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Financially Fragile Households: Evidence and Implications

  • Annamaria Lusardi
  • Daniel J. Schneider
  • Peter Tufano

This paper examines households' financial fragility by looking at their capacity to come up with $2,000 in 30 days. Using data from the 2009 TNS Global Economic Crisis survey, we document widespread financial weakness in the United States: Approximately one quarter of Americans report that they would certainly not be able to come up with such funds, and an additional 19% would do so by relying at least in part on pawning or selling possessions or taking payday loans. If we consider the respondents who report being certain or probably not able to cope with an ordinary financial shock of this size, we find that nearly half of Americans are financially fragile. While financial fragility is more severe among those with low educational attainment and no financial education, families with children, those who suffered large wealth losses, and those who are unemployed, a sizable fraction of seemingly "middle class" Americans also judge themselves to be financially fragile. We examine the coping methods people use to deal with shocks. While savings is used most often, relying on family and friends, using formal and alternative credit, increasing work hours, and selling items are also used frequently to deal with emergencies, especially for some subgroups. Household finance researchers must look beyond precautionary savings to understand how families cope with risk. We also find evidence of a "pecking order" of coping methods in which savings appears to be first in the ordering. Finally, the paper compares the levels of financial fragility and methods of coping among eight industrialized countries. While there are differences in coping ability across countries, there is general evidence of a consistent ordering of coping methods

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17072.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17072.

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Date of creation: May 2011
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Publication status: published as “Financially Fragile Households: Evidence an d Implications” joint with Daniel Schneider, and Peter Tu fano , Brookings Papers on Economic Activity , Spring 2011 , pp. 83 - 134.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17072
Note: AG
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  1. Andrew C. Worthington, 2003. "Emergency finance in Australian households An empirical analysis of capacity and sources," School of Economics and Finance Discussion Papers and Working Papers Series 163, School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology.
  2. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Discussion Papers 96-01, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  3. Dean Karlan & Nava Ashaf & Wesley Yin, 2004. "Tying odysseus to the mast: Evidence from a commitment savings product in the philippines," Natural Field Experiments 00206, The Field Experiments Website.
  4. Lusardi, Annamaria & Schneider, Daniel & Tufano, Peter, 2010. "The economic crisis and medical care usage," CFS Working Paper Series 2010/10, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  5. Asena Caner & Edward N. Wolff, 2004. "Asset Poverty In The United States, 1984-99: Evidence From The Panel Study Of Income Dynamics," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 50(4), pages 493-518, December.
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  9. William Adams & Liran Einav & Jonathan Levin, 2007. "Liquidity Constraints and Imperfect Information in Subprime Lending," NBER Working Papers 13067, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Jonathan A. Parker & Nicholas S. Souleles & David S. Johnson & Robert McClelland, 2013. "Consumer Spending and the Economic Stimulus Payments of 2008," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(6), pages 2530-53, October.
  11. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2005. "Consumption versus Expenditure," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(5), pages 919-948, October.
  12. Melvin Stephens Jr., 2003. ""3rd of tha Month": Do Social Security Recipients Smooth Consumption Between Checks?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 406-422, March.
  13. 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.
  14. Chieffe, Natalie & Rakes, Ganas K., 1999. "An integrated model for financial planning," Financial Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 261-268.
  15. Annamaria Lusardi & Peter Tufano, 2009. "Debt Literacy, Financial Experiences, and Overindebtedness," NBER Working Papers 14808, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Athreya, Kartik & Tam, Xuan S. & Young, Eric R., 2009. "Unsecured credit markets are not insurance markets," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 83-103, January.
  17. Melissa Schettini Kearney & Peter Tufano & Jonathan Guryan & Erik Hurst, 2010. "Making Savers Winners: An Overview of Prize-Linked Savings Products," NBER Working Papers 16433, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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