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Where Is The Missing Credit Card Debt? Clues And Implications

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  • Jonathan Zinman

Abstract

I create comparable estimates of aggregate credit card use based on household data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) and industry data. The two sources match up well on credit card charges and fairly well on account totals. But the SCF always yields much lower estimates of revolving debt. My estimated lower bound for the discrepancy in 2004 is half of the revolving credit card debt total implied by industry data. There is no obvious source for this remaining discrepancy and some evidence that the discrepancy has grown over time. Such growth is worrisome because it parallels substantial changes in credit card use and in the pool of credit card users, suggesting that the discrepancy could be driven by household underreporting that is correlated with unobserved heterogeneity. This correlation could confound inference on the relationship between credit card borrowing and outcomes of interest like household financial condition, consumption paths, and portfolio choice. Given this possibility it is critical to continue developing evidence on whether and why household surveys undercount credit card borrowing.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Zinman, 2009. "Where Is The Missing Credit Card Debt? Clues And Implications," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 55(2), pages 249-265, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:revinw:v:55:y:2009:i:2:p:249-265
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4991.2009.00321.x
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David B. Gross & Nicholas S. Souleles, 2002. "Do Liquidity Constraints and Interest Rates Matter for Consumer Behavior? Evidence from Credit Card Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 149-185.
    2. Johnson Kathleen W., 2007. "The Transactions Demand for Credit Cards," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-33, March.
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