Book 50 of 52: "Bad Paper" by Jake Halpern

Debt.  We all know that it’s bad, but we only recently saw the impact that it can have on our entire economy in the crash in the most recent decade.  But just how does owing $5,000 for a car loan, or $300 for a payday loan, or $210,000 for a zero-money-down mortgage lead to problems with the entire stock market?

And what actually happens to all the debt?

In Bad Paper, investigative reporter Jake Halpern tracks some debt, or “paper”, as it’s known in the industry, from the original people who incurred the debt, to the bank that held the debt, to the debt collectors who bought the paper from the bank for pennies on the dollar so that they could try and collect on it.  Along the way, we meet loan sharks, thugs who harass these debtors to try and get at least some payment out of a five-year-old debt, and the white-collar investors who are starting to look at this paper as an opportunity to earn money.

The whole book seems to pick up a little bit of sleaze, but it’s still super interesting, and Halpern is a great writer.  He does a good job of showing us both the good and bad sides of each character, without straying too much into the realm of sermonizing morality.

In the end, I was left with a sense of disgust – not at any of the players in the book, but at the fact that we can have such a problem with debt.  That borrowing has led to such wide-spread effects that it’s created an entire industry just for the reticent repayers.

(I’m also super determined not to end up creating any of that “paper”, now)

Time to read: 2 hours or so – it’s a short one.

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