Maxed Out takes viewers on a journey deep inside the American style of debt, where things seem fine as long as the minimum monthly payment arrives on time. With coverage that spans from small American towns all the way to the White House, the film shows how the modern financial industry really works, explains the true definition of "preferred customer" and tells us why the poor are getting poorer while the rich keep getting richer. Hilarious, shocking and incisive, Maxed Out paints a picture of a national nightmare which is all too real for most of us."


Maxed Out begins as Beth Naef, one of the most successful real estate brokers in the country's hottest real estate market, Las Vegas, gives us a tour of a $5.5 million spec house. What's important to her clients, she says, are elevators, massive kitchens and wine cellars. Beth is building a ten-thousand square foot McMansion of her own, a home she admits she won't be able to afford if interest rates go up. But, as she concludes, "if you look like you make money, I guess eventually you will."

Maxed Out reveals the secrets of the new bank. John Ballew, a Midwestern banker whose neighborhood bank has been merged so many times he's lost count, tells us why suggestive selling is the primary qualification for working at a modern bank. Bud Hibbs, a well-known consumer advocate and the collection industry's enemy number one, explains why banks want us to be late. Liz Warren, a Harvard Professor who conducted the largest study of why Americans are going broke—at a rate higher than during the Great Depression—debunks the conventional wisdom that only "bad apples" declare bankruptcy. Liz's study proves that the bare necessities, not Prada shoes, are killing American families. A lifelong Republican, Liz's foray into the world of debt changed her politics and inspired a best-selling book: "The Two Income Trap".

Maxed Out reveals that the financial industry's best customers are the broke and the bankrupt. The most profitable niche of the industry is called "alternative" or "sub-prime"—euphemisms for a business formerly known as loan-sharking. They target those with less than perfect credit-people like Mark Mumma, whose frustration with the sub-prime credit card issuer Providian caused him to start the website From 2000-2002, Providian paid over $400 million to settle charges that it defrauded its customers. Soon after, a Providian director and the chairman of its compliance committee was appointed corporate crime czar by George W. Bush.

Maxed Out exposes the modern debt-style in all of its absurdities and contradictions. Nowhere are these more evident than in a journey with award-winning investigative journalist Mike Hudson, who travels to Mississippi, Pittsburgh, and New York City interviewing the victims of predatory lending scams. The most shocking discovery? The predators aren't boiler rooms or goodfellas. They are the nation's largest and most respected financial institutions! And they're not just preying on adults anymore. In 2001, FirstUSA hired two teenage high school students as walking billboards to make their cards seem "cool". FirstUSA also pioneered "partnerships" with colleges—paying them millions of dollars for access to their students' personal information, setting these kids up for ruin.

Maxed Out examines an industry that thrives on making people fail, then pursues them relentlessly to death's door. The film features a shocking interview with Bob and Chris—two idealistic entrepreneurs from Minneapolis whose "People First Recoveries" is buying bad debt all over the country in the hopes of huge profits. They're going to make "People First" a big success by being shockingly duplicitous. To get psyched up, Chris and Bob imagine themselves as "debt pirates", wrestlers and professional football players. The personal information at their disposal and the ways in which they are allowed to use it—calling people's neighbors and relatives to humiliate them into paying, for example—are nothing short of terrifying for us, fun for them.

Maxed Out delves into the heart of the information business. David Szwak, a prominent Shreveport attorney, reveals that 90 percent of credit reports—those forms that now determine whether we get a job, a home and insurance—have errors on them, yet the credit bureaus aren't doing anything to correct the situation. Why not? The more negative information, the higher the interest rate and the greater the industry's profits. If you dare challenge the industry, as did one woman whom the credit bureaus listed as "deceased", industry goons are dispatched to wear you down. Szwak also reveals a little known but troubling fact: the credit bureaus keep a special "V.I.P." list of prominent citizens whose reports are specially cleaned up. This protects the industry from legislative or judicial action and keeps those in power from knowing how flawed the credit system really is.

Finally, Maxed Out explores the financial industry's influence over the President and Congress. When you are the largest contributor to a President's re-election campaign, you can not only write laws but you can eliminate one of the oldest federal rights: bankruptcy. The industry gets whatever it wants. The result? Traditional protections disappear. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The situation becomes even more absurd as George W. Bush implores Congress not to leave Iraqis with debt at the same time National Guardsmen are forced to declare bankruptcy in Baghdad and the average American household's share of the national debt rockets to nearly $90,000.

