. Some topics covered in the series are cash flow planning, investing, saving, credit, retirement and giving.

Columbus native Karen Cooper, who works for TSYS in Arizona, went through Financial Peace University at a Lawrenceville church in 2006.

“You learn that you didn’t get into debt quickly and that you just have to follow some simple steps to get out of debt,” Cooper said in a recent interview from Arizona. After college, Cooper managed her family’s business, Cooper’s Crafts. After it closed in 1999, she went to work for TSYS.

“I was living penny to penny,” said Cooper, who’s just a “few thousand” dollars short of being debt-free. (The irony’s not lost on Cooper that she works for a credit card processing company.) Cooper is nearing the end of a 13-week class, which she’s facilitated at her Phoenix church, Desert Foothills United Methodist.

“It has given me a discipline,” she said of the program. “You learn that you have to give every penny in your budget a purpose. ... If you don’t put a label on it, it spends itself.”

Allison Kennedy, 706-576-6237

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