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Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  266 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
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

Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 6th 2007 by Scribner
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David Sarkies
Jul 23, 2011 David Sarkies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People Thinking About Borrowing Money
Recommended to David by: A Video I Saw on Amazon
Shelves: sociology
The Story of Consumer Debt
8 August 2010

Maxed out is a story of cheap credit and how the banking system has enslaved a middle class who cannot afford to pay it back. The author journeys across the United States speaking to people who have fallen into the debt trap and exposes how the banks do not necessarily make money from interest but rather from the fees (particularly overdraft fees). In fact the banks make more money lending money than by having it paid back simply because they either packag
Jul 31, 2007 Sabiel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with a credit card (i.e. 93% of Americans)
Shelves: read-non-fiction
Scurlock starts at the beginning. Apparently the guy who invented the first plastic crackpipe (aka credit card) was like, a total genius who wanted to make the world a better place by inventing a new currency, i.e. credit. This would therefore make us more efficient human beings by simplifying transactions (and racking up fees and interest in the process).

He then visits a real estate agent in Vegas who sells 20,000 sq. foot mansions to people who can barely afford them, but are able to obtain p
Apr 03, 2007 Chazzle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maxed Out, by James D. Scurlock - 3 and stars; even though the book contains much that is predictable, it still spins its tales in a fascinating way. One example is the tale of Yolanda, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who makes about $20,000/year by digging recyclables from trash bins at night; in her fifty years in the U.S., she never took out a loan on anything in her life; one of her daughters breaks her heart by ringing up hundreds of dollars in bills every month on her cell phone; pinning ...more
Apr 05, 2009 Anita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Good expose of the evolution of credit/debt and the institutions who specialize in "lending" but for the sole purpose of profit for the banks, credit card, and collection entities. Illustrates tactics used to prey on the least educated and most vulnerable. Shows how consumer protection laws have been systematically eliminated and how these beheamouth institutions expect the Federal Gov't to bail them out. The ultimate in capitalist corruption; when the money runs out, just sell credit... Written ...more
May 24, 2008 Eboni rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading this book you will understand the deceptive, tragic, and even illegal methods banks use to take your hard earned money.
Sally Duros
This book is the companion piece to the film, Maxed Out. It's full of data that is chilling and prescient of our current economic chaos. This is an interview related to the film.

No credit cards were used when making this film

By Sally Duros
Chicago Sun-Times Real Estate Editor

March 2, 2007 — Has the American Dream become the American Mirage because of the
powerful debt industry? James Scurlock thinks so, and he makes a substantive case in the film, “Maxed Ou
Nola Redd
Mar 28, 2008 Nola Redd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nola by: Dave Ramsey
As I read...surprisingly, this is a page-turner! I started it before bed thinking it would help me go to sleep and stayed up past midnight, finally forcing myself to put it down. I was shocked! That doesn't usually happen to me with nonfiction.

Finished review:
Although I usually try to write a review soon after finishing the book, I actually had to wait quite awhile to write this one. Frankly, the reason came down to a strong difference of opinion on a minor portion of the book. Still the author
Jun 01, 2007 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finance
I had been looking forward to reading this after hearing a bit about it from an online "no more debt" forum but I have to say, I'm a bit underwhelmed. While I completely agree with the author that credit is way too easy to get today, and that banks and financial institutions have really blown it by being so obsessed with selling debt that they will extend it to anyone, even those who clearly cannot afford to be extended that debt...I still felt that Scurlock didn't lay enough blame on the people ...more
Nov 14, 2007 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
By now, everyone should know about the perils of easy credit and the promises that your home's value will always go up. But James Scurlock saw this coming before many of us did, and warned about it in his documentary and book. The book provides a brief but damning history of how credit came to dominate our lives, along with a ton of examples of how the financial giants screw us at every turn, including, of course, buying politicians who are more than willing to sell their votes to deregulate the ...more
Aug 08, 2007 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why has the cost of living skyrocketed while wages have stayed the same? Two words: easy credit. It's driven the cost of everything up while driving the world into debt. This cannot go on much longer. Something's gonna give.
Mar 23, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastically organized and thoroughly depressing. I think he needed to use the phrase "bear trap" more, though, as it only appeared on every other page.
Devoured this one in less than 24 hours, but am having trouble deciding what the main point was exactly. This book was released in 2007, and I know that Scurlock - who has a dry humor and biting delivery - is positively cackling over the ensuing financial meltdown these past few years.

