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Are harsh penalties for default really better?

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  • Kartik B. Athreya
  • Xuan S. Tam
  • Eric R. Young

Abstract

How might society ensure the allocation of credit to those who lack meaningful collateral? Two very different options that have each been pursued by a variety of societies through time and space are (i) relatively harsh penalties for default and, more recently, (ii) loan guarantee programs that allow borrowers to default subject to moderate consequences and use public funds to compensate lenders. The goal of this paper is to provide a quantitative statement about the relative desirability of these responses. Our findings are twofold. First, we show that under a wide array of circumstances, punishments harsh enough to ensure all debt is repaid improve welfare. With respect to loan guarantees, our findings suggest that such efforts are largely useless at best, and substantially harmful at worst. Generous loan guarantees virtually ensure substantially higher taxes — with transfers away from the non-defaulting poor to the defaulting middle-class — and greater deadweight loss from high equilibrium default rates. Taken as a whole, our findings suggest that current policy toward default is likely to be counterproductive, and that guarantees for consumption loans are not the answer.

Suggested Citation

  • Kartik B. Athreya & Xuan S. Tam & Eric R. Young, 2009. "Are harsh penalties for default really better?," Working Paper 09-11, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedrwp:09-11
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:wly:iecrev:v:59:y:2018:i:2:p:593-623 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Gordon, Grey, 2017. "Optimal bankruptcy code: A fresh start for some," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 123-149.
    3. Chatterjee, Satyajit & Gordon, Grey, 2012. "Dealing with consumer default: Bankruptcy vs garnishment," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(S), pages 1-16.
    4. Han, Song & Keys, Benjamin J. & Li, Geng, 2015. "Information, Contract Design, and Unsecured Credit Supply: Evidence from Credit Card Mailings," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2015-103, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    5. Kartik Athreya & Juan M. Sánchez & Xuan S. Tam & Eric R. Young, 2018. "Bankruptcy And Delinquency In A Model Of Unsecured Debt," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 59(2), pages 593-623, May.
    6. Fonseca, Julia & Strair, Katherine & Zafar, Basit, 2017. "Access to credit and financial health: evaluating the impact of debt collection," Staff Reports 814, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    7. Kartik Athreya, 2012. "A Model of Credit Card Delinquency," 2012 Meeting Papers 981, Society for Economic Dynamics.

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    Keywords

    Credit ; Bankruptcy;

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