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Maxed Out

Maxed Out

Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders

  • reading group guide
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, megamillion-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 separates the myths (there is "good debt" and "bad debt") from the harsh reality (corporations partner with colleges to target today's youth; credit reports are riddled with errors that will never be fixed; and death, for many of those in trouble, is the only way out).

At a time when the financial industry posts ever-higher profits even as its clients drown in the flood of easy credit, Scurlock exposes very real, potentially disastrous systems and policies that are consuming millions of Americans. Maxed Out takes readers on a wickedly smart and entertaining tour of what one interviewee calls "the last taboo."
  • Scribner | 
  • 256 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416538646 | 
  • March 2007
List Price $14.99

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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

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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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