"Documentary and local banks work for consumer relief


What: “In Debt We Trust” screening

When: Thursday, June 28, 2007, 7 p.m.

Where: Key Cinemas, 4404 S. Keystone Ave.

Cost: Free

Who: Public Access of Indianapolis, a nonprofit organization that promotes participatory, community-driven media, is hosting the event, along with co-sponsors Indiana Alliance for Democracy, Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, United Senior Action and the Marion County Green Party. Organizations will have representatives available after the film to talk about local issues and impacts.

“In Debt We Trust,” a new documentary being screened at Key Cinemas this Thursday, looks at how and why so many Americans are drowning in debt and what needs to be done to combat the ever-worsening problem.

Award-winning producer and media analyst Danny Schechter was looking for an issue that resonated with all Americans and realized that the debt issue “can bring people together because so many people suffer. This is something that cuts across the spectrum of America life, because of the way debt has become a driving force in the America economy.”

Schechter’s movie traces the progression of American economics from production to consumption with the mall replacing the factory as the icon of American economic power.

“Now, the whole idea is to get people to buy things — and we’ll lend you the money if necessary,” Schechter said. “Credit cards went from being a luxury to being a necessity to being a noose around the neck for many people.”

Schechter set up StopTheSqueeze.org Americans for Debt Relief Now to address the problem politically.

He says, “The reason we’re in this mess right now is because the Congress has largely been bought — I’m talking here Democrats and Republicans — with donations by financial institutions and real estate companies and the like. It’s been very tough to get legislation to protect consumers. … We have a climate with very little regulation and very little consumer protection.”

Local debt efforts

In 2004, Indiana was first in the nation in home foreclosures, and Indianapolis ranked third among big cities in foreclosures last year. Following an initial decrease in personal bankruptcy filings after the national Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 made it much more difficult for individuals to get a clean start, the numbers are creeping up again, and the Indianapolis region is on track to see a third more Chapter 7 filings this year than last.

Before it gets to that point, though, several area organizations and institutions have programs to increase financial IQ.

First Indiana Bank tries to catch kids young with their Coindexter Saving Club for grade-school children, which pulls parents into the process of showing kids how to record deposits and withdrawals and calculate the balance in their accounts.

“The aim is to teach them to become debt adverse,” says Ken Hall, director of retail banking. The American Bankers Association also reaches out to youngsters with its national Teach Children to Save Day, during which bank employees go out to schools to tell kids about good saving and banking practices.

Along with other area banks and most credit unions, First Indiana is also part of the Get Checking program run by the Purdue Extension-Marion County (www.getchecking.org). Participants, generally people who failed to manage previous checking accounts and are denied the opportunity to open a new account, pay $40 ($60 for couples) to attend a six-hour course that teaches them how to manage a checking account and become fiscally responsible. A graduate of the course can take their certificate of completion to a participating financial institution and open an account.

For those who need more comprehensive assistance, not-for-profit credit counseling services act as financial advisors and personal advocates to mediate debt consolidation and repayment for a small or voluntary fee.

To someone struggling with debt issues, Laurie Jones, director of education and community relations for Momentive Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a not-for-profit service, offers this advice: “Keep communication with creditors open.”

She advocates calling credit card companies at the first sign of trouble, noting that individuals can negotiate a lower interest rate or an alternative payment schedule on their own, although Momentive counselors will represent a client with all their creditors.

Jones also promotes financial literacy, pointing out that people need to know what the APR (annual percentage rate) is on their credit cards and loans. They need to find out the true, total costs of having a credit card, getting a loan and taking out a mortgage.

Momentive offers a variety of free workshops and services; contact them toll-free at (888) 711-7227 or go to www.momentive.org.

For more information on First Indiana Bank programs, go to www.firstindiana.com. Information about programs offered by Momentive can be found at www.momentive.org.

For more information on the documentary “In Debt We Trust,” go to www.indebtwetrust.org.



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