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Borrowing from Yourself: The Determinants of 401(k) Loan Patterns


  • Timothy Jun Lu

    (The Wharton School)

  • Olivia S. Mitchell

    (The Wharton School)


This paper explores the determinants of people’s decisions to take 401(k) loans. We argue that 401(k) plans do not simply represent retirement saving, but they also provide a means of saving for precautionary purposes. We model factors that rationally would induce people to borrow from their pension plans, and we explain why people do not often use 401(k) loans to replace their more expensive credit card debt. Next we test our hypotheses using a rich dataset and show that people who are liquidity-constrained are more likely to have plan loans, while the better-off take larger loans when they do borrow. Plan characteristics such as the number of loans allowed also influence borrowing and loan size in interesting ways, while loan interest rates have only a small impact.

Suggested Citation

  • Timothy Jun Lu & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2010. "Borrowing from Yourself: The Determinants of 401(k) Loan Patterns," Working Papers wp221, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp221

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Choi, James J. & Laibson, David & Madrian, Brigitte C., 2004. "Plan Design and 401(K) Savings Outcomes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 275-298, June.
    2. Love, David, 2006. "Buffer stock saving in retirement accounts," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(7), pages 1473-1492, October.
    3. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2004. "For Better or for Worse: Default Effects and 401(k) Savings Behavior," NBER Chapters,in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 81-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Martin Browning & Thomas F. Crossley, 2001. "The Life-Cycle Model of Consumption and Saving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 3-22, Summer.
    5. Ian Ayres & Barry J. Nalebuff, 2008. "Life-cycle Investing and Leverage: Buying Stock on Margin Can Reduce Retirement Risk," NBER Working Papers 14094, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Annamaria Lusardi & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2008. "Planning and Financial Literacy: How Do Women Fare?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 413-417, May.
    7. Geng Li & Paul A. Smith, 2008. "Borrowing from yourself: 401(k) loans and household balance sheets," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-42, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    8. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Jonathan A. Parker, 2002. "Consumption Over the Life Cycle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(1), pages 47-89, January.
    9. repec:crr:crrwps:2000-12 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Poterba, James M. & Venti, Steven F. & Wise, David A., 1995. "Do 401(k) contributions crowd out other personal saving?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 1-32, September.
    11. Love, David A., 2007. "What can the life-cycle model tell us about 401(k) contributions and participation?," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(02), pages 147-185, July.
    12. Melvin Stephens, 2008. "The Consumption Response to Predictable Changes in Discretionary Income: Evidence from the Repayment of Vehicle Loans," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 241-252, May.
    13. Julie Agnew & Pierluigi Balduzzi & Annika Sundén, 2003. "Portfolio Choice and Trading in a Large 401(k) Plan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 193-215, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. John Beshears & James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2011. "The Availability and Utilization of 401(k) Loans," NBER Chapters,in: Investigations in the Economics of Aging, pages 145-172 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Thomas Bridges & Frank Stafford, 2012. "At the Corner of Main and Wall Street: Family Pension Responses to Liquidity Change and Perceived Returns," Working Papers wp282, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.

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