Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis




College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Drucilla K. Barker


The Walking Debt provides first-hand accounts of predatory finance and financial literacy. This thesis displays how low- and middle-income earners afford their cost of living in times of stagnant wages and rising costs, through face-to-face interviews with payday loan recipients. Payday loans are short-term, high interest loans whose clients typically “rollover” to afford the cost of credit and their cost of living. Although these loans are not new, they came to thrive following a series of neoliberal reforms beginning in the 1970s that ultimately undermined the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977. Due to the nature of neoliberalism, responsibility for financial well-being has fallen upon the individual, through a reduction in forms of social welfare policies and economic regulation. In effect, people who struggle to afford their cost of living increasingly rely on credit to make ends meet. Through interviewing payday loan clients, I find that although these loans are predatory they can be used strategically, including: cash-on-hand, convenience, non-reporting nature, and near guaranteed approval. An important contribution this work makes is displaying a degree of richness that is typically not associated with predatory finance. Displaying the complexity of clients for predatory finance displays the breadth of discontent from neoliberal policy reforms that led to the rise of payday loans. I couple these perspectives with different forms of financial literacy to display provide an understanding of what low- and middle-income earners are taught to avoid debt traps like payday loans. I present perspectives of different community financial experts including financial journalists and financial ministry instructors. Financial ministry is a form of financial literacy that incorporates Christian values and is often one of the only forms of financial literacy open and free to members of the public. Financial ministry is often held in Evangelical churches, which since the 1970s have come to embrace the ideology of prosperity gospel. Prosperity gospel incorporates a form of cultural hybridity that blends trending secular elements with traditional Christian values. I find that financial instruction through these services is premised on a shared set of values with neoliberalism, including their shared focus on the individual.


© 2018, Arya Novinbakht

Included in

Anthropology Commons