Overall, I know Scurlock's gist was that access to credit is too easy; banks, credit card companies and the like make access too available and people with no business having one, muchless five or six, credit cards
Jul 11, 2015 Ingrid rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The two-tiered system we have tolerated for too long has shielded our representatives in Congress from appreciating both the magnitude and the urgency of the problem facing middle-class Americans."

Maxed Out reads like an impassioned essay on corporate and consumer responsibility. I picked it up because I saw the documentary back in 2007, and it's amazing to me to read this now, after the bubble burst. Like Scurlock says, "The global economy remains a distant intangible to most of us, myself inc
This book provides an interesting look at the credit industry. Written in 2006 and published in 2007 before the economic implosion, Scurlock sounds a warning bell that the retail-driven American economy is on shaky ground. Middle class families were (and are) drowning in debt, the poor were (and are) being targeted for credit cards, and the housing boom is threatening to peter out (which happened spectacularly). Scurlock certainly hit the nail on the head, although it seems that we, as a nation, ...more
Bea Elwood
A good companion to the 2011 best documentary film "Inside Job" (an eye opening look at the 2008 financial crisis and banking industry). Over the last two years I've paid $8000 towards the $55,000 of personal debt I have and along the way I've been reading books not by Dave Ramsey or Suzie Orman but that mention them a great deal as financial gurus. (Orman in particularly preaches knowing and “growing your credit rating”).

This look at easy credit, written in 2007 which is scary when it foreshado
Oct 21, 2008 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did this one in a reverse order from what I normally do: I saw the movie first. HOWEVER, this is one of those times when I advocate seeing both the movie AND reading the book rather than choosing one over the other. Both are extremely accessible, both are incredibly relevant, and both will make you reevaluate your needs versus wants while simultaneously making you allergic to plastic money. I normally glaze over when I read about the banking industry and when I hear about credit and lending in ...more
Feb 01, 2016 T rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has changed how I look at credit, finances, banks that each of us take as everyday life. It gives information to assist people in making better decisions which out having a step by step program.
The author's sarcasm may be a turn off for some readers but I found it very appropriate for the subject matter.
Be careful to keep track of the individuals discussed. The author will discuss a person's story and then mention the individual a few chapters later. He doesn't always give the reader
Mindi Beal
May 05, 2015 Mindi Beal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A fantastically-written look at how the credit industry was formed and how it affects the economy and people of today. It at times made me angry to see how some of my financial views were formed by misinformation and marketing, in addition to my own failures to better understand certain industries and processes. Months after I finished the book, I'm still examining this world around me and have completely redirected my approach to money and redefined my own financial security. The exact same inf ...more
Aug 31, 2011 Barbara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The problem, as writer and filmmaker Scurlock brings out in his book (and companion documentary film), is that Americans are living on borrowed funds and we'll all be in trouble when the bill comes in. The fact that the government kowtows to big corportions like Citigroup and Bank of America should be enough to anger most Americans. The simple fact that America is the only nation in the civilized Western world where you can declare bankruptcy due to medical bills should outrage any sane individu ...more
May 15, 2009 leslie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
At first I thought it was a great book talking about the credit problems. But near the end he drifted into blaming the lenders (predatory lending) and basically indemnifying the borrowers. Nobody forces anybody to get a credit card and charge stuff they can't afford. I'm not saying the lending practices are perfect, but if we say that people are too stupid to know whether or not they can afford something, then are we saying they are too stupid to run their own life and government must regulate e ...more
Jill Furedy
I read this book right after reading 'Not Buying It', which was a mistake on my part as I'm partial to fiction and reading two nonfiction financial related books in a row burned me out. Plus the book was a little institutions, corporations, and politicians are all so intertwined, how do you even begin to fix anything? So it wasn't a terribly hopeful book. Then there were parts where I think they took individual responsibility too lightly (come on, a boob job on a military ...more
This book is the companion to a documentary with the same name. Scurlock explores the world of easy credit and predatory lenders where those who pay their bills on time are considered "deadbeats". Personal stories plus statistics from the last 40 years show credit has progressed from "hard to get" to freely available to anyone. Scurlock also shares his personal story of briefly being a "chicken king" with his Boston Chicken franchise purchased with an inheritance in his early 20s. A book that wa ...more
Aug 22, 2008 Cris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
There’s a fine line to straddle when writing about a complex subject for the general public. The subject must be broken down into understandable (preferably logical) parts without oversimplifying or ‘talking down’ to the readers. I’d say the author manages.

