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Do high debt payments hinder household consumption smoothing?

  • Kathleen W. Johnson
  • Geng Li
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Recently, U.S. households have committed a rising share of disposable personal income to required principal and interest payments on household debt. Studies of the direct link between the household debt service ratio (DSR) and consumption show mixed results—perhaps because debt may instead alter the relationship between consumption and income. We explore this possibility by comparing the consumption smoothing behavior of households over the DSR distribution. We find that a high DSR alone does not indicate higher sensitivity of consumption to a change in income. However, we find evidence that the DSR may help identify borrowing constrained households. In particular, the consumption of households with low liquid assets and high DSRs is more sensitive than the consumption of other low liquid asset households. Although this effect of high DSR is not precisely estimated, it is large and robust to changes in the specification, suggesting that more work is warranted.

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Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 2007-52.

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Date of creation: 2007
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2007-52
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  1. Gervais, Martin & Klein, Paul, 2009. "Measuring consumption smoothing in CEX data," Discussion Paper Series In Economics And Econometrics 0906, Economics Division, School of Social Sciences, University of Southampton.
  2. Jappelli, Tullio, 1990. "Who Is Credit Constrained in the U.S. Economy?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(1), pages 219-34, February.
  3. Guy Debelle, 2004. "Macroeconomic implications of rising household debt," BIS Working Papers 153, Bank for International Settlements.
  4. Jonathan McCarthy, 1997. "Debt, delinquencies, and consumer spending," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 3(Feb).
  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, MIT Press, vol. 117(1), pages 149-185, February.
  6. Bacchetta, Philippe & Gerlach, Stefan, 1997. "Consumption and Credit Constraints: International evidence," CEPR Discussion Papers 1727, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Lusardi, Annamaria, 1996. "Permanent Income, Current Income, and Consumption: Evidence from Two Panel Data Sets," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 14(1), pages 81-90, January.
  8. Mishkin, Frederic S, 1976. "Illiquidity, Consumer Durable Expenditure, and Monetary Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(4), pages 642-54, September.
  9. Brian Bucks & Karen Pence, 2006. "Do homeowners know their house values and mortgage terms?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2006-03, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  10. Susan Dynarski & Jonathan Gruber, 1997. "Can Families Smooth Variable Earnings?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1), pages 229-303.
  11. Bound, John & Brown, Charles & Mathiowetz, Nancy, 2001. "Measurement error in survey data," Handbook of Econometrics, in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 59, pages 3705-3843 Elsevier.
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