At times hilarious, at times deeply disturbing, Maxed Out forces us to face the consequences of our national debt addiction: the suicides, the ruined lives and, ultimately, the disappearance of the American middle class.


John Ballew
John Ballew has spent over fifteen years as a manager in the retail banking industry. Mr. Ballew lives in New Albany, Indiana.

Chris & Luke
Chris & Luke became national media sensations in 2001 when they sold themselves as human billboards to FirstUSA, then a division of Bank One, in order to pay for college. Chris and Luke previously appeared in the award-winning Sundance Film, The Corporation.

Helena Durst
Helena Durst is an executive with the Durst Organization, a major real-estate developer based in New York City. Her grandfather, Seymour, is credited with revitalizing Sixth Avenue into the "Avenue of the Americas". He also built the original debt clock in 1988, which presently counts up the national debt from a perch on one of the company's skyscrapers.

Doris Gohman
Doris Gohman is a stay-at-home wife from Clearlake, Minnesota. In 2004, the country's three major credit bureaus mistakenly reported that she was deceased. They have yet to correct the error and Gohman is currently suing.

Alan Greenspan
Alan Greenspan is the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Bud Hibbs
Bud Hibbs is a nationally recognized consumer advocate who has written several books and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Mr. Hibbs is currently in discussions to launch a nationally syndicated radio show. His website,, is one of the most popular consumer financial sites on the Internet.

Mike Hudson
Mike Hudson is a former investigative journalist for the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Virginia, and author of Merchants of Misery, an expose of the predatory lending practices of large financial institutions. Mr. Hudson is currently a contributing writer on a series of articles on Ameriquest, the country's largest mortgage lender, for The Los Angeles Times.

Robert Johnson & Chris Winkler
Robert Johnson and Chris Winkler are co-founders and managing partners of People First Recoveries, a Minneapolis based collections and debt purchasing firm. Over the past twelve months, People First has grown from a staff of five collectors to 44 collectors.

Robin Leach
Robin Leach is one of the most recognized television personalities in the world. A founding editor of both People and Star magazines, Mr. Leach vaulted to stardom when the two-hour special he co-conceived, Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, became a pop culture phenomenon and paved the way for the celebrity lifestyle shows which have followed, including Cribs, The Fabulous Life and Rich Girls.

Brian Lurie
Brian Lurie is the owner of the Kirkland, Washington-based Yuppie Pawn Shop, which he founded twelve years ago.

Suze Orman
Suze Orman is best known as Oprah Winfrey's consumer finance guru. She is the author of several best-selling books, most recently The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke. She is also the host of The Suze Orman Show on MSNBC.

Dave Ramsey
Dave Ramsey is a born-again Christian financial guru based in Nashville, Tennessee. His radio show reaches millions of listeners in over 260 cities in the United States and he has written three New York Times best-selling books, including The Total Money Makeover. Dave is also dean of "Financial Peace University"—a monthlong course that teaches people to manage their finances responsibly. He has been featured on such programs as 60 Minutes and is a frequent speaker to large audiences around the country via his "LIVE" series of concerts.

Richard Shelby
Richard Shelby is the senior United States Senator from Alabama and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

David Szwak
David Szwak practices insurance and consumer law at the Shreveport firm of Bodenheimer, Jones & Szwak. He specializes in insurance law and litigation against credit bureaus.

Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren is a tenured professor at Harvard Law School. She is also the author of two major books: The Fragile Middle Class and the New York Times bestseller, The Two Income Trap. Professor Warren has testified before Congress numerous times and has appeared twice on The Dr. Phil Show.

Julie Williams
Julie Williams is the acting Comptroller of the Currency, the nation's top banking regulator.

Maxed Out is a feature-length documentary directed by James Scurlock.

TRT: 1 hr 27 min
Territories Available: All
Completion Date: January 30th, 2006
Format: HD
Shooting Format: HD 1080i

For distribution inquiries, please contact Josh Braun at Submarine at

To book James Scurlock as a speaker, please contact Jonathan Tunick of Mainstage Productions at 212.647.0947 or