Possible Read-A-Likes: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson & The X in sex: how the X chromosome controls our lives by David Bainbridge (Completely different subjects, but both are interesting, enjoyable reads where the auth
Oct 06, 2007 Lauri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People with credit card debt and people who think that buying things on credit is a good idea
Shelves: finance
I saw this movie at SIFF in 2006 and loved it. The director was present and I really enjoyed his comments & perspective after the movie. I'm so glad that he wrote a book (2007) so that I can learn more.

The book was pretty good. There's a lot of good and enlightening info in here, but if you've seen the movie, skip the book. If you haven't seen the movie, rent it, and then skip the book. The book is almost verbatim to the movie. The book was more anecdote than expose, which was very disappoi
May 20, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
an old book I bought but have not been able to read until today..a one day quick read on this 2008 book and have the deja vu knowledge..needless to say, consumer lending is obscenely profitable (Warren)...simple as banks, commercial banks, investments are now pushing with corporations to sell you from cosmetics, toys, unnecessary trash you don't need, refinance debt, GI bills, GI name it...
Dec 02, 2008 Quinten rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Avoid it--maybe watch the movie?
A half-baked summary of the movie-making process. Scurlock's analysis is cursory at best. I looked for insights, but instead this book can fairly be described as a screed. Even though I agree with his conclusions, I was looking for something with some more substance. Some of the personal stories that he relates are shocking, but the writing was just-compelling enough that I can imagine that they made for good video. As a book, it was disappointing.
Renee Dikeni
Nov 15, 2014 Renee Dikeni rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although one thinks of a book on the finance industry you think of dry boring. I couldn't put this book down. I read this fascinating book on his journey across America( sometimes touching on the UK and Australia) in a few days. Depressing, Fascinating and Alarming. It has made me rethink my spending habits, bank accounts and perhaps to be far more skeptical of trusting the finance industry in general. I would recommend this to anyone who dares to question.
Apr 10, 2008 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: done
Really good. Explains how many Americans surf the wave of debt from introductory credit cards and first time mortgages to multiple cards with high limits and McMansions. And how easily one can wipe out on debt. Gives an interesting take on the role of debt and the depth of the crisis the American economy is facing. Explained in non-technical language combined with interviews with ordinary people caught in the bear trap of debt.
Chris Ramsey
Oct 26, 2009 Chris Ramsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extrememly interesting, I also watched the documentary that made a great companion with this book, but is a little choppy without it. Highly recommend it to anyone, in fact, just mailed my copy to my sister, and insisted she read it as well. Found the opionion of presidential domestic policy concerning credit, debt and the economy (think it was on page 107) very succinct.
Apr 20, 2008 Nan rated it liked it
They would like to have you believe otherwise, but the credit card companies are not your friends! (If this is a surprise to you, you need this book right this second.) True, the stories here are the worst of the worst, but it's a worthwhile read. Lots of credit does not give you the American Dream. It just lets you pretend for a while.
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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 wo ...more
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