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Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit, and the Era of Predatory Lendersby James Scurlock
How much money do you owe on your credit card bills? Paying off a mortgage, home equity loan, or college loan, too? Our culture has come to take debt for granted, but this hasn't always been the norm. Over the last generation in America, James Scurlock writes, our household debt has increased at 1,000 times the rate of our income. How? Decades ago, bankers learned that they make more money when we spend than they do when we save. In Maxed Out, Scurlock takes readers on a tour of our consumer economy, from Fresno, California, birthplace of the credit card, to Wall Street and Washington, D.C. Expect an eye-opening ride that could very well protect your financial future.
"Smartly written and by turns funny, irreverent, serious, and angry, Scurlock's book is well timed, coming just as the sub-prime lending industry is collapsing and foreclosures are mounting....Not all financial experts share Scurlock's pessimism about an indebted society. But he builds a persuasive case that deserves serious attention." Marilyn Gardner, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
Synopses & Reviews
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."
"In this companion to his documentary film of the same name, Scurlock takes a provocative though scattershot tour of 'debt hell,' exploring Americans' use and misuse of credit. He introduces us to upbeat debt collectors, downbeat academics, motivational speakers who insist that we can get out of debt by refinancing our homes and 'skipping the a.m. latte,' and 'average Americans who are swimming in debt.' Scurlock's villains are Visa, Citibank, credit bureaus, legislators who do the financial industry's bidding and a system of credit that 'has mutated into a relentlessly efficient and voracious machine.' We learn that most consumers who teeter on the brink of bankruptcy aren't bad people — they've just taken all those no-credit-buy-anyway ads at face value. It's all pretty involving, though as with most documentarians, Scurlock is only as good as his sources — and in print, anecdotes and testimonials aren't necessarily the best way to convey complex information or make an airtight case. The author also oversimplifies issues ('banking is about selling a single product: debt'), avoids engaging anyone who might challenge his banks-are-evil argument and turns occasional tangents into full-fledged digressions. But Scurlock deserves credit (no pun intended) for opening more eyes to this dire issue. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright © Reed Business Information)
"[A] valuable perspective...in our materialistic, debt-ridden society and provides excellent education on an important topic." Booklist
"[P]rovocative and engaging....Scurlock has put a spotlight on an important problem: Too much debt, just like too many French fries or too much booze, can ruin you." San Francisco Chronicle
"Can it be fun to read about people's lives being ruined by predatory lenders? Yes, oddly enough, if James Scurlock is doing the writing. He's as fiendishly clever as the banks and credit card companies he goes after, which is saying a lot. After reading Maxed Out, you're going to want to shed your creditors and reacquaint yourself with the concept of cash." Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch
"Maxed Out details, with alarming clarity, just how vulnerable many Americans are to the predatory methods banks and credit card companies employ to separate them from the money they make and to keep them paying on the money they're not making. People should know this stuff." Henry Rollins, host of IFC's The Henry Rollins Show
About the Author
James D. Scurlock studied at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. His first film, Parents of the Year, won numerous awards and was an official selection of more than twenty-five film festivals. Maxed Out, his first feature-length film, won the Special Jury Prize at South by Southwest.
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