Maxed Out
How much money could we save in paper costs if junk mail were eliminated?

Theatrical Release Date: 03/09/2007
Director: James D. Scurlock

I doubt is comes as any surprise that America is a nation awash in debt.

Few of us are free and clear, whether it be college loans, a mortgage or the ever-common credit card debt.

With the marked increase in bankruptcy and the average American feeling the pinch, director James Scurlock decided to examine the credit card industry’s tactics and lending policies.

While most tales in “Maxed Out” are of financial woe, there was also a look at two families ripped apart because their college-age kids piled up a large enough debt that it was a factor in their suicides.

Now, there’s no evidence that was their only issue but I can speak first-hand at how demoralizing and depressing it can be to find yourself drowning in debt.

As a member of the bankruptcy club, I know how bills can get out of hand before you know it and the only recourse may be to wipe the slate and rebuild.

Having that knowledge also made most of this documentary obsolete and uninformative, leading me to question the effectiveness of the film.

I’m not shocked at all that the banks want to lend money to people who are financial risks. Banks make money on the interest generated by carried balances.

The stockbroker who makes $250K a year can probably pay off his Amex bill. The single mother of three who works two minimum wage jobs has to extend herself financially just to make ends meet in an ever-increasingly expensive America probably can not.

Also, the notion that credit lenders are actively looking for recently bankrupt individuals is of no surprise to me. It wasn’t immediate but within a year after declaring bankruptcy, I was approved for a no annual fee credit card.

Now, I learned from my mistake and rarely carry a balance over to the next month. I also know the importance of planning out your monthly income and making sure your bills are paid before you blow a few hundred dollars on a trip to Vegas.

However, many people don’t learn that lesson and credit card companies know that. So, they approve credit cards to those “high-risk” individuals, knowing they’ll probably fall back into their pattern and start carrying balances.

The interest piles up and soon an item that cost $50 at the store will end up costing twice that in interest payments.

I suppose if you are the parent of a teenager and want to teach them about fiscal responsibility, “Maxed Out” is a good cautionary tale. However, I think anyone who lives on their own already has learned the lessons being taught here.

Adding to my disappointment is the tacky stock footage used by Scurlock. It seemed the only way he could think of to provide some momentum and pace to the film, which otherwise is a series of interviews.

I had higher hopes for this film and feel a little sorry handing “Maxed Out” a 2 out of 5. Unfortunately, it didn’t provide enough new information or bring any visual style to the table and that leaves this documentary geared towards a very specific subset of Americans: those few who haven’t ever had to borrow money.