Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The advice is general, not specific

I Googled recently for Dave Ramsey's credit card study information and found lots of blogs spreading anti-Dave Ramseyisms and I realized that people just don't get it. Dave Ramsey provides general advice which can be applied to everyone. That doesn't mean every piece of advice is the best for everyone, but its good for everyone. For example, someone called in to his show a couple month's ago and asked about 529s. He admitted on the show that not all 529s are bad, but some of them are so its easy to just say avoid them all. Looking into it, I found that some states limit investment choices and charge high fees for their 529s. If you are in a state where you can invest in a mutual fund with a long track record (10-15 years) that has low fees and get a tax deduction for doing so, I believe he would say that is a good choice. But, since not all states and 529 plans are like that, its easier to suggest other investment methods when they exist and also are tax advantaged.

Other areas where I think he gives general advice are the amount to save on retirement and never to use credit cards. The amount to save for retirement he suggests is 15% (once consumer debt is paid off) of your gross income. Advice can't possibly be global like that and perfect for everyone no matter their age, salary, and family situation. So, he gives the best rule of thumb, 15%. You can calculate how much you will need for your particular lifestyle, salary, and age and probably come up with a better figure for yourself. But, if you can't figure it out, 15% of gross will probably work.

Another example is credit cards. Dave says the following:

You’re also paying more. A study by Dunn and Bradstreet showed that the credit card user spends 12 to 18% more when using credit instead of cash. After McDonald’s began taking credit cards, they found that people spent $5 to $7 more per sale.

If someone was disciplined and got a credit card purely for gas purchases making 5% cash back (instead of rewards they will never use)...I doubt they would buy 12-18% more gas just because they are using the credit card or they will buy gas from places with 12-18% higher prices than they would have with using cash or a debit card. The fact is most Americans are not this disciplined. So, a better general rule is to avoid the credit card altogether.

Would Dave agree with that? Not sure, but I believe it :-)

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