Monday, June 11, 2007
"Maxed Out" Now Available In DVD
James Scurlock's muckraking 2005 documentary on the credit industry - Maxed Out - is now available on DVD. The links below include several interviews with the auteur and a few brief reviews of the DVD. According to Mr. Scurlock, the modern American credit industry did not begin to achieve its current unscrupulous glory until 1978. "On the regulatory side, in 1978, you have the U.S. Supreme Court deciding that banks could export their interest rates. They used to have very effective usury laws, caps on what you could charge for interest, and in 1978 that was effectively obliterated. So, suddenly, credit card companies like Citibank in South Dakota could base themselves with no usury laws, no rates, no caps, and they could charge whatever interest rate in any state in the country that they wanted to. So that's when credit card lending became very profitable."
You, like me and the rest of the American people, are no doubt bombarded daily by credit card companies offering unheard lines of credit and telemarketers trying to sell you second mortgages at dinnertime. In a more ethical past, banks didn't loan money to just anybody - not because they were stingy, but because they believed it would be irresponsible to loan money to someone who could not pay them back. Hence, the loan approval process was far more stringent and resulted in fewer bankruptcies. Nowadays, all of us are offered Riches For Rent with a great big smile - and whopping interest rates to match. No one is immune. Not so long ago, I acquired a free credit report which gave me a score of 830 - 99.97th percentile - but just the month before last I sent in my credit card payment late and got socked with 18.75 percent interest on what I owed the next time around. I told my wife to keep my credit card bill in plain sight so I will be constantly reminded to pay the damn thing on time. The very envelope it comes in now has acquired the aura of a death warrant.
Scurlock's documentary recounts credit card nightmares infinitely worse than mine. A college student seduced into owning multiple credit cards who eventually killed himself when debt overwhelmed him, a woman whose $12,000 debt ballooned to $50,000 within a year without the accrual of a single additional charge. You may be next - and you won't be alone. 35 percent of all Americans, 54 percent of those earning $40,000 a year or less, and 70 percent of minorities admit to feeling financially insecure. Credit card fees have increased 1000 percent in the last decade, from $1.7 billion in 1996 to $18 billion last year. We are a nation with a negative savings rate, and only debt keeps us afloat. According to Scurlock, "Two out of three people can't pay their credit cards off each month. At the same time, last year we cashed $800 billion dollars out of home equity. Trillions of dollars in the last few years have been cashed out of people's homes and much of that went to paying off credit card bills. And the cycle continues." Debt has become such a large portion of the GNP that politicians - already besieged and manipulated by credit industry lobbyists - are unwilling to crack down on predatory lenders for fear that the entire economy will come crashing down. Meanwhile, churches that exalt Bush as a secular saint promise salvation to debtors - so long as they contribute to the collection plate.
"A Nation Running On Empty" from The American Prospect
"Maxed out, spent down and busted" from The Houston Chronicle
"DVD Select: Truth is scarier than fiction in 'Maxed Out'" from Bend Weekly (Oregon)
"Credit Cruncher" from MSNBC.com
"From the Mirage of a Middle-Class Life to the Slavery of Debt" from AlterNet
"Maxed Out (DVD)" from Amazon.com