Tom borrowed money from Ben. When the time came to pay it back, life is not nice to Tom and he just can’t pay. A very common situation. Let’s assume that Ben is a nice guy and he decides to leave Tom alone. Maybe someday Tom will be better off and even pay interest. Let’s call it Scenario 1.

In Scenario 2 Ben is not so nice or maybe penniless himself and needs his loan back no matter what. Let’s introduce another character – a tough guy Bill, whom Ben hires to force Tom to fulfill his obligations. Per our script, Tom will not pay anyway: he is not kidding, he is genuinely broke. What Bill will do? Let’s say, Bill is a money-squeezing professional, he wears a suit and a tie, and he takes Tom to the court. The court will ask Tom “How are you going to pay the debt?” Tom will honestly reply “I am not going to, because I can’t”. The court will not accept it as a valid answer and order Tom to pay small installments. By the time the whole amount is paid, our cast members will be very old people, but this is a fair court verdict. Nonetheless, Tom cannot come up even with small payments – remember? What is going to happen now? Can our Tom be incarcerated? We would like our script to say “no way, it’s not a crime to owe money, and debtors’ prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century”. But can we securely send this message? Moving from feature film to documentary. People are being thrown to jail for failing to pay debts. It happens now, not in 1800. Even in Minnesota, one of the most creditor-friendly states in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years. In Indiana, a woman was sentenced to jail for 30 days for missing payments on a debt of just $110. She escaped jail only because a complete stranger came up with $100, and somebody else threw in $10.

So, is Tom facing time behind bars? Sad scenario. And how will this help Ben or Bill? What’s the deal with the money?

Scenario 3. Ben is still not nice and hiring Bill. But this time Bill is not wearing tie. Or suit. He is covered with unkempt clothes and multiple tattoos. He is not connected to the legal system. He can beat Tom up, threaten him and his family, he will convert our film to gangster movie genre. If Bill crosses the line, Tom can report him to the authority, and now tough guy Bill is facing time behind bars. Can Tom also be charged with unpaid debt? In this case – less likely.

Now let’s upgrade our script from personal conflict to legal argument. Tom is still the poor Tom, unable to pay his debts. Ben becomes a Bank, which was careful enough to check Tom’s credentials before giving him a loan, but did not plan on Tom losing his job, getting sick or going through any other hardship. Bank is not Ben, he does not give a squat about Tom, and so Scenario 1 is hardly possible here. Bank realizes that Tom cannot and will not pay, and that he (Tom) can file bankruptcy, so he (Bank) sells Tom’s debt for less to get at least something. This brings us to Scenario 2.

In Scenario 2 Bill becomes a collection agency that bought Tom’s debt from Ben-the-Bank and now needs to at least return his money or (preferred) make a profit. In this scenario Bill-the-bill-collector is quite polished and will harass Tom very professionally, as well as probably politely take him to court. In a law suit with a financial institution the odds for Tom to be settled in prison are even higher. Incidentally, poor Tommy can very well be homeless by now, so prison may be a housing option for him. In a bad company, but at least not under the bridge. As cynical as this line is in our script, it is also not true anymore. An increasing number of prison systems are charging their inmates for room and board. Around $45 a night in Missouri, $10 to $15 in New Jersey, up to $60 a day in Oregon. But our Tom can’t pay. What can be done in this case? I guess authorities will have to issue a warrant for his arrest and again put him in jail. But again he can’t pay for jail accommodations – remember? Then what?

Scenario 3. Billy-the-Bully is a nasty collector, who uses illicit methods to squeeze his bucks out of the nonpayer. Or nonpayer’s close family. Or distant relatives. Or non-related people residing at his previous address. Or generally anyone. This character Bill does not care whom to harass, legal issues don’t bother him, being polite is not his way of conducting business. He is rude and obnoxious, he gladly violates FDCPA, illegitimately ruins Tom’s credit and reputation. Poor Tom does not deserve being treated this way. Nobody does. In our script Tom will issue Cease and Desist order against Bill’s collection gang. No one is going to jail, but Bill’s bullying will be stopped. We consider this a happy ending.

Happy ending increases the chances for our movie to be successful. We need to give Tom some hope. In a way, we are - Tom. We need to borrow money for the film production, and if it will not make a blockbuster, we may face collection turmoil.