Secret History of the Credit CardThe average American family today carries 10 credit cards. Credit card debt and personal bankruptcies are now at an all time high.

With no legal limit on the amount of interest or fees that can be charged, credit cards have become the most profitable sector of the American banking industry: more than $30 billion in profits last year alone.

This film examines how the credit card industry became so pervasive, so lucrative, and so powerful as correspondent Lowell Bergman uncovers the techniques used by the industry to earn record profits and get consumers to take on more debt.

Credit card debt is an example of unsecured consumer debt, accessed through credit cards. Debt results when a client of a credit card company purchases an item or service through the card system. Debt accumulates and increases via interest and penalties when the consumer does not pay the company for the money he or she has spent.

The results of not paying this debt on time are that the company will charge a late payment penalty (generally in the US from $10 to $40) and report the late payment to credit rating agencies. Being late on a payment is sometimes referred to as being in “default”. The late payment penalty itself increases the amount of debt the consumer has.

When a consumer has been late on a payment, it is possible that other creditors, even creditors the consumer was not late in paying, may increase the interest rates the consumer is paying. This practice is called universal default.

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