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The Democratization of Credit and the Rise in Consumer Bankruptcies

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  • Igor Livshits
  • James C. Mac Gee
  • Michèle Tertilt

Abstract

Financial innovations are a common explanation for the rise in credit card debt and bankruptcies. To evaluate this story, we develop a simple model that incorporates two key frictions: asymmetric information about borrowers' risk of default and a fixed cost of developing each contract lenders offer. Innovations that ameliorate asymmetric information or reduce this fixed cost have large extensive margin effects via the entry of new lending contracts targeted at riskier borrowers. This results in more defaults and borrowing, and increased dispersion of interest rates. Using the Survey of Consumer Finances and Federal Reserve Board interest rate data, we find evidence supporting these predictions. Specifically, the dispersion of credit card interest rates nearly tripled while the "new" cardholders of the late 1980s and 1990s had riskier observable characteristics than existing cardholders. Our calculations suggest that these new cardholders accounted for over 20% of the rise in bank credit card debt and delinquencies between 1989 and 1998.

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  • Igor Livshits & James C. Mac Gee & Michèle Tertilt, 2016. "The Democratization of Credit and the Rise in Consumer Bankruptcies," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 83(4), pages 1673-1710.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:restud:v:83:y:2016:i:4:p:1673-1710.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/restud/rdw011
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    Cited by:

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    2. Moritz Drechsel-Grau & Fabian Greimel, 2018. "Falling Behind: Has Rising Inequality Fueled the American Debt Boom?," 2018 Meeting Papers 1032, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    3. Gajendran Raveendranathan & Georgios Stefanidis, 2020. "The Unprecedented Fall in U.S. Revolving Credit," Department of Economics Working Papers 2020-05, McMaster University.
    4. Kyle F. Herkenhoff & Gajendran Raveendranathan, 2019. "Who Bears the Welfare Costs of Monopoly? The Case of the Credit Card Industry," Working Papers 2019-071, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    5. Sheng, Tianxiang, 2021. "The effect of fintech on banks’ credit provision to SMEs: Evidence from China," Finance Research Letters, Elsevier, vol. 39(C).
    6. Luke Petach, 2020. "Local financialization, household debt, and the great recession," Papers in Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 99(3), pages 807-839, June.
    7. Madeira, Carlos, 2018. "Explaining the cyclical volatility of consumer debt risk using a heterogeneous agents model: The case of Chile," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 209-220.
    8. Raveendranathan, Gajendran, 2020. "Revolving credit lines and targeted search," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 118(C).
    9. Damar, H. Evren & Lange, Ian & McKennie, Caitlin & Moro, Mirko, 2020. "Banking deregulation and household consumption of durables," IWH Discussion Papers 18/2020, Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH).
    10. Bronson Argyle & Taylor D. Nadauld & Christopher Palmer, 2020. "Real Effects of Search Frictions in Consumer Credit Markets," NBER Working Papers 26645, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Jonathan Bauchet & David Evans, 2019. "Personal Bankruptcy Determinants Among U.S. Households During the Peak of the Great Recession," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 40(4), pages 577-591, December.
    12. Juan M. Sánchez, 2018. "The Information Technology Revolution And The Unsecured Credit Market," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 56(2), pages 914-930, April.
    13. Sumit Agarwal & Souphala Chomsisengphet & Neale Mahoney & Johannes Stroebel, 2018. "Do Banks Pass through Credit Expansions to Consumers Who want to Borrow?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 133(1), pages 129-190.
    14. Dean Corbae & Andrew Glover, 2018. "Employer Credit Checks: Poverty Traps versus Matching Efficiency," NBER Working Papers 25005, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Gajendran Raveendranathan, 2018. "Improved Matching, Directed Search, and Bargaining in the Credit Card Market," 2018 Meeting Papers 112, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    16. Hachem, Kinda, 2021. "Inefficiently low screening with Walrasian markets," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 935-948.
    17. Cifuentes, Rodrigo & Margaretic, Paula & Saavedra, Trinidad, 2020. "Measuring households' financial vulnerabilities from consumer debt: Evidence from Chile," Emerging Markets Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(C).
    18. Damar, H. Evren & Lange, Ian & McKennie, Caitlin & Moro, Mirko, 2022. "Banking deregulation and consumption of home durables," IWH Discussion Papers 4/2022, Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH).
    19. Huang, Shuo, 2022. "Does FinTech improve the investment efficiency of enterprises? Evidence from China’s small and medium-sized enterprises," Economic Analysis and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 571-586.
    20. Gajendran Raveendranathan & Georgios Stefanidis, 2022. "Designing “Win-Win” Rate Caps," Department of Economics Working Papers 2022-03, McMaster University.
    21. Arango, Luis E. & Cardona-Sosa, Lina & Pedraza-Jiménez, Nataly, 2021. "The use of credit cards among low- and middle-income individuals in Colombia and the channels of monetary policy," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 150-169.
    22. Egle Jakucionyte & Swapnil Singh, 2021. "Emergence of Subprime Lending in Minority Neighborhoods," Bank of Lithuania Working Paper Series 94, Bank of Lithuania.
    23. Allen N. Berger & Christa H. S. Bouwman & Lars Norden & Raluca A. Roman & Gregory F. Udell & Teng Wang, 2021. "Piercing Through Opacity: Relationships and Credit Card Lending to Consumers and Small Businesses During Normal Times and the COVID-19 Crisis," Working Papers 21-19, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
    24. Felipe Alves & Christian Bustamante & Xing Guo & Katya Kartashova & Soyoung Lee & Thomas Michael Pugh & Kurt See & Yaz Terajima & Alexander Ueberfeldt, 2022. "Heterogeneity and Monetary Policy: A Thematic Review," Discussion Papers 2022-2, Bank of Canada.
    25. Bertsch, Christoph & Hull, Isaiah & Qi, Yingjie & Zhang, Xin, 2020. "Bank misconduct and online lending," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 116(C).

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E49 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Other
    • G18 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • K35 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Personal Bankruptcy Law

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