Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Maxed Out: a movie review

The film documentary is about the consumer debt crisis in the US. It examines the profitable credit industry, and those consumers that are preyed upon.

The film makes some excellent points, as it takes us from one story to another. It soon becomes quite clear that banks and lenders don’t give us credit because they think we can pay it back, they give it to us because they think we can’t. Banks don’t make their money on people who pay their credit cards off every month, they make their money on the kinds of people who can barely afford to make their monthly payments. And the film quickly shows how ruthless they can be.

The emphasis throughout the film was on those consumers who have next to nothing and live pay cheque to pay cheque – those who are on the brink. But I couldn’t help but wonder, what about the other side? What about those who use credit cards as a way to live beyond their means? It makes the whole intro to the movie (huge homes, Robin Leach, etc.) seem irrelevant. I think if the movie was going to focus on out of control spending, then sure, go with the flow … but instead, they turned it around and spent the rest of the movie talking about those who had nothing, and used credit cards as a way to get to the next pay cheque.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie, but all the segments seemed a little disjointed – like it was trying to cover too much ground, instead of really focusing on a few problems. There are so many interviews with different people who have such different backgrounds … and it’s great to see different perspectives, but to me, it upset the flow of the movie. We never really find out what happens to any of them, and for that matter, what they planned on doing to get themselves out of the situation they were in. It seemed like just when a segment got interesting, they switched to something else.

For example, when we start to hear the story of Chris and Luke, the college spokesmen for First USA, it seems great that they were getting their education paid for. But as we dug a little deeper, we found that First USA just wanted them to get college students to sign up for their credit card. Chris and Luke seemed to be remorseful of their whole idea … but what happened to them? Did they end up calling it quits? Did they talk to First USA about how they felt? The segment just ended, without a real conclusion. What happened to them!?

And while I think the movie was great in showing just how brutal credit card companies can be, and how easy it is to obtain credit, it fails to deliver any reasonable answers as to how to resolve money problems. If people already have credit card debt problems, how the heck are they supposed to get themselves out? The movie states the average American family has more than $9,000 in credit card debt. That’s a HUGE amount!

I think the biggest flaws of the movie are the fact that they only talk about the debt crisis among people who are poor (and not about people who got into credit card problems by living above their means), and the fact that they make out the debtors to be huge victims. Yes, it’s tragic what they’re doing, and the credit companies are relentless … and sometimes situations are unavoidable … but if a bank offers you more credit, and you take it, how is it the bank’s fault when they want their money back? Granted, there were situations in the movie that did seem cold and unforgiving (like when that woman’s daughter died, and the loans were to be forgiven by the government) … but what about that segment with the woman who lost her husband, and was saddled with $4,000/month mortgage payments? Couldn’t she just have sold her place and moved to a smaller house? Maybe there was a reason why she couldn’t move, but it wasn’t addressed in the film, and all I kept thinking about was the fact that her problems would have been solved (and she would have had to sell all those decorative plates she loved so much) if she had just sold the house.

There were some really heart breaking stories being told in that movie, and if you’re here reading my blog right now, I’d highly suggest watching the movie if you haven’t already. I’ve been hearing a lot lately that as children and teenagers, we aren’t taught the value of being financially responsible in school – well I think this film should be shown to as many high school students as possible. In my opinion, if An Inconvinient Truth is being shown to practically every student out there, Maxed Out should be as well.

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.

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