MECHANIC FALLS – To try to help people climb out of debt, save for retirement, or simply better manage their money, a couple in Mechanic Falls is offering a 13-week financial course at their church.

Tammy and Phil Potter have been offering the course at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship since hearing the Christian talk-show host and financial-management celebrity Dave Ramsey give a talk in Portland three years ago.

Ramsey operates Financial Peace University, which offers instructional videos and course material for debt management.

People can buy a packet and enroll in his 26-hour course designed to help families pay off bills and start saving, according to the Potters. This year, volunteers in 19 locations in Maine will teach Ramsey’s class, and the fee is different according to the church or organization offering the seminar. The Potters say the material for their course cost $90.

Debt is an increasing burden for Americans. The American Bankruptcy Institute has reported that household debt is at a record high relative to disposable income. In 2005, the institute calculated that Americans were spending more than 13.5 percent of their income to pay off loans. In 1993, this percentage was below 11.

About 300,000 families have taken Ramsey’s seminar since 1992, Beth Tallent, a spokeswoman for Ramsey, said Friday by phone. She said the seminar has exploded in popularity during the last few years.

“As churches especially caught on, as they did more and more counseling and found that financial problems were a huge source of stress in people’s lives and in their marriages, they needed a program that helped them get out of debt and work together to build financial goals,” Tallent said.

Ramsey is from Nashville, Tenn. He made a fortune in real estate at 26, but lost it all in four years and climbed into a financial hole. Tallent said once again, however, Ramsey is a millionaire. He has a talk show titled, “The Dave Ramsey Show,” and has written three popular books.

Although the Potters have no specific financial expertise themselves, this is the fourth time they have offered the course at their church on Lewiston Road.

Tammy Potter said she is a consultant for the company, Creative Memories, which advises people putting together scrapbooks and photo albums for future generations in their family.

Phil Potter works at NAPA Auto Parts. They are both in their early 40s and have three young children.

Potter said people from the community not involved in the church have enrolled in the past. A total of about 60 people have taken the class with them, ranging from a young, newly married couple to couples in their late 40s.

Because Ramsey is a Christian, his teachings are laced with biblical scriptures, along with technical financial advice, Tallent said.

“There’s more than 800 scriptures in the bible,” Tallent said. “God knew this would be an issue for us, and wanted to give us a guide for that.”

“He does a little bit about talking about how the Bible does talk about money, but the main crux of it is the financial aspect of it,” Tammy Potter said Friday. Their weekly two-hour course begins Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. “It’s how to get your finances in order way more than the biblical aspect of it. It’s how to be financially free.”

For instance, one of the proverbs warns that borrowers are slaves to their lenders. Another proverb counsels that the wise store their choice food and oil, while the foolish devour everything at once.

“[The course] definitely helped us personally better relate to money,” Tammy said. “We were able to buy a house this year for the first time.”

She said in the past decade, her family has gone through some rough financial waters. They were living in Washington County, but moved to this area six years ago to start over.

“I wouldn’t say we have arrived to where we want to be, but we are on a much better road,” Potter said, who added she and her husband are trying to teach their children – ages 13, 11, and 8 – to better relate to money starting early.

In Maine, nine churches are offering Ramsey’s course now, and a total of 19 classes are scheduled this year, from Biddeford to Ellsworth.

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