Suze Orman Gives Dave Ramsey the Financial Smackdown: Whose Side are You On? – Frugal Confessions

Suze Orman Gives Dave Ramsey the Financial Smackdown: Whose Side are You On?

Two Saturday nights ago I had settled in for a long stretch of great financial television: Suze Orman’s show at eight followed by Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s ‘Til Debt Do Us Part at nine. Suze’s Moneylogue that night was called “Don’t be Debt Dumb”, during which she called out a “so-called financial pundit” she had tuned in to watch on television at an earlier time. Her lip curled and she gritted her teeth in distaste as she recalled literally screaming at this man through her television screen because he was touting “the dumbest debt pay-off strategy” she has ever heard. Listening more closely in between spoonfuls of Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice-cream, I was intrigued. Who was this “so-called financial pundit”, this master puppeteer of dumb debt strategy that Suze so disgustfully despised?

As Suze unveiled more details about his debt pay down strategy—pay off the credit card with the lowest balance first, forget about interest rates, psychologically feel good—my eyes widened. Suze never named the man during the segment, but anyone that knows his financial advice could clearly make out who she was referring to: Dave Ramsey.

Suze’s Advice

Suze’s debt pay down strategy is very logical and certainly makes good financial sense. Line up credit cards from the highest interest to the lowest interest. Call your credit card companies to see if you can get interest rates lowered (though she advises that this is not likely they will work with you in the current economy). Try to do a balance transfer from your highest rate credit cards to a credit union card with a much lower interest rate (the most credit unions can charge you in interest is 18% if they are federally chartered; still a whopping figure). Pay the minimum on each of your credit card debts, and then put any extra money onto the one with the highest interest rate card. Once the highest rate interest card is paid off, then you move the money you were putting towards that debt onto the next highest interest rate card, and thus continue with your debt snowball in that fashion.

Dave Ramsey’s Advice

Dave Ramsey is all about behavior modification and the psychological wins. He advises you to list out your debts from the smallest balance to the highest balance despite the interest rates (in fact, in his book Total Money Makeover he states, “I don’t care if some have 24 percent interest and others 4 percent”…the only time to pay off a larger debt sooner than a smaller one is some kind of big-time emergency such as owing the IRS and having them come after you, or in situations where there will be a foreclosure if you don’t pay it off.”) By paying off the smaller debts first and having some big wins in the beginning, you will get “fired up” and be more apt to stick with the program. Just as in Suze’s model, as you pay off each debt (from smallest to largest in balance) you then use the money you were paying towards the debts that are now paid off and throw them at the debt balance that is next in line.

My Take

I was a bit taken aback by her attack, quite honestly. I want people to pay off their debts and live debt-free, and how they accomplish this doesn’t really matter to me. The method is not as important as the outcome. Living debt free is an amazing feeling; Paul and I accomplished this (aside from our mortgage) last September using a hybrid approach between Suze Orman’s plan of paying off the loans with the highest interest rate first and Dave Ramsey’s strategy of paying down debt from the lowest balance the to highest balance. Since then we have built our emergency fund up to its fullest, begun investing in an index fund, opened up a “large expense” saving account for things like our next car purchase (not for years hopefully), and opened up a vacation fund. Being debt-free is allowing us to save ahead of every purchase, save up for large expenses, and spend on the things and experiences that we value the most.

We are all different, and what may work for me may not work for you and vice versa. In my opinion, having as many viable and effective options available as possible is best.

Which debt reduction plan do you think is best? Have you used one over the other, or have you used something different? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What Kind of Grade Would you Get on Suze Orman’s “How Am I Doing” Segment?

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57 comments… add one

  • Diana B

    I saw that Suze episode as well, and even though I don’t follow him at all, I knew she was talking about Dave Ramsey. The way she reacted to his approach was over-the-top but I think that’s the way she is. She’s always been really feisty, you know? But even though she over reacted, I think she’s right. It’s pretty dumb to pay off a 0% loan before a 25% loan just because the loan amount is smaller (that even makes it MORE dumb). I understand that Dave R. uses this technique probably because many people who got themselves into this situation in the first place have a difficult time ever digging themselves out at all. So if something like this will eventually work then it’s a better technique than doing nothing. But if you have any self-motivation than it’s always better to pay off higher interest loans first.

    • FruGal

      I like her fiestiness…but it was a bit much:). I am glad I am not the only one who thought “Dave Ramsey” while watching that episode–I haven’t seen anyone else comment about it in the financial blogosphere!

