IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Effect of Credit on Spending Decisions: The Role of the Credit Limit and Credibility


  • Dilip Soman

    (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong)

  • Amar Cheema

    (University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309)


The objective of the present research is to study consumer decisions to utilize a line of credit. The life-cycle hypothesis from economics argues that consumers should intertemporally reallocate their incomes over their life stream to maximize lifetime utility. One form of intertemporal allocation is to use past income (in the form of savings) in the future. A second form is the use of future income in the present. This can only be done if consumers have access to a temporary pool of money that they can draw from and replenish in the future—a function performed by consumer credit. However, our research reinforces prior findings that consumers are unable to correctly value their future incomes, and that they lack the cognitive capability to solve the intertemporal optimization problem required by the life-cycle hypothesis. Instead, we argue that consumers use information such as the credit limit as a signal of their future earnings potential. Specifically, if consumers have access to large amounts of credit, they are likely to infer that their lifetime income will be high and hence their willingness to use credit (and their spending) will also be high. Conversely, consumers who are granted lower amounts of credit are likely to infer that their lifetime income will be low and hence their spending will be lower. However, based on research in the area of consumer skepticism and inference making, we also argue for a moderating role of the credibility associated with the credit limit. Specifically, we argue that the above effect of credit availability would be particularly strong for consumers who believe that the credit limit credibly signals their future earnings potential (i.e., a naïve consumer who has limited experience with consumer credit). However, as consumers gain experience with credit, they start discounting credit availability as a predictor of their future and start questioning the validity of the process used to set the credit limit. Hence, with experience the effect of credit limit on the willingness to use credit should be attenuated. We test these predictions in five separate studies. In the first experimental study, we manipulate credit limit and credibility and pose subjects with a hypothetical purchase opportunity. Consistent with our prediction, credit limit impacted the propensity to spend, but only when the credibility was high. In the second experimental study, we replicate these findings even when subjects were given information about their expected future salaries, and also show that the credit limit influences their expectation of future earnings potential. In the third study, we show that the mere availability (and increase) of current liquidity cannot explain our findings. In the fourth study, we conduct a survey of consumers in which we measure a number of demographic characteristics and also ask them for their propensity to spend in a given purchase situation. In the fifth study we use the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) dataset, a triennial survey of U.S. families that is designed to provide detailed information on the use of financial services, spending behaviors, and selected demographic characteristics. Results from both studies 4 and 5 provide further support for our proposed framework—credit limits influence spending to a greater extent for consumers with lower credibility: younger consumers and less-educated consumers. Across all studies we achieved triangulation by using a variety of approaches (surveys and experiments), subjects types (young students and older consumers), nature of predictor variables (manipulated and measured), dependent measures (purchase likelihood, credit card balance, new charges), and methods of analysis (ANOVA and regression), and consistently found that increasing credit limits on a credit card increases spending, especially when the credibility of the limit is high. This paper joins a growing body of literature in marketing and behavioral decision theory that goes beyond the traditional domains of inquiry (e.g., product choice, effects of marketing mix variables) and focuses on consumer decisions relating to the appropriate use of income to finance consumption. Our framework differs from prior research on the effect of payment mechanisms on spending in two significant ways. First, we are interested in the effects of the availability of credit on spending, and not necessarily in the effect of the transaction format that is associated with each payment mechanism. Second, while prior research has studied the point-of-purchase and historic (i.e., prepurchase) effects of credit, the present research is concerned with the availability of credit in the future. Specifically, our framework is invariant to the current and prior usage of credit by the consumer.

Suggested Citation

  • Dilip Soman & Amar Cheema, 2002. "The Effect of Credit on Spending Decisions: The Role of the Credit Limit and Credibility," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 21(1), pages 32-53, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormksc:v:21:y:2002:i:1:p:32-53
    DOI: 10.1287/mksc.

