Documentary Cautions Against Consumer Debt

Kara Aranas

“There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s 29 percent,” mocked a commercial in the documentary by Eric Stern titled “In Debt We Trust,” screened on May 1 in the J.W. Smith Student Center.

The hour-long documentary talks about the seriousness and varieties consumer of debt in the country, the possible options for Americans to avoid it and to possibly get out of it. Stern uses examples ranging from credit card debt to military debt, student debt, and even shopping.

In the film Stern unveils how credit card companies deceive their users by adding extreme rewards to make it more appealing. An example he uses is the American Express black card, which enables the user to charge up to $300,000 annually. In addition to that, these “black card holders” are privileged to shop at an exclusive store that is only meant for those who are able to afford such luxuries.

“We are doomed to shop until we drop,” said a consumer who is interviewed in the film. By inserting a clip from CSPAN of a heated Sen. Edward Kennedy said that “$5 billion [is] going to these credit card companies,” Stern emphasizes that debt is becoming a national crisis.

The film states that most families will never pay back their mortgage because of constant re-financing. Natural disasters such, as Hurricane Katrina, played a major role in the loss of homes and drastically affected the victims’ financial situation.

Bankruptcy is also discussed in the documentary. “More than two million Americans went bankrupt in the year 2005,” says Charles Juntikka, a bankruptcy attorney interviewed in the film.

Among those that fell to bankruptcy was film producer Joel Sucher and actress Lorraine Bracco, who starred in the hit TV show “The Sopranos.” Bracco explained that although people may think that celebrities and the affluent never experience any financial dilemmas, it is quite the contrary. “We’re just like regular people; we have problems too,” says Bracco.

Stern also exposes the scams that are brought out in the form of check-cashing businesses. “That’s where they get you,” says a frustrated victim. The film reveals such businesses target rural Americans, who cannot afford to have a bank account, since most banks require a a deposit of at least $300 to open an account. Check-cashing stores and Rent-to-Own shops (a shop that allows its customers to rent things such as television sets and VCRs for payments that can range up to 20 years) target the low income members of society.

Footage of members of the Association of Communication Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) protesting is also shown. ACORN is meant to help those who are economically disadvantaged campaigning for better housing, the improvement of schools and to provide secure living wages for all workers.

“Debt has become more of a class separation than a racial one,” says an ACORN legislative representative.

The documentary concludes with tips on how people can get help with their debts.

One solution presented is attending a seminar with Dave Ramsey (host of the “Dave Ramsey Show”). Ramsey hosts a radio show on XM Satellite Radio channel 165 and on Sirius Satellite Radio channel 161. He holds these seminars hoping to answer questions of those attending and help them get on the right track.

At the end of the film presentation a question-and-answer session was held for students who had questions the film or to describe any financial problems they had. The session was conducted by Harvey Warren, author of the upcoming book “Forever in Your Debt; Escaping Credit Card Hell” and a promoter of “In Debt We Trust.”

“This feature was shown to let students know [how] to take this problem seriously,” said Warren. He explained that the purpose of the taping was not to turn students against credit cards, but to warn them about the irresponsible use of them.

College students fall prey to these various credit predators because they can be found in emails, flyers, mailboxes and have stands set up on campus in Plaza Vaquero. They are persistent and determined to get students to apply for a credit card, creating a bigger hole for those already in debt.

Prior to concluding the question and answer session, Warren offered the students some advice.

“A student loan is the cheapest money you can get,” he said. “It is almost impossible to pay it with cash. Get out of school, do well and pay it as quickly as possible. The most important advice I can give is to start a budget.”

“The documentary was really helpful because it makes people aware,” said student Rabi Shamas.