    • Adam

      It would seem crazy to pay off a 0% before debt before a 25% debt, but that is a pretty extreme example. How often does a person have a loan with a 0% debt? And if they do, it will usually change to a higher percentage in only a matter of months.

      If managing money was only about numbers, people wouldn’t be in debt. Because managing money is mostly about behavior, the quick “pick-me-ups” in the beginning of paying off debt are all that much more important.

      • Jeff

        Well I just finished Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book on tape. I found it interesting, however I am one of those that has a zero percent loan and a couple of those much higher ones. It is absolutely a dumb idea to pay off a zero percent loan prior to loans that are at 25% or higher rate first.

        • FruGal

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts Jeff!

          • Ike Andrews


            If 80 percent of getting out of debt is changing you behavior, then you have about a 20 percent chance of success with your plan. Clearly you have no discipline or very little if you have that much credit card debt. The odds are you will just “give up” after a year or less of making payments and not seeing one of your cards get paid off. Suze Orman is an idiot. This is a person who told someone on TV yesterday it was ok for her Dad to take out a $47,000 line of credit against his home to pay off his daughters student loans. Also the daughter admitted this would put her father in a terrible position and he could not afford to do it! Suze is telling people to borrow money to pay off money? As Dave says you can’t borrow your way out of debt.
            Suze is clearly scared of and intimidated by Dave because she wants to be the top money advice giver out there and she knows she cannot even lace up Dave’s shoes on her best day. That would explain the verbal attack on his style. Most people who start throwing verbal jabs are the jealous and insecure ones.
            Suze is smart on some money things but overall she is just an annoying “blowhard” who is flat out wrong and jealous of Dave Ramsey/

  • I agree with you. She was a little obnoxious about the whole thing. Quite frankly, whatever way you choose, as long as you get out of debt, is the right way for you.
    Sharon recently posted..April Challenge- Keeping organized and the value of lists

    • FruGal

      Hi Sharon!

      Thank you for your thoughts.

  • I like them both. This may have indirectly been an acknowledgement from her that Dave Ramsey is coming on fast as the co-leader among financial/debt advisors to the general public. Michelle Singletary might be third in that race.

    • Sandra

      I think with Dave you see that you do not have to finance your purchases your entire life as many people do.

      I wish I knew about him before I entered adulthood.

      • FruGal

        Hi Sandra!

        Yes–it is very freeing to know that there is another way besides “buy now pay later”. It’s great to be able to pay with cash on everything! (okay…or pay with rewards-earning credit card and then pay with cash before the grace period is up:)).

    • FruGal

      Good thought–I am not sure who is ahead in popularity. Dave Ramsey is pretty big here in Texas.

  • Sandra

    In my race against debt, I tried Suze’s method first. But I wasn’t fired up until I followed Dave’s method. Suze tries to work with credit card snares (like balance transfers) and I just wanted to see progress immediately. I felt much more hopeful with Dave’s approach once I saw a zero balance.

    But just as long as you get it done and stay motivated, people should choose whatever works for them.

  • I agree with you! It does not matter how you do it, just do it. Although this is one of the reasons, we have 100s if not 1,000s of diet books. There are many ways to solve the problem.
    krantcents recently posted..2011 Quarterly Goals Update

  • I agree with you. The point is to get the debt paid off. Neither method (either smallest balance or highest rate first) is perfect for everyone. No matter which one you like, you still need to look at the individual situation.

  • I didn’t see the episode, but the snarkyness may be counterproductive.
    101 Centavos recently posted..Spreadsheet Geekery- Gas Prices and Last Week’s Recommended Links

  • Jaime

    I agree with Dave’s method. Since you get fired up and get out of debt as quickly as possible (like a gazelle running from a cheetah) a few dollars in interest is insignificant when all is said and done. However, the intensity has to be there. If you’re trying to wander out of debt someday without great focus, then you might try Suze’s way.

  • tina

    I wondered if she was talking about him! When my husband and I paid off about $15,000 in debt, we started with the smallest balances first regardless of interest rate. It was really encouraging to just be done with them, plus as we paid them off we just added the additional on to the big debt. I think once you have made up your mind, either way works. The big balance was just too much at first, we had to show ourselves we could do it, those paid in full bills kept us going. Sometimes Suze Orman drives me careful, I really like Dave Ramsey’s personality but my favorite is Gail Vax-Oxlade.