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ford, Gary T & Smith, Darlene B & Swasy, John L, 1990. "Consumer Skepticism of Advertising Claims: Testing Hypotheses from Economics of Information," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 16(4), pages 433-441, March.
    2. Klaus Wertenbroch, 1998. "Consumption Self-Control by Rationing Purchase Quantities of Virtue and Vice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 17(4), pages 317-337.
    3. Soman, Dilip, 2001. "Effects of Payment Mechanism on Spending Behavior: The Role of Rehearsal and Immediacy of Payments," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 27(4), pages 460-474, March.
    4. Milton Friedman, 1957. "Introduction to "A Theory of the Consumption Function"," NBER Chapters, in: A Theory of the Consumption Function, pages 1-6, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Garcia, Gillian, 1980. "Credit Cards: An Interdisciplinary Survey," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(4), pages 327-337, March.
    6. Richard H. Thaler, 2008. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 27(1), pages 15-25, 01-02.
    7. Stephen Johnson & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & William Samuelson, 1987. "Can People Compute? An Experimental Test of the Life Cycle Consumption Model," NBER Working Papers 2183, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Hsee, Christopher K., 1995. "Elastic Justification: How Tempting but Task-Irrelevant Factors Influence Decisions," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 62(3), pages 330-337, June.
    9. Shefrin, Hersh M & Thaler, Richard H, 1988. "The Behavioral Life-Cycle Hypothesis," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 26(4), pages 609-643, October.
    10. Schelling, Thomas C, 1984. "Self-Command in Practice, in Policy, and in a Theory of Rational Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 1-11, May.
    11. Drazen Prelec & George Loewenstein, 1998. "The Red and the Black: Mental Accounting of Savings and Debt," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 17(1), pages 4-28.
    12. Ferber, Robert, 1973. "Consumer Economics, A Survey," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 11(4), pages 1303-1342, December.
    13. Heath, Chip & Soll, Jack B, 1996. "Mental Budgeting and Consumer Decisions," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(1), pages 40-52, June.
    14. Feinberg, Richard A, 1986. "Credit Cards as Spending Facilitating Stimuli: A Conditioning Interpretation," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(3), pages 348-356, December.
    15. Uri Benzion & Amnon Rapoport & Joseph Yagil, 1989. "Discount Rates Inferred from Decisions: An Experimental Study," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 35(3), pages 270-284, March.
    16. Milton Friedman, 1957. "A Theory of the Consumption Function," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number frie57-1, January.
    17. Hirschman, Elizabeth C, 1979. "Differences in Consumer Purchase Behavior by Credit Card Payment System," Journal of Consumer Research, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(1), pages 58-66, June.
    18. Kotlikoff, Laurence J & Samuelson, William & Johnson, Stephen, 1988. "Consumption, Computation Mistakes, and Fiscal Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(2), pages 408-412, May.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Milkman, Katherine L. & Beshears, John, 2009. "Mental accounting and small windfalls: Evidence from an online grocer," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 384-394, August.
    2. Ina Garnefeld & Andreas Eggert & Markus Husemann-Kopetzky & Eva Böhm, 2019. "Exploring the link between payment schemes and customer fraud: a mental accounting perspective," Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Springer, vol. 47(4), pages 595-616, July.
    3. Dalla Costa, Aldo Fortunato & Mollica, Vito & Singh, Abhay, 2021. "Payment methods and the disposition effect: Evidence from Indonesian mutual fund trading," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Finance, Elsevier, vol. 30(C).
    4. Yizhao Jiang, 2022. "The Influence of Payment Method: Do Consumers Pay More with Mobile Payment?," Papers 2210.14631,
    5. Falk, Tomas & Kunz, Werner H. & Schepers, Jeroen J.L. & Mrozek, Alexander J., 2016. "How mobile payment influences the overall store price image," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 69(7), pages 2417-2423.
    6. Sarofim, Samer & Chatterjee, Promothesh & Rose, Randall, 2020. "When store credit cards hurt retailers: The differential effect of paying credit card dues on consumers' purchasing behavior," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 290-301.
    7. Khan, Jashim & Belk, Russell W. & Craig-Lees, Margaret, 2015. "Measuring consumer perceptions of payment mode," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 34-49.
    8. Roland Benabou & Jean Tirole, 2004. "Willpower and Personal Rules," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(4), pages 848-886, August.
    9. Christiaensen , Luc & Pan, Lei, 2012. "On the fungibility of spending and earnings -- evidence from rural China and Tanzania," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6298, The World Bank.
    10. Min Chung Han, 2022. "Would you like to donate your reward points today? Mental accounting and checkout charity," International Review on Public and Nonprofit Marketing, Springer;International Association of Public and Non-Profit Marketing, vol. 19(3), pages 533-553, September.
    11. Antonides, Gerrit & Manon de Groot, I. & Fred van Raaij, W., 2011. "Mental budgeting and the management of household finance," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 546-555, August.
    12. Kakkar, Vikas & Li, King King, 2022. "Cash or card? Impression management and restaurant tipping behavior," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 97(C).
    13. Priya Jha-Dang, 2006. "A Review of Psychological Research on Consumer Promotions and a New Perspective Based on Mental Accounting," Vision, , vol. 10(3), pages 35-43, July.
    14. Bernadette Kamleitner & Berna Erki, 2013. "Payment method and perceptions of ownership," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 24(1), pages 57-69, March.
    15. Magdalena Zachłod-Jelec, 2008. "Koncepcja bogactwa gospodarstw domowych. Szacunki dla Polski," Gospodarka Narodowa. The Polish Journal of Economics, Warsaw School of Economics, issue 9, pages 19-50.
    16. Koch, Alexander K. & Nafziger, Julia, 2016. "Goals and bracketing under mental accounting," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 162(C), pages 305-351.
    17. Arvind Agrawal & James W. Gentry, 2020. "Why do many consumers prefer to pay now when they could pay later?," Journal of Consumer Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(2), pages 607-627, June.
    18. Zha, Yong & Wang, Yuting & Li, Quan & Yao, Wenying, 2022. "Credit offering strategy and dynamic pricing in the presence of consumer strategic behavior," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 303(2), pages 753-766.
    19. Mehmet Karacuka & Asad Zaman, 2012. "The empirical evidence against neoclassical utility theory: a review of the literature," International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 3(4), pages 366-414.
    20. Klaus Wertenbroch, 1998. "Consumption Self-Control by Rationing Purchase Quantities of Virtue and Vice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 17(4), pages 317-337.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:inm:ormksc:v:21:y:2002:i:1:p:32-53. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Matthew Walls (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.