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5 min read

Three Mistakes The Simpsons Made About Debt

The Simpsons is arguably one of the most popular shows on television. Premiering in 1987, the program has had more than 600 episodes and tackled a variety of themes. It tackles a variety of issues we face in the real world, one of those being the subject of debt. Although, arguably, the Simpsons didn’t take a realistic approach to this issue:

3 mistakes the Simpsons made about debt

1. No, a business cannot make you work off debt

One common cliché in television – and the Simpsons – is a character gets caught by a business being unable to pay their bill. To resolve the issue, the manager typically puts them to work.

If this is a restaurant, they might have to wash dishes until they’ve cleared the debt. Although how those plates were going to clean themselves before the character arrived is anyone’s guess.

A similar situation occurred in the episode ‘MyPods and Boomsticks’ where Lisa racks up a huge ‘MyPod’ download bill. To pay the debt, the company puts her to work as a living advertising billboard.

It’s actually illegal for a firm to do this – for the same reason that indentured slavery is illegal. However, this is still a fiction which is quite common today. In this situation, a business would not put you to work until the debt is cleared. Instead, depending on the circumstances, they might decide to take legal action against you.

2. Not all debt collectors are evil

Debt collectors are one of those professions where it’s common to assume the worst. While politicians are frequently associated with having a flexible approach to the truth, debt collectors are sometimes regarded as having no morals.

On television, these characters may threaten or torment the debtor until this person pays what they owe. In the Simpsons, few characters embody this personality more than ‘Mr Burns’ – notably in the episode ‘Homer vs Dignity’. In this, Mr Burns hires Homer to pull a variety of pranks on the town – with no thought to his mental or physical wellbeing.

Fortunately, debt collectors have to abide to a strict professional code. For example, they can’t call outside unsociable hours, harass you, or speak to other people about your debts without permission.

3. Overspending on credit cards carries consequences

Another common cliché seen in television shows is that you can rack up large amounts of credit card debt without long-term consequences. When the character eventually realizes the error of their ways, debt collectors arrive to repossess the goods.

The show then usually ends with the character’s life returning to normal.

We see this in the Simpson’s episode ‘The Canine Mutiny’ where Bart fraudulently applies for a credit card, gets approved, and uses it to buy expensive goods – one of them a trained dog named Laddie.

When debt collectors eventually demand payment, Bart ignores them. However, bailiffs soon turn up and repossess the goods. In real life, this matter would be more serious. For example, if he applied for the card legally, his credit rating would have been effectively ruined and the various lenders may have pursued legal action against him. If unable to pay, he might have even been made bankrupt.

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