Maxed Out (Trueworks, NR)

maxed2This is a disturbing, courageous documentary that deserves to be seen by everyone who's not a millionaire—i.e., most of us.



There have been some vitally important documentaries gracing our screens in the past decade, and Maxed Out, written and directed by James D. Scurlock, is unquestionably one of them. This unflinching examination of the credit industry, the imbalances in the American economy, and the destructive impact of deceitful business practices will change the way you think about money. It may make you tear up all your credit cards or, at the very least, trash the offers you get in your mailbox every day. This is a disturbing, courageous documentary that deserves to be seen by everyone who's not a millionaire—i.e., most of us.

Utilizing interviews with financial experts (especially the wonderfully eloquent Harvard Law School economics professor Elizabeth Warren), credit reps and ordinary folks ravaged by money woes, Maxed Out paints a portrait of a system gone berserk—a lending industry that has become, as Warren explains, "obscenely profitable." We learn that credit card fees rose 160% in just five years, that credit card companies want you to be late with your payments and get deeply into debt because it ultimately means they make more money, and that college students are among the most desirable prospects for would-be creditors, so much so that the banking industry fought a recent law banning credit card companies from soliciting new customers on college campuses.

Sadly, the vulnerability of young collegians to seemingly easy money sometimes has tragic results—the film features interviews with the mothers of two students who committed suicide because of insurmountable debt. "It never occurred to me that a college student could rack up $12,000 in debt on 12 credit cards," says the disbelieving parent. Another 57-year-old woman faces foreclosure on her home, as the camera captures her explaining that she gradually lost control over her finances, though she wasn't particularly a big spender. It's just that the expense of raising her children, her single-parent salary, and the high interest rate on her loans/credit cards eventually brought her to the brink of losing everything. Certainly many people in the United States are familiar with this scenario.

A few representatives from collection agencies are shown gleefully comparing their aggressive collection tactics to sporting events; it's mind numbing to watch. So are the repulsive scenes of politicians (including a certain familiar denizen of the White House) taking the side of the credit and banking industry, with footage from the actual hearings a few years back to toughen the bankruptcy laws in America. We learn that a top executive at MBNA, one of the nation's largest lenders, was one of the biggest campaign contributors to George W. Bush. But Warren explains that credit companies secretly like it when people have declared bankruptcy; that's why they start offering them new cards soon after. "They can't file for bankruptcy again," she says. "And they've shown they have a taste for credit, and that they're willing to make monthly payments forever."

The sobering facts that fly off the screen in this film have an enormous cumulative impact, such as finding out that 90% of FICO scores are inaccurate (that's the primary score that determines your credit rating). Although this is how your interest rate is determined, the "odds are against getting it fixed" if your FICO score is wrong, one expert explains. And few people have the knowledge or the energy to take corrective actions. Hence, the monstrous profits for lenders and creditors continue.

There is so much more…but the bottom line is that this is a must-see film for anyone concerned about the American economy and the growing gap between the rich and the poor, or simply anyone suffering from credit woes. Maxed Out will confirm all your worst fears—and then some, unfortunately. It's a sharp-edged, informative documentary that will forever show you how inaccurate the phrase "home of the free" is for the financial skullduggery that exemplifies the United States these days. | Kevin Renick

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