Rachel Cruze on How to Win With Money in 2015

Rachel Cruze is today’s spotlight nominee in GOBankingRates’ 2014 “Best Personal Finance Expert” competition, where the 12 biggest names in money — handpicked by GOBankingRates staff and editors at top media outlets across the personal finance space — are battling to take home the title. She talked to us about getting out of debt, being a money-smart parent and her No. 1 tip for finding financial success in the new year. Vote for her below, and read on to find out her best advice for the new year.

Though her claim to fame is growing up in the Ramsey household, writer and financial educator Rachel Cruze has become a rising personal finance authority in her own right. The author of recent New York Times best-seller “Smart Money Smart Kids” (co-written with father Dave Ramsey), Cruze has been speaking at conferences since she was 15 and delivering her own brand of money advice on everything from college planning to living debt-free. She shared a wealth of advice with us about how everyone from new grads to parents can make 2015 a debt-free year.

Vote for Rachel Cruze as the “Best Personal Finance Expert” of 2014

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We recently caught up with Cruze backstage at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium, where she was one of the featured speakers at Ramsey’s Smart Conference, along with Andy Andrews, Chris Hogan and others.

Cruze explained how she got an early start on her personal finance education; she likes to tell the story of what her father did the first and only time she bounced a check.

“As teenagers, each Ramsey kid was given their own checking account, and long story short… I actually spent more money than I had in my account and bounced three checks,” she said. “Dad made me go down to the bank and personally apologize to the bank branch manager for lying to him — because I told him I had money in his bank to spend and I didn’t.”

Clearly, Ramsey’s money savvy stuck with her (“I never bounced a check again because I had to go through that process!”). These days, she includes stories like this in her frequent presentations to students and parents — she’s criss-crossed the country to talk to these groups about the importance of starting good money habits early. “I look at my dad as the emergency surgeon, and I’m kind of the preventative medicine,” she told us.

Like her father, Cruze frequently urges listeners to get out of debt. “A lot of people’s New Year’s resolutions is to gain control of their money — and I think the best way to do that is to live debt-free,” she said. “It frees up so much in your life — so that you’re able to invest for retirement, you’re able to save for your kids’ college, you’re able to go on vacation, you’re able to buy something you want — because your income is freed up. It’s all yours; MasterCard and your student loan doesn’t own your income; you own your income.”

Rachel Cruze’s No. 1 Tip for Financial Success in 2015

It’s not easy getting out of debt, of course, even when using the Ramsey-recommended “debt snowball” method of paying down the smallest debts first, regardless of interest rate. We asked Cruze for the X factor — the one thing Americans can do to get on top of their finances next year.

Her response: “Be intentional with your money. If you’re going to win with money, you have to be intentional. That means creating a budget so you know where your money is going. This will help you avoid debt, pay off existing debt and save for the future.”

For more advice on finding success in 2015, check out some clips from our interview with Rachel Cruze below.