    Love your blog!

  • tina

    I meant she drives me crazy!! LOL!

  • Rob

    I agree with whatever approach works for you. By the numbers, you’ll likely end up paying less in interest by paying down the high interest cards first. But if you need the psychological boost of closing out an account quickly, then paying down the smallest debt serves.

    Ultimately you have to be true to your own temperament and follow the strategy that works best for you, even if you have to create the strategy yourself.

  • Melissa

    I think either method will work for debt repayment, but overall I prefer Suze’s advice to Dave’s. Suze seems to consider individual situations when giving financial advice while Dave just has a cut and dry answer for every situation without considering the individual variables, in my opinion.
    Melissa recently posted..TLC&8217s Extreme Couponing &8211 If You Don&8217t Use It- It Is Still Wasteful Even If It is Free

    • alice o'hara

      The reason Dave Ramsey suggests starting with the smallest debt first, regardless of interest rate, is because when you are finished with the smallest debt you add the minimum payment for that debt and attack the next highest debt and so on and so on. By this approach you will pay off your debts sooner without paying more. Mary Hunt also advises this approach and illustrates how much sooner all the debts are paid off than using a different approach.

  • Ramsey is right. Orman is wrong.
    Jason recently posted..Diversification – An Investor’s Muscles

    • Michael

      Both Dave and “Suze” are wrong. Notably, Suze has advised to first build an 8 month reserve before paying off debt. That’s far more suboptimal than anything Dave has said. She has also advised to line up all debts from highest rate to lowest rate, identify minimum payments, then decide how much can be allocated to debt reduction. At that point, she has said to add $10 to each minimum and THEN add the rest to the highest rate card. So she’s sub-optimal in two respects.

      Dave’s approach is pure psychology and assumes the rational approach will not work.

      The rational approach lacks one thing that both Dave and Suze offer, which is an appropriate amount to save as cash before starting to pay off debt. So in that respect, the rational approach is wrong, too.

      The only approach that works, is one that works for you. There are benefits to all of the programs, even the dumb parts. For instance, in Dave’s favor, he suggests a small cash reserve ($1,000) first then paying smallest debt first. That results in the fastest reduction in minimum payments, and it reduces the number of checks to write, the number of mailed payments to track and the opportunities for something to go wrong resulting in those dreaded fees. So if you have multiple small debts, the Dave approach may be a good idea (though it will only accidentally ever be “optimal”).

      Suze’s advice of paying the extra $10 works on the assumption that you’re likely to cheat yourself by under-paying on the highest rate debt which you are putting the accelerated payments toward. So she has you accelerating all debts in a bit of a stealthy way. That and her advice to build a big emergency fund if you are at risk of losing your income is very good advice, even in good economic times. Because no matter how good it is for some, every single day someone is going through a financial tragedy.

      The key when picking YOUR strategy, because whether you use Dave, Suze or some other schmuck, the moment you start working the plan, you’ll make it your way in some respect, the key is to make sure that you are honest with yourself about how motivated you are. If you need rewards to motivate yourself, then build them into your strategy.

      The Dave approach does that by letting you cut up your cards to start, then by burning closing statements early and often along the way. I’ve heard some suggest making a debt chain, with each piece of paper link in the chain representing a unit of debt. As you pay off, you remove the links from the chain, shortening it.

      If you have small kids, it may be fun when you’re taking the links off to turn the music up and form a conga line, marching the link around the house, dancing like fools and then ceremonially retire the debt, either in a fireplace, or by making some art out of it. Do SOMETHING to make this an event that everyone in the house is happy and excited to contribute to.

      Whatever it takes, get to zero consumer debt. Then stay there and build a positive net worth which is your financial security.

  • buy silver

    Ramsey even freely admits that his method is mathematically incorrect.He teaches whats called the debt snowball meaning that when paying off your debts you should list your payments from smallest to largest and pay minimum payments on all of your debts except the smallest one which you should attack with a vengeance. Ramsey then says that you should simply go up the list from smallest to largest until all of your debts are paid.Other financial counselors disagree with Ramsey and argue that you should pay off your debts from the highest interest rate to the lowest interest rate.

  • I didn’t see the show, but am surprised she would publicly diss his method.

