MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To Greece now, where that country's economic outlook has improved, but it will take a long time before its books are in order. The Greek government is facing a problem a lot of ordinary people can relate to: too much debt and not enough money coming in. So David Kestenbaum with our Planet Money team called up a well-known personal finance guru to get some advice for Greece.
DAVID KESTENBAUM: If you've got credit card debt or teenagers who overspend, there is always one place you can go, one man you know can help you out.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of TV show, "The Dave Ramsey Show")
Unidentified Man: Live from Financial Peace Plaza, it's "The Dave Ramsey Show," (unintelligible) cash is king.
KESTENBAUM: Dave Ramsey, mega popular radio host, TV host, author of multiple books, balancer of family checkbooks. And starting right here, informal financial adviser for Greece.
Mr. DAVE RAMSEY (Host, Financial Adviser): Hi, how are you?
KESTENBAUM: Hi, good. Thank you so much for doing this. Greece, really, is not so different from the mothers, retirees, small business owners who call into his radio show behind on their bills. I explained to Dave that I have this friend I'm calling because I have a friend who's in he's in a lot, a lot, a lot of debt.
Mr. RAMSEY: Okay. How much?
KESTENBAUM: $405 billion.
Mr. RAMSEY: Wow, that's a little bit. So, what's his annual income?
KESTENBAUM: He's a pretty high wage earner, actually, $343 billion.
Mr. RAMSEY: So he owes more than he makes in a year? Wow. So, we're throwing around billions, but, I mean, let's just put that in perspective. This is a guy making $100,000 a year who owes 150,000 in credit card debt.
(Soundbite of scream)
KESTENBAUM: Greece borrows money not using a credit card, but by issuing bonds. It's the same kind of thing, though. Until recently the interest rate on its bonds was up to 12 percent, like having very high monthly payments. And Greece got into this mess because it was overspending, splurging on salaries and pensions it couldn't afford.
It's okay for governments to have some debt. A government may need to borrow to build things like roads or shipping ports or power plants, but you want your economy to grow as a result so you can pay that money back. And Greece just isn't growing that fast.
Here's Dave's analysis.
Mr. RAMSEY: The ratio you look at when you're trying to get anyone out of debt, whether it's a company, a country or an individual, is what we call the ratio of shovel to hole. How much of a hole are you in versus the shovel you've got? Well, he's got a year plus of his entire wages to clean up debt. So this is going to take a decade of deep sacrifice.
KESTENBAUM: I tell Dave that my friend has some options.
He's part of a powerful family: the European Union, who is very angry with him, in part because he lied about his financial troubles for a while. Greece underreported its deficit.
But my friend's family really wants him to pull through, so they are willing to bail him out, which they are doing to the tune of $100 billion. Dave isn't so sure getting rescued by Mom, Dad or Germany, is such a good idea.
Mr. RAMSEY: Well, let's say your teenager came home from college and unbeknownst to you, in secret, has run up $50,000 in credit card debt, which they can do now in college. If I just write junior a check for 50,000 and bail him out and he has no pain as a result of his misbehavior and he doesn't change his wicked ways, were I to put cash into that, I'd be called an enabler. I'd be giving a drunk a drink.
KESTENBAUM: David Ramsey says he'd put some belt tightening condition on any parental bailout, which is what the international community is doing. But Dave says that's not enough.
Mr. RAMSEY: You haven't dealt with Greece's real problem.
KESTENBAUM: Even with the bailout, Greece will still have debt, still be spending more than it earns. Ramsey says: Sorry, people of Greece, I love your country, but you need to quit it with the street protests. He calls them temper tantrums. Make some life changes. Say to yourselves these three magic words: I've had it.
Mr. RAMSEY: When people and when companies and when countries have that moment where they draw a line in the sand and they say, I'm not going to do this anymore, it takes that passion to break the orbital pull of stupid. Stupid has a gravitational pull. And it will pull you back in.
KESTENBAUM: Dave says the data from his world of personal financial advice is not so encouraging. Most people who consolidate their debt are back in trouble within two years.
David Kestenbaum, NPR News.