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Consumer Debt Dynamics: Follow the Increasers

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Abstract

Consumer debt played a central role in creating the U.S. housing bubble, the ensuing housing downturn, and the Great Recession, and it has been blamed as a factor in the weak subsequent recovery as well. This paper uses micro-level data to decompose consumer debt dynamics by separating the actions of consumer debt increasers and decreasers, and then further decomposing movements into percentage and size margins among the increasers and decreasers. We view such a decomposition as informative for macroeconomic models featuring a central role for consumer debt. Using this framework, we show that variations in borrowing activity among the increasers explain four times as much of the total variation in consumer debt as variations among the decreasers who are shedding debt, whether through paydowns or defaults. We also provide micro-level evidence of a sharp decline in the percentage of increasers during the financial crisis that is qualitatively consistent with a binding zero lower bound on nominal interest rates, and evidence of a cycle in the average size of debt changes among the increasers that is related to rising collateral values pre-crisis coupled with additional financial frictions after the crisis.

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  • Braxton, John Carter & Knotek, Edward S., 2014. "Consumer Debt Dynamics: Follow the Increasers," Working Paper 1401, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedcwp:1401
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    1. Zeldes, Stephen P, 1989. "Consumption and Liquidity Constraints: An Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(2), pages 305-346, April.
    2. Veronica Guerrieri & Guido Lorenzoni, 2017. "Credit Crises, Precautionary Savings, and the Liquidity Trap," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 132(3), pages 1427-1467.
    3. Alejandro Justiniano & Giorgio Primiceri & Andrea Tambalotti, 2015. "Household leveraging and deleveraging," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 18(1), pages 3-20, January.
    4. Midrigan, Virgiliu & Philippon, Thomas, 2011. "Household Leverage and the Recession," CEPR Discussion Papers 8381, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. 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.
    6. Edward S. Knotek & John Carter Braxton, 2012. "What drives consumer debt dynamics?," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Q IV.
    7. Robert E. Hall, 2011. "The Long Slump," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(2), pages 431-469, April.
    8. Atif Mian & Amir Sufi, 2009. "The Consequences of Mortgage Credit Expansion: Evidence from the U.S. Mortgage Default Crisis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(4), pages 1449-1496.
    9. Kathleen W. Johnson & Geng Li, 2010. "The Debt-Payment-to-Income Ratio as an Indicator of Borrowing Constraints: Evidence from Two Household Surveys," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 42(7), pages 1373-1390, October.
    10. Gauti B. Eggertsson & Paul Krugman, 2012. "Debt, Deleveraging, and the Liquidity Trap: A Fisher-Minsky-Koo Approach," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(3), pages 1469-1513.
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    Keywords

    consumer debt; deleveraging; zero lower bound; increasers; decreasers;

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles

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