Film review: Past – In search of change – Utne
The 40-minute documentary Spent: Seeking Change tells the story of Justin, Tiffany, Melissa, Alex and Debbie and nearly 70 million other Americans. This is the number of people outside the traditional banking system who use services like payday lenders and title loans. While these services serve a necessary role for those without a bank account, they also create a cycle of fees and interest that can be difficult to break free from.
Melissa and Alex, a couple from Rhode Island, had a hard time when their son was diagnosed with autism and Alex was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis which forced him to quit his job. In an effort to keep up with the regular bills for things like electricity as well as additional medical bills, they ended up taking out a small loan of $ 450. This ultimately turned into $ 1,700 in fees and interest.
Debbie is a handbag designer who has had some success in selling her products. However, with six-figure student debt, she can only buy the bag materials in small quantities. Because her line of credit is so small, she wouldn’t be able to accept a high value order if approached by a large boutique or retailer.
We watch a mother’s car being towed away and another mother spends time and gasoline paying her bills because she doesn’t have an online bank account. These and other stories highlight the tribulations people face because they are not “banked”. An increasing number of people who turn to these services are considered middle class and the film cites the fact that nearly half of households in the United States do not have $ 2,000 in emergency reserves.
The film also mentions new initiatives that address ways to more efficiently bank outside the system or ways to help people get approved for bank accounts and small business loans. In San Francisco, communities are pooling their money to form a fairer lending system, and in Atlanta, an organization is working to expand the criteria upon which credit scores are generated.
However, the documentary does not address the root causes. While this may be beyond its scope, the deeper issues that compel individuals to use these services must be taken into account. If people had a living wage, affordable health care, and affordable higher education, there might be much less need for payday lenders and other alternative financial services.
Another disclaimer to the article is that it is sponsored by a major credit card company, American Express, and the movie website basically advertises some American Express services. That said, the documentary is worth the time because the stories and statistics are important. We can see it in full here: