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Household Risk Management and Optimal Mortgage Choice

  • Joao Cocco
  • John Campbell

Home mortgages are the most significant financial contract for many households. The form of this contract is correspondingly important. This paper studies the choice between fixed-rate (FRM) and adjustable-rate (ARM) mortgages. In an environment with uncertain inflation, nominal FRMs have risky real capital value whereas ARMs have safe capital value. However ARMs can greatly increase the short-term variability of required real interest payments. This is a serious disadvantage of ARMs for households who face borrowing constraints and have only a small buffer stock of financial assets. The paper uses numerical methods to solve a life-cycle model with risky labor income and borrowing constraints, under alternative assumptions about available mortgage contracts. Households with large mortgages, risky labor income, high risk aversion, and a low probability of moving are more likely to prefer nominal FRMs. The paper also considers inflation-indexed FRMs. These mortgages remove the wealth risk of nominal FRMs without incurring the income risk of ARMs, and therefore are a superior vehicle for household risk management. The paper finds that the welfare gains of mortgage indexation can be very large.

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Paper provided by Econometric Society in its series Econometric Society 2004 North American Winter Meetings with number 632.

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Date of creation: 11 Aug 2004
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Handle: RePEc:ecm:nawm04:632
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