Maxed Out

Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders

Maxed Out

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, mega-million 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 exposes very real, potentially disastrous systems and policies that are drowning millions of Americans in a flood of easy credit.

Expanding on his award-winning documentary of the same name, hailed as "scathing" and "unusually entertaining" by Newsweek and Variety, Maxed Out confirms that Scurlock is an author "as fiendishly clever as the banks and credit card companies he goes after" (Barbara Ehrenreich, bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed).
  • Simon & Schuster Audio | 
  • ISBN 9780743567459 | 
  • March 2007
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction:
James D. Scurlock offers a groundbreaking look into the culture of debt that has been institutionalized over the past generation. From Washington, DC to Macon, Mississippi, to Beverly Hills, CA, Scurlocks reveals the breadth and depth of America's dependence on easy credit to finance war efforts, tractors, mobile homes, to acquire the best body and face that plastic surgery can provide and, of course, to keep the American Dream -- home ownership -- a reality. Scurlock builds a compelling case that the individual is not solely to blame for rising consumer debt, just as irresponsible "gamers" are not the cause of skyrocketing bankruptcy rates and the now-infamous "subprime" borrowers did not precipitate the international credit crisis ; indeed, Scurlock uncovers how revolutionary changes in the banking, credit, and debt collection industries virtually ensure that consumer debt continues to mount, month after month, in order to realize double-digit profit growth. But, Scurlock argues, the financial industry has not changed the laws of mathematics; they have only postponed the day of reckoning. It is now up to individual Americans to re-examine their lifestyles in the context of new definitions of financial success and security. Ultimately, each of us must decide if the American Dream can really be purchased with easy credit.
Discussion Questions:
1. What does Scurlock mean when he says that debt is the only product of the banking indust see more

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About the Author

James D. Scurlock
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James D. Scurlock

James D. Scurlock studied at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania before dropping out to pursue an entrepreneurial venture and later a documentary film career. His first film, Parents of the Year, won numerous awards and was an official selection of more than twenty-five film festivals. His first feature-length documentary, Maxed Out, explored our culture of debt and won the Special Jury Prize at South by Southwest. His first book, a companion to the award-winning documentary, was nominated for the National MS Society's "Books for a Better Life" Award. He has written, primarily about the impending (and now realized) financial crisis, for Slate, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, and AARP Magazine, among others. He has also appeared on numerous programs, including Nightline, The Today Show, and CNBC’s Power Lunch. Scurlock lives in Santa Monica, California.

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