Pitfalls of Easy Credit Exposed in Documentary about Debt in America
Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders
DVD Review by Kam Williams
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 87 minutes
Studio: Truly Indie
Why do you think more Americans will file for bankruptcy than for divorce this year? According to Maxed Out, the answer lies in the increasingly predatory lending practices of the country’s credit card companies. For just a generation ago, it was much more difficult to obtain a line of credit from a bank. But between the deregulation of interest rates and a revised corporate philosophy, those who could least afford debt, suddenly found themselves deluged with credit card offers.
The result is no surprise: millions of borrowers who end-up burdened by a mountain of debt they have no way of ever eliminating. The best they can do is keep making partial payments while their bills escalate exponentially.
And the credit card companies are quite comfortable with the arrangement because this modern equivalent of indentured servitude simply ensures that the rich will get richer and that the poor will stay poor.
Directed by James D. Scurlock (Parents of the Year), Maxed Out isn't a movie about frivolous, fiscally-irresponsible folks who have failed to manage their finances due to their own delinquency. No, this alarming expose’ reveals a banking industry which specifically targets the na’ve, the poor, the uneducated, and other high-risk individuals because the best customers are those who are broke.
How did we become a country where avaricious mega-corporations heartlessly feast on the misfortunes of the least of our brethren, aided and abetted in that endeavor by an anti-consumer Congress? This is the question which Maxed Out seeks to answer via a combination of probing interviews with experts, such as Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, and eye-opening investigative journalism conducted all across the nation.
In Mississippi, we are introduced to a mentally-retarded African-American on fixed income who lost her home after being duped into signing a loan agreement whose repayment terms she would obviously never be able to meet.
In Oklahoma, we learn of two college coeds who committed suicide because of runaway credit card debt incurred as undergrads.
Then, there’s the case of the Minnesota housewife whose credit rating was ruined when she was prematurely reported to be deceased. And how about the proof provided that a leading bank actually had a policy of disposing customers’ payment checks in the trash so as to be able to charge late fees and interest?
A much-needed wake-up call to face the fact that unconscionable, state-sanctioned usury and exorbitant late fees leveled in the name of profit are destroying the prospects of the masses of working class citizens of ever achieving anything approaching the American Dream. This makes Maxed Out a must see for anyone who’s addicted to plastic.
Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders
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by James D. Scurlock
Pub. Date: February 2007
Format: Hardcover, 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Foreclosures are hitting record highs; Americans are declaring bankruptcy at rates ten times that during the great Depression; more college students drop out because of debts than due to poor grades; reports of debtor suicides proliferate in the media. In other words, it’s a great time to be in the banking business.
Maxed Out takes us on a road trip that is sometimes hysterical and often horrifying: from Las Vegas to the Bible Belt, from the backwoods to inner cities, where the world’s largest financial giants troll for their next victims. Welcome to a country populated by debt pirates, corporate predators, human credit card billboards, debt evangelists, megamillion-dollar spec homes, and, of course, trillions of dollars of easy credit.
Combining startling facts with even more startling examinations of individuals, institutions, the government, and modern religion, James Scurlock separates the myths (there is "good debt" and "bad debt") from the harsh reality (corporations partner with colleges to target today’s youth; credit reports are riddled with errors that will never be fixed; and death, for many of those in trouble, is the only way out).
At a time when the financial industry posts ever-higher profits even as its clients drown in the flood of easy credit, Scurlock exposes very real, potentially disastrous systems and policies that are consuming millions of Americans. Maxed Out takes readers on a wickedly smart and entertaining tour of what one interviewee calls "the last taboo."