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Do we know what we owe? A comparison of borrower- and lender-reported consumer debt

Household surveys are the source of some of the most widely studied data on consumer balance sheets, with the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) generally cited as the leading source of wealth data for the United States. At the same time, recent research questions survey respondents’ propensity and ability to report debt characteristics accurately. We compare household debt as reported by borrowers to the SCF with household debt as reported by lenders to Equifax using the new FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel (CCP). Moments of the borrower and lender debt distributions are compared by year, age of household head, household size, and region of the country, in total and across five standard debt categories. Our central finding is that the SCF and CCP debt patterns are strikingly similar. There are, however, two noteworthy exceptions: The aggregate credit card debt implied by SCF borrowers’ reports is estimated to be between 60 and 63 percent of that implied by CCP lenders’ reports, and the aggregate student debt implied by the SCF is roughly 75 percent of that implied by the CCP. Despite the credit card debt mismatch, bankruptcy history is reported comparably in the borrower and lender sources, indicating that not all stigmatized consumer behaviors are underreported.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of New York in its series Staff Reports with number 523.

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Length: 50 pages
Date of creation: 2011
Date of revision: 01 Oct 2013
Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:523
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  1. Donghoon Lee & Wilbert Van der Klaauw, 2010. "An introduction to the FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel," Staff Reports 479, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  2. Telyukova, Irina A., 2012. "Household Need for Liquidity and the Credit Card Debt Puzzle," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt0ww2c04z, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
  3. Keister,Lisa A., 2000. "Wealth in America," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521627511, September.
  4. Cox, Donald & Jappelli, Tullio, 1993. "The Effect of Borrowing Constraints on Consumer Liabilities," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 25(2), pages 197-213, May.
  5. Lusardi, Annamaria & Tufano, Peter, 2015. "Debt literacy, financial experiences, and overindebtedness," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(04), pages 332-368, October.
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  7. Song Han & Geng Li, 2009. "Household borrowing after personal bankruptcy," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-17, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. Mariacristina De Nardi, 2004. "Wealth Inequality and Intergenerational Links," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 71(3), pages 743-768.
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  10. Carol C. Bertaut & Michael Haliassos & Michael Reiter, 2009. "Credit Card Debt Puzzles and Debt Revolvers for Self Control," Review of Finance, European Finance Association, vol. 13(4), pages 657-692.
  11. Robert M. Hunt, 2002. "What's in the file? The economics and law of consumer credit bureaus," Business Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, issue Q2, pages 17-25.
  12. Fissel, Gary S & Jappelli, Tullio, 1990. "Do Liquidity Constraints Vary over Time? Evidence from Survey and Panel Data," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 22(2), pages 253-62, May.
  13. 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.
  14. Keister,Lisa A., 2000. "Wealth in America," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521621687, September.
  15. Nobuhiro Kiyotaki & Alexander Michaelides & Kalin Nikolov, 2011. "Winners and Losers in Housing Markets," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 43, pages 255-296, 03.
  16. 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.
  17. Irina A. Telyukova & Randall Wright, 2007. "A model of money and credit, with application to the credit card debt puzzle," Working Paper 0711, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
  18. Dean Karlan & Jonathan Zinman, 2008. "Lying About Borrowing," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 6(2-3), pages 510-521, 04-05.
  19. Ethan Cohen-Cole & Burcu Duygan-Bump & Judit Montoriol-Garriga, 2009. "Forgive and forget: who gets credit after bankruptcy and why?," Risk and Policy Analysis Unit Working Paper QAU09-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
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