    It’s good to have choices and they both have worked for people. I like both and take a little from both, but did use Dave’s method of paying off debts — lowest balance to highest. That’s why the student loan is the last one I’m working on.
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  • I like Suze, but even she makes mistakes. I distinctly remember her telling her viewers to move into cash when the stock market was very very close to the lows! If people followed her advice, they would have cashed out when the market was at the bottom…

    I’ve never read Dave Ramsey, but I know a bit about him from just reading other blogger’s posts.

    Personal Debt is more than math, it’s also about the confidence to overcome obstacles. I think Dave’s approach would work well for many people, but not for me personally though. I don’t think Suze should criticize Dave, but I’m in the same camp as her on this one. I would pay off my most expensive credit cards first (those charging me the most via interest).

    So they are both right in their approach, but Suze is wrong in her attack… Personal finances is personal, and if one way works better for you then go for it! Dave has been in deep debt and is conveying what he perceives works best for him. Based on his experience, he’s the real deal, so how can he be disputed…

    Shame on you Suze (lol, any listener to Suze know that she says the “Shame on you” line).
    Money Reasons recently posted..Is Buy And Hold Investing Dead

    • Michael

      Without proof, I believe that Suze’s beef with Dave relates to his stated disdain for one of her sponsors, FICO. According to Suze, the road to financial happiness is a plump FICO score. According to Dave, a plump FICO score means you’ve been in debt, which is not necessarily a good thing (to Dave).

      Suze is as capable of craven self-interest as anyone.

  • I personally chose Suze’s route when it came to debt reduction. Every dollar of interest saved was worth something to me, but I think Dave’s approach is valid too.

    I think if you’re paying off debt, no matter what your style, you are moving in the right direction.

    • FruGal

      I agree with you completely. We leaned towards Suze’s plan as well, but I also own the Total Money Makeover and have read it cover to cover, intrigued.

  • Sometimes I watch them, not regularly though. Ramsey, Orman and others on channels like CNBC scream a lot. Whenever I watch them, I hear their screaming and not what they are saying.

    They are all in it for the ratings. They don’t give a shit whether you listen to them or not as long as Mr. Nielsen & company tells them people are watching.

    They are in it for the money. The more they scream the more money they make.
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  • optionsdude

    I think that either piece of advice is correct. A lot depends upon the temperament of the individual. There is a lot to be said for starting out with a small balance and notching some psychological victories. You wouldn’t start a dyslexic reading “War and Peace”. You would start with “Cat in the Hat”.
    optionsdude recently posted..Still Receiving Dividends

  • I like the way Trent Hamm addressed this issue in his book The Simple Dollar — he outlined both strategies, explained their pros and cons, and left it up to the reader to decide, through introspection, which one would work best for them.
    Paula @ recently posted..Money Doesn’t Care Where It Comes From

  • I did the Suze method, which is why my student loan is next to last. However, whatever works for people works. Attacking Dave Ramsey just makes her look insecure or jealous.
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  • Kirk

    Dave Ramsey is a Christian, has been a millionaire, lost everything due to debt, became a millionaire again, and has counselled thousands of people.

    Suze Orman is a Public Television mainstay, does not purport to have a Christian world view and applies a lot of common sense ideas to handling money.

    Both of them have good things to say, but it is important to understand where is someone is coming from. Not just what they are saying. Suze does not really tell us what her agenda is, but Dave freely shares.

    I guess you could say one has worldly advice and the other Biblical advice.

    • Jason

      I think both Ramsey & Orman’s agendas are self-evident. They’re both as much about enriching themselves as helping people, IMO.

      I’ve never cared for Suze Orman – dunno why, she just bugs me. I listened to and liked Dave Ramsey for quite a while (though I don’t share his particular religious bent), but he lost me when he attacked Clark Howard on-air. It was a comment made almost in passing, but to me it spoke volumes.

      He basically suggested that Clark was okay w/ people using credit cards because he was in the pocket of the CC companies – if I remember right, it was something along the lines of “What credit card is he promoting now?”

      Thing is…Clark Howard doesn’t do paid endorsements. Of any kind. Meanwhile, Dave Ramsey, while dispensing some sound advice, is also one of the biggest hucksters on the radio.

  • Gary

    Either approach will work, if you apply it.

    I find Dave Ramsey to be extremely knowledgable and dedicated to his mission but I personally cannot listen to his Podcast anymore because he refers time and time again to the bible and religion – something which for me is very offputting (I’m English and it’s a cultural thing).

    Still, if you follow his plan, or Suze’s you will get out of debt.

    • FruGal

      Hi Gary!

