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The Reaction of Consumer Spending and Debt to Tax Rebates -- Evidence from Consumer Credit Data

  • Sumit Agarwal
  • Chunlin Liu
  • Nicholas S. Souleles

We use a new panel dataset of credit card accounts to analyze how consumers responded to the 2001 Federal income tax rebates. We estimate the monthly response of credit card payments, spending, and debt, exploiting the unique, randomized timing of the rebate disbursement. We find that, on average, consumers initially saved some of the rebate, by increasing their credit card payments and thereby paying down debt. But soon afterwards their spending increased, counter to the canonical Permanent-Income model. Spending rose most for consumers who were initially most likely to be liquidity constrained, whereas debt declined most (so saving rose most) for unconstrained consumers. More generally, the results suggest that there can be important dynamics in consumers' response to "lumpy" increases in income like tax rebates, working in part through balance sheet (liquidity) mechanisms.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13694.

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Date of creation: Dec 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Sumit Agarwal & Chunlin Liu & Nicholas S. Souleles, 2007. "The Reaction of Consumer Spending and Debt to Tax Rebates-Evidence from Consumer Credit Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115(6), pages 986-1019, December.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13694
Note: EFG PE
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  1. Melvin Stephens Jr., 2003. "The Consumption Response to Predictable Changes in Discretionary Income: Evidence from the Repayment of Vehicle Loans," NBER Working Papers 9976, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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