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Borrowing from yourself: 401(k) loans and household balance sheets

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  • Geng Li
  • Paul A. Smith
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Abstract

We examine 401(k) borrowing since 1992 and identify a puzzle: despite potential gains from borrowing against 401(k) assets instead of from other sources, most eligible households eschew 401(k) loans, including many who carry relatively expensive balances on credit cards and auto loans. We estimate that households with access to 401(k) loans could have saved about $3.3 billion in 2004--about $200 per household--by shifting debt to 401(k) loans. We find that liquidity constrained households are most likely to borrow against their accounts; however, the fastest growth has been among higher income, less liquidity constrained households. From 1992 to 2004, we do not find significantly different growth in wealth between households eligible for loans and those ineligible for loans. The recent tightening of terms and standards in mortgage and consumer lending has likely increased 401(k) borrowing, which could improve household balance sheets, if handled correctly. However, the improvement could be short-lived if the economic downturn leads to reduced contributions or significantly higher 401(k) loan defaults.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 2008-42.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2008-42

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Keywords: 401(k) plans ; Consumption (Economics);

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References

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  1. Eric M. Engen & William G. Gale, 2000. "The Effects of 401(k) Plans on Household Wealth: Differences Across Earnings Groups," NBER Working Papers 8032, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Jappelli, Tullio & Pischke, Jörn-Steffen & Souleles, Nicholas, 1995. "Testing for Liquidity Constraints in Euler Equations with Complementary Data Sources," CEPR Discussion Papers 1138, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Brahima Coulibaly & Geng Li, 2007. "Choice of mortgage contracts: evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2007-50, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2004. "Plan Design and 401(k) Savings Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 10486, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Amromin, Gene & Huang, Jennifer & Sialm, Clemens, 2007. "The tradeoff between mortgage prepayments and tax-deferred retirement savings," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(10), pages 2014-2040, November.
  6. Poterba, James M. & Venti, Steven F. & Wise, David A., 1995. "Do 401(k) contributions crowd out other personal saving?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 1-32, September.
  7. Karen M. Pence, 2002. "401(k)s and household saving: new evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2002-6, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. repec:fth:pennfi:69 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Irina A. Telyukova & Randall Wright, 2006. "A Model of Money and Credit, with Application to the Credit Card Debt Puzzle," 2006 Meeting Papers 45, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  10. Love, David A., 2007. "What can the life-cycle model tell us about 401(k) contributions and participation?," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(02), pages 147-185, July.
  11. Daniel Bergstresser & James Poterba, 2002. "Asset Allocation and Asset Location: Household Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," NBER Working Papers 9268, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Love, David, 2006. "Buffer stock saving in retirement accounts," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(7), pages 1473-1492, October.
  13. Barber, Brad M. & Odean, Terrance, 2004. "Are individual investors tax savvy? Evidence from retail and discount brokerage accounts," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1-2), pages 419-442, January.
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Cited by:
  1. Geng Li & Paul A. Smith, 2009. "New evidence on 401(k) borrowing and household balance sheets," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-19, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  2. Jonathan Huntley & Valentina Michelangeli, 2011. "Can Tax Rebates Stimulate Consumption Spending in a Life-Cycle Model? (Working Paper 2011-02)," Working Papers 41581, Congressional Budget Office.
  3. Timothy Jun Lu & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2010. "Borrowing from Yourself: The Determinants of 401(k) Loan Patterns," Working Papers wp221, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.

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