      You are correct that any method will work, as long as you follow it through. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • I want to listen to Suze but that stuff she does with her hands makes me crazy. It makes me wonder if she would be rendered mute if she sat on her hands. Also, that “girlfriend” affectation is really irritating.

  • Suze is clearly right mathematically. Paying down lower interest balances first is a mental accounting error where you treat some money as being different than other money – in this case, just because the account balance the money came from is lower than other account balances you have.

    On the other hand, if people can’t psychologically bring themselves to do the optimal thing, then paying something down is better than no action at all.
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  • Adam Simpson

    I don’t own a television and knew nothing about Suze Orman’s comment about Dave Ramsey, although I’m familiar with both of their writing’s on handling debt. I happen to be, literally right now, watching Orman as a guest on Piers Morgan’s show on CNN. While they were discussing the DOW’s recent streak of record breaking and what’s going on in the economy, she mentions that people who have a job and are seeing the value of their 401(k)’s consistently increasing and this is “making them feel good” and this “feeling” is making them feel good about their situation and the economy is benefiting from the increased spending that results. So, although she really doesn’t like the ‘mathematically un-sound’ advice of Ramsey, she does recognize the importance of how we feel about our situation.

    I find it interesting she doesn’t see that many people need to take an approach that encourages them, or makes them feel good as they get rid of their debt. Most of the people that have gotten themselves into this dilemma need this encouragement, rather than just declaring bankruptcy.

  • Amanda, nice article. :-)

    I am remembering some 4-6 years ago, when Suze used to suggest not to pay down debt if you could have it at 0%, but invest it in the stock market.
    Although I think she’s usually over the top, she does have some pretty good stuff every once in a while.
    Heck, when I look back on my life, I too can remember going through the process of thinking it didn’t make any sense to focus on paying the debt down before trying to put money into the market. I’ve since rescinded that thought and have a balanced approach to paying down debt versus putting money into the markets. With 4 kiddos to feed (and spend extra money on that I probably wouldn’t do otherwise), it is a balancing act that only a parent can understand. Although I’m trying to change that by suggesting to our kids that they don’t go into debt for anything, except possibly a house and/or education that will pay off in a reasonable amount of time.
    Chris recently posted..How the number of shares affects your investment choices

    • FruGal

      Thank you Chris!

      Isn’t it amazing how quickly financial times have changed? Makes me think that we should always be more conservative with our financial decisions (such as pay off debt over investing) than not.

  • Andrew Hallam

    Why do you consider yourself “debt free” if you still have a mortgage? By carrying a mortgage and investing in an index fund you are borrowing to invest (leverage) which is very dangerous indeed. I wouldn’t feel so warm and fuzzy if I were in your position. By the way of course Ramsey is wrong. Why carry a 20% plus debt whilst paying off a 4% debt? Common sense, it seems, is not so common.

    • While true on the surface, some of that depends upon how much is owed as well Andrew.
      After all, carrying $1,000 @ 20% is only bad as say $5,000 @ 4%. :-)
      Chris recently posted..Vehicle maintenance choices to make

      • Andrew Hallam

        I suppose that comes down to whether you would rather have $160 (4% of $4000) or nothing. I would rather have the money.

      • Andrew Hallam

        … and that’s just in 1 year! Imagine if it were compounded over, say, 20 years. Chris, be very careful thinking so simplistically!

  • CC

    >Suze’s debt pay down strategy is very logical and certainly makes good financial sense.

    If people understood logic and finances, they wouldn’t be over their heads in debt in the first place.

  • Cynthia

    Does anyone know of good financial advisors?? Really need some financial advising

    • FruGal

      Hello Cynthia,

      I do not know of any to recommend. If you have specific questions, though I am not a financial advisor, you can always email me at frugalconfessions[@]

  • Dave Stagemeyer

    Suze Orman is not even a licensed Broker.

  • greg

    Orman advise is common sense. Ramsey’s is psycho manipulation. By her advise you come out finacially better off. With his you’re a still a loser with but with boosted self-esteem.

  • Bryan

    I have listened to Dave long enough to know that his advice is based on experience. He once took Suze’s approach when he started out because it was mathematically sound. What he didn’t realize is that it people are not. Therefore people were failing. He then adjusted his teachings to his current method and the rest is history.
    I don’t know this lady, nor do I need to. I am debt free and I will always be grateful to God (oops, did I offend someone?) for placing Dave Ramsey into my life.

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