NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) — Dave Ramsey hates timeshares.
And he wants his millions of followers to hate them too.
In a recent episode of his talk show titled “Timeshare Companies Are The Last Legal Fraud in America,” the Christian financial guru and radio host spent an hour ranting about what he called the “scummy” timeshare industry and berating anyone “stupid” enough to buy into the real estate ventures, which allow consumers to buy several weeks’ annual residence in a home, usually in vacation spots.
Though popular, timeshares have saddled some buyers with unexpected fees or high interest rates. Headlines such as “Here’s why timeshares are a bad investment” and “The Truth About Timeshares” have become common of late. The latter article, which appeared on Ramsey’s website, counseled, “Timeshares are one of the biggest scams on the market today.”
Ramsey expressed particular disdain for Mike Flaskey, president of Diamond Resorts, one of the largest timeshare companies in the United States.
Diamond has been aggressive in suing companies that promise to get consumers out of their timeshares, including Timeshare Exit Team, which Ramsey has endorsed since 2015. Timeshare Exit Team has also been sued by the attorney general of Washington state over alleged consumer fraud.
During his radio segment, Ramsey accused government officials and reporters of being paid off by the timeshare industry and said Timeshare Exit Team had done nothing wrong.
Reporters from the television newsmagazine “Inside Edition” have also earned Ramsey’s ire by attempting to interview him during a recent event about his ties to the company. Ramsey claimed the reporters had “ambushed him.”
“I’ll answer your question, why did I endorse Timeshare Exit Team?” he said. “Because they were doing the right thing and getting people out of timeshares after companies like Mikey’s had screwed them. That’s why I endorsed that company and I did it with great pride.”
Then Ramsey issued a warning.
Saying that he was broadcasting from a paid-off building worth hundreds of millions of dollars and is “neck-deep in cash,” Ramsey seemed to promise to fight back against Diamond and other timeshare companies.
“You have done poked the wrong bear,” he said. “You done pissed off the wrong hillbilly.”
An “Inside Edition” spokesperson rebutted Ramsey’s on-air comments.
“’Inside Edition’ is an independent news organization with an award-winning investigative reporting unit,” the spokesperson said. “We were not paid by any entity or person in connection with our investigation about Timeshare Exit Team or Dave Ramsey. In the course of reporting on Timeshare Exit Team, our reporter Lisa Guerrero was injured by a person with Ramsey, which will be addressed on air in the story.”
A spokesperson for Diamond Resorts said in a statement that it would continue to challenge timeshare exit companies.
“To protect our members and owners, Diamond Resorts remains committed to exposing deceptive timeshare exit companies and challenging nefarious operations in court,” the company said in a statement.
The exit companies have proliferated in recent years as the industry boomed in the 1980s and 1990s and many of the customers who bought during that time are now aging out, said Scott Smith, an associate professor of hospitality at the University of South Carolina. Those owners no longer travel as much and their grown kids aren’t interested in using their parents’ timeshares.
COVID-19 increased the downside of timeshares as the pandemic made travel difficult and put many people in a financial bind, making paying for an unused vacation slot more painful.
At the same time, the timeshare industry hasn’t done itself any favors, said Smith, who sits on the board of an independent resort. The industry is known for high-pressure sales and “there are a lot of bad actors out there,” Smith added.
That’s opened the door for timeshare exit companies. “They see the opportunity to make some money off of people’s dissatisfaction and their distrust of timeshare companies,” he said.
Among those dissatisfied owners is Gordon Edgin, a retired lawyer from Utah. He and his wife, who were avid skiers, bought a timeshare in Colorado in 2000. The Edgins had used the timeshare for years and been happy with it and often vacationed there with their kids. But Edgin, 74, had hurt his back and was no longer able to ski.
Their kids, now grown, were no longer interested in the timeshare. Edgin thought he’d be able to sell it but found no takers. He turned to Timeshare Exit Team for help, largely based on Ramsey’s recommendation.
“He said that he had personally checked them out and discovered that they were trustworthy,” said Edgin.
