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Consumer Debt and default: A Macro Perspective

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  • Florian Exler
  • Michéle Tertilt

Abstract

In this survey, we review the quantitative macroeconomic literature analyzing consumer debt and default. We start by providing an overview of consumer bankruptcy law in the US and document the relevant institutional changes over time. We proceed with a comprehensive empirical section, describing key facts about consumer debt, defaults and delinquencies, as well as charge-off and interest rates for the United States. In addition to the evolution of these variables over time, we construct life-cycle profiles using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances and show that debt and defaults display a clear hump-shaped profile by age. Third, we show how credit card debt has evolved along the income distribution. Finally, we document a large amount of heterogeneity in credit card interest rates across consumers. In the second part of the survey, we describe what has by now become the workhorse model of consumer credit and default. We discuss a quantitative version of the model and use it to decompose the main reasons for default. We also use the model to illustrate how the details of default costs matter. The remainder of the survey then discusses the literature centered around two questions. First, what are the welfare implications of various bankruptcy laws? And second, what caused the rise in filings over time? We end with a discussion of open questions and fruitful avenues for future research.

Suggested Citation

  • Florian Exler & Michéle Tertilt, 2020. "Consumer Debt and default: A Macro Perspective," CRC TR 224 Discussion Paper Series crctr224_2020_153v2, University of Bonn and University of Mannheim, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:bon:boncrc:crctr224_2020_153v2
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    Cited by:

    1. Exler, Florian & Livshits, Igor & MacGee, Jim & Tertilt, Michèle, 2020. "Consumer Credit with Over-Optimistic Borrowers," CEPR Discussion Papers 15570, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Satyajit c & Dean Corbae & Kyle Dempsey & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull, 2020. "A Quantitative Theory of the Credit Score," PIER Working Paper Archive 20-030, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
    3. Exler, Florian & Hansak, Alexander, 2021. "Naïve Consumers and Financial Mistakes," VfS Annual Conference 2021 (Virtual Conference): Climate Economics 242359, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Consumer Debt; Default; Bankruptcy; Chapter 7; Bankruptcy Law; Delinquency; Credit Cards; Unsecured Debt; Charge-Offs; Interest Rates;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C60 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - General
    • E20 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - General (includes Measurement and Data)
    • G20 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - General
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General

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