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Maxed Out

Maxed Out

Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders

  • reading group guide
In this shocking and illuminating road trip through an America ravaged by debt, award-winning film director James Scurlock examines our multitrillion-dollar addiction to easy credit in all of its absurdities and contradictions.

Maxed Out ventures beyond the mind-numbing statistics to expose a financial industry spinning wildly out of control. From the gilded master-planned communities of Northern Las Vegas to the shotgun shacks of the Deep South, the world's largest financial institutions are trolling for customers, hooking the nouveau riche and the poor alike with promises of cheap and easy credit. Maxed Out exposes how Wall Street and Congress spawned the subprime mortgage crisis and reveals how credit card issuers form multimillion-dollar partnerships with universities -- paying them millions for access to their students' personal information, setting kids up for financial ruin before their first job. The industry's final frontier, "debt buying," is a veritable Wild West in which ambitious young men make quick fortunes off the misery and misfortune of others.

Hilarious, fascinating, and deeply disturbing, Maxed Out is one man's answer to modern America's most pressing question, "Why can't we get out of debt?"
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  • Scribner | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416532538 | 
  • December 2007
List Price $14.00
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James Scurlock: Maxed Out

The award-winning film director examines our addiction to easy credit in all of its absurdities and contradictions.

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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

About the Author

James D. Scurlock
Photo Credit:

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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