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

  • Meta Brown
  • Andrew Haughwout
  • Donghoon Lee
  • Wilbert van der Klaauw

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. The debt reports are strikingly similar, with one noteworthy exception: the aggregate credit card debt implied by SCF borrowers’ reports is less than 50 percent of the aggregate credit card debt implied by CCP lenders’ reports. Adjustments for sample representativeness and for small business and convenience uses of credit cards raise SCF credit card debt to somewhere between 52 and 66 percent of the CCP figure. 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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Date of creation: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:523
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  1. Telyukova, Irina, 2008. "Household Need for Liquidity and the Credit Card Debt Puzzle," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt4c67r71r, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
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  9. 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.
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  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.
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  16. 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.
  17. Donghoon Lee & Wilbert van der Klaauw, 2010. "An introduction to the FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel," Staff Reports 479, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
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