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The Interplay Between Student Loans and Credit Card Debt: Implications for Default in the Great Recession

  • Ionescu, Felicia


    (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.))

  • Ionescu, Marius


    (Colgate University)

We analyze the interactions between two different forms of unsecured credit and their implications for default behavior of young U.S. households. One type of credit mimics credit cards in the United States and the default option resembles a bankruptcy filing under Chapter 7; the other type of credit mimics student loans in the United States and the default option resembles Chapter 13. In the credit card market a financial intermediary offers a menu of interest rates based on individual default risk, which account for borrowing and repayment behavior in both markets. In the student loan market, the government sets the interest rate and chooses a wage garnishment to pay for the cost associated with default. We prove the existence of a steady-state equilibrium and characterize the circumstances under which a household defaults on each of these loans. We demonstrate that the institutional differences between the two markets make borrowers prefer to default on student loans rather than on credit card debt. We find that the increase in student loan debt together with the expansion of the credit card market fully explains the increase in the default rate for student loans in recent normal years (2004-2007). Worse labor outcomes for young borrowers during the Great Recession (2008-2009) significantly amplified student loan default, whereas credit card market contraction during this period helped reduce this effect. At the same time, the accumulation of student loan debt did not affect much the default risk in the credit card market during normal times, but significantly increased it during the Great Recession. An income contingent repayment plan for student loans completely eliminates the default risk in the credit card market and induces important redistribution effects. This policy is beneficial (in a welfare improving sense) during the Great Recession but not during normal times.

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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 2014-14.

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Length: 65 pages
Date of creation: 03 Feb 2014
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2014-14
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  1. David B. Gross & Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "An Empirical Analysis of Personal Bankruptcy and Delinquency," Center for Financial Institutions Working Papers 98-28, Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania.
  2. Satyajit Chatterjee & Dean Corbae & Makoto Nakajima & José-Víctor Ríos-Rull, 2007. "A Quantitative Theory of Unsecured Consumer Credit with Risk of Default," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 75(6), pages 1525-1589, November.
  3. Kurt Mitman, 2012. "Macroeconomic Effects of Bankruptcy and Foreclosure Policies," 2012 Meeting Papers 563, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  4. Satyajit Chatterjee & Dean Corbae & José-Víctor Ríos-Rull, 2007. "A finite-life private-information theory of unsecured consumer debt," Working Papers 07-14, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  5. Athreya, Kartik & Tam, Xuan S. & Young, Eric R., 2009. "Unsecured credit markets are not insurance markets," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 83-103, January.
  6. Kahn, Lisa B., 2010. "The long-term labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 303-316, April.
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