Ramsey was born and raised in Antioch, Tennessee. He was a 1982 graduate of the College of Business Administration at University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a degree in Finance and Real Estate. At the age of 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 Ramsey’s 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 relief. Sixty days later another bank demanded nearly $800,000.
After recovering financially, Ramsey began counseling couples at his local church. Soon after offering private counseling services, Ramsey began attending every workshop and seminar on consumer financial problems that he could find. He developed a simple set of lessons and materials based partially on his own experience and on works and teachings by Larry Burkett, Ron Blue and Art Williams of A.L. Williams company now called Primerica. In 1992, after many requests from his clients, he wrote his first book, Financial Peace.
Ramsey is a devout Christian.
Ramsey has been married to his wife, Sharon, for over 30 years. They have three children: Denise, Rachel, and Daniel. The family resides in Winchester, Tennessee.
Ramsey supports the debt snowball method, where debtors pay off their lowest balance debt first instead of paying off their highest interest rate debt first. While this approach has been criticized by some, such as NerdWallet.com, other research such as that done by the Kellogg School of Management has found that the debt snowball method is generally effective. The article stated that the small victories give debtors motivation. A 2016 study by Harvard Business School also found people who used the snowball method to pay off their smallest account first paid down more of their debt than those who used other methods.
Ramsey states that investors can get a 12% average annual return and this is the number he uses in financial analyses. Critics state that using an average annual return rate is misleading and that the compound annual growth rate is a better measurement when planning investments. Most individuals are unaware of this difference. Critics have also stated that a 12% return is unrealistic. According to the Motley Fool, following Ramsey’s calculations could cause individuals to be seriously under-invested for retirement.
Ramsey recommends investors to hold all their investments in stock mutual funds, with no bonds, which has been criticized as stocks are more volatile than bonds. Ramsey recommends that retirees withdraw 8% of their retirement each year.
Ramsey recommends individuals buy term life insurance instead of cash value insurance or return of premium life insurance and invest the savings.
The Nashville Scene has reported that Ramsey occasionally receives emails and letters containing the red-letter Bible verse: “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Ramsey interprets such communications as a rebuke of his own wealth and a call for poverty, dismissing these letters as “doctrinal nitpicking.” He instead points to Matthew 25:13-30 and the good Samaritan as examples of being a good steward of money, and asks rhetorically how broke people can help the poor.
In 2010, Ramsey received criticism on social media sites for building a large and lavish home. He responded that the cost of the home was paid in cash, represented a very low percentage of his net worth, and had already been used to host many fundraisers for ministries, charities and community causes.