Reed Hein and Associates, a Kirkland, Washington, company that does business as Timeshare Exit Team, was founded in 2012 by former rain gutter salesmen Brandon Reed and Trevor Hein. The firm offers a money-back guarantee and claims to have helped thousands of people, many of them Ramsey listeners. The company’s website features a video endorsement by Ramsey and until recently, Timeshare Exit Team had been featured as an endorsed provider on Ramsey’s website and radio show.
However, a consumer protection lawsuit filed last year by the attorney general of Washington claims that Timeshare Exit Team failed to deliver on its promises. According to the attorney general’s complaint, Timeshare Exit Team charges customers between $2,897 and $8,795 upfront to relieve them of a timeshare. Customers are told it will take 18 months or longer for an exit.
By 2020, the company had been paid by more than 38,000 customers. About half have gotten an “exit” from their timeshare, according to the complaint. But many of those exits are illusory, claims the attorney general. And few unsatisfied customers get refunds.
“Virtually every step of this process — from the advertising to the exit letter — is unfair, deceptive and/or outright false,” according to the complaint.
Timeshare Exit Team told news organizations after the suit was filed: “We strongly disagree with the allegations leveled in this complaint.”
Edgin and his wife eventually filed a grievance against Timeshare Exit Team and got a refund with the help of an attorney. He remains disappointed in Ramsey — especially after the radio host’s latest statements.
“He has shown no contrition,” said Edgin.
Ramsey Solutions did not respond to a request for comment.
On his radio show, Ramsey admitted that Timeshare Exit Team has had trouble keeping up with the number of customers the show was sending its way. He also said that timeshare companies saw Timeshare Exit Team as a threat and so had targeted the business with lawsuits filled with fake claims.
The company has so many legal bills, he said, that it had to stop advertising on Ramsey’s show and could go out of business.
His comments angered Holly De Leon, who signed up with Timeshare Exit Team in 2017. She said she and her husband bought a timeshare in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in 2015, thinking they could use it on vacation.
Then she and her husband attended a Financial Peace University program featuring Ramsey’s teaching on how to get out of debt. De Leon, 34, said that at the time, the couple felt stuck financially and not able to get ahead.
So they decided to follow Ramsey’s teaching, reducing expenses and focusing on getting rid of debt. While doing that, they realized they had made a mistake in buying a timeshare. So they signed up with Timeshare Exit Team, thinking they could trust Ramsey’s advice.
De Leon said they paid the company just under $7,000 for a timeshare exit. After three years went by with no exit, they asked for a refund. When none was forthcoming, they hired a lawyer and wrote to Ramsey about their experience.
Over the past year, Ramsey has also feuded with former employees and government officials over COVID-19. His company, the Lampo Group — which does business as Ramsey Solutions — employs about 1,000 people at its headquarters south of Nashville and has been sued over alleged discrimination after firing an employee who was pregnant and unmarried as well as for having a “cult-like” atmosphere.
While Ramsey defends Timeshare Exit Team publicly, his attorney has downplayed Ramsey’s direct role in endorsing the company. In April, Ramsey’s attorneys sent a letter to Washington state Assistant Attorney General John Nelson objecting to a subpoena for Ramsey to be deposed.
The letter claimed that the deposition would be “unduly burdensome” for Ramsey due to his busy schedule as head of the Lampo Group and his speaking engagements. The lawyers also said Ramsey was not responsible for the endorsement of Timeshare Exit Team.
“Mr. Ramsey also has no unique or special knowledge of the issues in the dispute in the Lawsuit or Lampo’s endorsement of Reed Hein,” they wrote. “While he has promoted Lampo’s endorsement of Reid Hein on his radio program and on social media, he is not responsible for the details of the Reid Hein relationship.”
De Leon, a Christian who describes herself as a former Ramsey fan, said that she and her family are now debt-free and that following Ramsey’s principles was a great help. She feels betrayed by him now, though, especially after Ramsey doubled down on support for Timeshare Exit Team.
“I feel sad for him,” she said. “He has a lot to answer for.”