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Where is the missing credit card debt? Clues and implications


  • Jonathan Zinman


Jonathan Zinman, an assistant professor of economics at Dartmouth College and a visiting scholar with the Payment Cards Center, makes a casual comparison of industry and household data sets which suggests that households underreport credit card borrowing by a factor of three. This paper offers some reassurance and several new stylized facts. Accounting for differences in definitions between household and industry measures reduces debt underreporting to a factor of two. Underreporting is less severe for general-purpose than for other cards. The true underreporting factor has remained stable over the past 15 years, even as 26 million households entered the market. Households report charges and account holding relatively accurately.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Zinman, 2007. "Where is the missing credit card debt? Clues and implications," Payment Cards Center Discussion Paper 07-11, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedpdp:07-11

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Johnson Kathleen W., 2007. "The Transactions Demand for Credit Cards," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-33, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stephan Meier & Charles Sprenger, 2010. "Present-Biased Preferences and Credit Card Borrowing," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 193-210, January.
    2. Cliff A. Robb & Patryk Babiarz & Ann Woodyard & Martin C. Seay, 2015. "Bounded Rationality and Use of Alternative Financial Services," Journal of Consumer Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(2), pages 407-435, July.
    3. Stephanie Moulton & Cäzilia Loibl & Anya Samak & J. Michael Collins, 2013. "Borrowing Capacity and Financial Decisions of Low-to-Moderate Income First-Time Homebuyers," Journal of Consumer Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(3), pages 375-403, November.
    4. Yvonne McCarthy & Kieran McQuinn, 2016. "Attenuation Bias, Recall Error and the Housing Wealth Effect," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 69(3), pages 492-517, August.
    5. McKernan, Signe-Mary & Ratcliffe, Caroline & Kuehn, Daniel, 2013. "Prohibitions, price caps, and disclosures: A look at state policies and alternative financial product use," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 207-223.
    6. Karlan, Dean & Osman, Adam & Zinman, Jonathan, 2016. "Follow the money not the cash: Comparing methods for identifying consumption and investment responses to a liquidity shock," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 11-23.
    7. Andreas Fuster & Paul S. Willen, 2011. "Insuring Consumption Using Income-Linked Assets," Review of Finance, European Finance Association, vol. 15(4), pages 835-873.
    8. Victor Stango & Jonathan Zinman, 2011. "Limited and Varying Consumer Attention: Evidence from Shocks to the Salience of Bank Overdraft Fees," NBER Working Papers 17028, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Bhutta, Neil, 2015. "The ins and outs of mortgage debt during the housing boom and bust," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 284-298.
    10. Gathergood, John, 2012. "Self-control, financial literacy and consumer over-indebtedness," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 590-602.
    11. Leigh Ann Leung & Catherine Lau, 2017. "Effect of mortgage indebtedness on health of U.S. homeowners," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 239-264, March.
    12. Connolly, Sean & Stavins, Joanna, 2015. "Payment instrument adoption and use in the United States, 2009–2013, by consumers' demographic characteristics," Research Data Report 15-6, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    13. Fulford, Scott L., 2015. "How important is variability in consumer credit limits?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 42-63.
    14. Jonathan Zinman & Dean Karlan, 2009. "Expanding Microenterprise Credit Access: Using Randomized Supply Decisions to Estimate the Impacts in Manila," Working Papers 976, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
    15. French, Declan & McKillop, Donal, 2016. "Financial literacy and over-indebtedness in low-income households," International Review of Financial Analysis, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 1-11.
    16. Bhutta, Neil, 2014. "Payday loans and consumer financial health," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 230-242.
    17. Stavins, Joanna, 2017. "How do consumers make their payment choices?," Research Data Report 17-1, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    18. Victor Stango & Jonathan Zinman, 2009. "What Do Consumers Really Pay on Their Checking and Credit Card Accounts? Explicit, Implicit, and Avoidable Costs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 424-429, May.
    19. Alice M. Henriques & Joanne W. Hsu, 2013. "Analysis of wealth using micro and macro data: a comparison of the Survey of Consumer Finances and Flow of Funds Accounts," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2013-46, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).

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    Credit cards ; Debt;

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