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Borrowing from yourself: 401(k) loans and household balance sheets

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Listed:
  • Geng Li
  • Paul A. Smith

Abstract

We examine 401(k) borrowing since 1992 and identify a puzzle: despite potential gains from borrowing against 401(k) assets instead of from other sources, most eligible households eschew 401(k) loans, including many who carry relatively expensive balances on credit cards and auto loans. We estimate that households with access to 401(k) loans could have saved about $3.3 billion in 2004--about $200 per household--by shifting debt to 401(k) loans. We find that liquidity constrained households are most likely to borrow against their accounts; however, the fastest growth has been among higher income, less liquidity constrained households. From 1992 to 2004, we do not find significantly different growth in wealth between households eligible for loans and those ineligible for loans. The recent tightening of terms and standards in mortgage and consumer lending has likely increased 401(k) borrowing, which could improve household balance sheets, if handled correctly. However, the improvement could be short-lived if the economic downturn leads to reduced contributions or significantly higher 401(k) loan defaults.

Suggested Citation

  • Geng Li & Paul A. Smith, 2008. "Borrowing from yourself: 401(k) loans and household balance sheets," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-42, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2008-42
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Irina A. Telyukova, 2013. "Household Need for Liquidity and the Credit Card Debt Puzzle," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(3), pages 1148-1177.
    2. Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Madrian, Brigitte C., 2004. "Plan Design and 401(K) Savings Outcomes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 275-298, June.
    3. Love, David, 2006. "Buffer stock saving in retirement accounts," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(7), pages 1473-1492, October.
    4. Bergstresser, Daniel & Poterba, James, 2004. "Asset allocation and asset location: household evidence from the survey of consumer finances," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 1893-1915, August.
    5. Tullio Jappelli & Jörn-Steffen Pischke & Nicholas S. Souleles, 1998. "Testing For Liquidity Constraints In Euler Equations With Complementary Data Sources," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(2), pages 251-262, May.
    6. Amromin, Gene & Huang, Jennifer & Sialm, Clemens, 2007. "The tradeoff between mortgage prepayments and tax-deferred retirement savings," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(10), pages 2014-2040, November.
    7. Brahima Coulibaly & Geng Li, 2009. "Choice of Mortgage Contracts: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 37(4), pages 659-673.
    8. Poterba, James M. & Venti, Steven F. & Wise, David A., 1995. "Do 401(k) contributions crowd out other personal saving?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 1-32, September.
    9. Love, David A., 2007. "What can the life-cycle model tell us about 401(k) contributions and participation?," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(02), pages 147-185, July.
    10. Karen M. Pence, 2002. "401(k)s and household saving: new evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2002-6, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    11. Barber, Brad M. & Odean, Terrance, 2004. "Are individual investors tax savvy? Evidence from retail and discount brokerage accounts," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1-2), pages 419-442, January.
    12. repec:fth:pennfi:69 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Eric M. Engen & William G. Gale, 2000. "The Effects of 401(k) Plans on Household Wealth: Differences Across Earnings Groups," NBER Working Papers 8032, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jonathan Huntley & Valentina Michelangeli, 2011. "Can Tax Rebates Stimulate Consumption Spending in a Life-Cycle Model? (Working Paper 2011-02)," Working Papers 41581, Congressional Budget Office.
    2. Geng Li & Paul A. Smith, 2009. "New evidence on 401(k) borrowing and household balance sheets," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-19, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    3. Timothy Jun Lu & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2010. "Borrowing from Yourself: The Determinants of 401(k) Loan Patterns," Working Papers wp221, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.

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    Keywords

    401(k) plans ; Consumption (Economics);

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