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Observing unobservables: identifying information asymmetries with a consumer-credit field experiment

  • Dean Karlan
  • Jonathan Zinman

Information asymmetries are important in theory but difficult to identify in practice. We estimate the empirical importance of adverse selection and moral hazard in a consumer credit market using a new field experiment methodology derived from theoretical models. We randomized 58,000 direct mail offers issued by a major South African lender along three dimensions: 1) the initial "offer interest rate" appearing on the direct mail solicitations; 2) a "contract interest rate" equal to or less than the offer interest rate and revealed to the over 4,000 borrowers who agreed to the initial offer rate; and 3) a dynamic repayment incentive that extends preferential pricing on future loans to borrowers who remain in good standing. These three randomizations, combined with complete knowledge of the Lender's information set, permit identification of specific types of private information problems. Specifically, our setup distinguishes adverse selection from moral hazard effects on repayment, and thereby generates unique evidence on the existence and magnitudes of specific credit market failures. We find some evidence of both adverse selection and moral hazard, and the findings suggest that about 40% of default is due to asymmetric information problems. This helps explain the prevalence of credit rationing even in a market that specializes in financing high-risk borrowers at very high rates.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in its series Proceedings with number 961.

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Date of creation: 2005
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Proceedings of a conference held in Washington, DC. (2005 : April 7-8) : a Federal Reserve System Community Affairs Reseach Conference; Promises & Pitfalls: as Consumer Finance Options Multiply, Who Is Being Served and at What Cost?
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhpr:961
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