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House Prices, Home Equity-Based Borrowing, and the U.S. Household Leverage Crisis


  • Atif R. Mian
  • Amir Sufi


Using individual-level data on homeowner debt and defaults from 1997 to 2008, we show that borrowing against the increase in home equity by existing homeowners is responsible for a significant fraction of both the sharp rise in U.S. household leverage from 2002 to 2006 and the increase in defaults from 2006 to 2008. Employing land topology-based housing supply elasticity as an instrument for house price growth, we estimate that the average homeowner extracts 25 to 30 cents for every dollar increase in home equity. Money extracted from increased home equity is not used to purchase new real estate or pay down high credit card balances, which suggests that borrowed funds may be used for real outlays (i.e., consumption or home improvement). Home equity-based borrowing is stronger for younger households, households with low credit scores, and households with high initial credit card utilization rates. Homeowners in high house price appreciation areas experience a relative decline in default rates from 2002 to 2006 as they borrow heavily against their home equity, but experience very high default rates from 2006 to 2008. Our estimates suggest that home equity-based borrowing is equal to 2.8% of GDP every year from 2002 to 2006, and accounts for at least 34% of new defaults from 2006 to 2008.

Suggested Citation

  • Atif R. Mian & Amir Sufi, 2009. "House Prices, Home Equity-Based Borrowing, and the U.S. Household Leverage Crisis," NBER Working Papers 15283, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15283

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    JEL classification:

    • E0 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General
    • E00 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - General
    • E2 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment
    • E3 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles
    • E5 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit
    • E6 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook
    • G01 - Financial Economics - - General - - - Financial Crises
    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages
    • G3 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • G33 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Bankruptcy; Liquidation

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