Got Debt and The Institute, Perfect Together

Wondering today if Stephen King is the Sarah Poriss of debt? Or is it the other way around? Regardless, I was just thrilled to see that debt – and debt relief – is a key (the key?) plot device in King’s latest, The Institute.

Without ‘debt’ The Institute would pretty much end (badly for most of the characters) around page 250. It’s that big a deal – as it is for most Americans.

I’m not giving away anything, I’m not spoiling anything revealing this, so, please, read on.

Here’s King’s description of America’s debt problem (as relayed by a very smart twelve-year old):

Luke thought about his researches . . . One horrifying statistic in particular stuck out: Americans owed over twelve trillion dollars. Money spent but not earned, just promised. A paradox only an accountant could love. While much of the debt had to do with mortgages on homes and businesses, an appreciable amount led back to those little plastic rectangles everyone kept in their purses and wallets: the oxycodone of American consumers.

My thoughts on those little plastic rectangles from my last blog post: ” . . . study after study shows that when consumers use reward cards and think they are “getting something back,” they get a little hit of dopamine. It feels good. It feels and looks like you’re getting something for free.  They never think about how they aren’t really deciding how to spend their money.”

Back to The Institute and King’s protagonist, Luke.  His friend relays what debt collectors are doing to her:

“Sometimes they call at midnight! ‘Pay up or the bank’s going to take your house next week! You’ll come
back to find the locks changed and your furniture out on the lawn!’”

Luke had read about this,and worse. Debt collectors threatening to turn aged parents out of their nursing homes. Threatening to go after young adult children still trying to get some financial traction. Anything to get their percentage of the cash grab.

From Got Debt: Dispatches From the Front Lines of America’s Financial Crisis:

The biggest part of having too much debt that plagues the average American, especially when someone gets to the point where they can’t repay it, is what I’ll call the “boogeyman in the closet” phenomenon.

This is the fear that something terrible will occur THE MINUTE someone can’t make a payment on their bills. The belief that missing a payment due date on a credit card is going to cause the sky to fall, it’s going to cause instant public shame, AND on top of that, the boogeyman is going to come out of the closet or out from under the bed and GET YOU.

I know that this boogeyman is real because of the questions I get and the things people tell me based on their assumptions (or on the gobbledygook they read on the internet or that they get from their brother-in-law).

The boogeyman comes in the form of:

“If I miss my credit card payment, can they take my car?”

“If I’m overdue on my credit cards will they put a lien on my house?”

“Will my boss know?”

“Will they garnish my wages?”

“Will they take all my retirement?”

And, the big one,

 “Can I be arrested?”

Stephen King apparently discovered this boogeyman and ran with it. Fantastic. The New York Times called The Institute, King’s scariest – because most of it, most of its characters, seem so ‘normal’. Regular people, regular problems.

Debt is, unfortunately, a regular problem. Here’s what King’s hero has to say the solution to that is:

“You need a lawyer. Don’t even think about going to one of the quick-buck companies that advertise on cable, they’ll take you for everything they can and then put you in Chapter 7. You’ll never get your credit rating back. You want a straight-arrow lawyer who specializes in debt relief, knows all about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and hates the bloodsuckers.”

That speaks for itself. And me.