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Financial Literacy and High-Cost Borrowing in the United States

  • Annamaria Lusardi
  • Carlo de Bassa Scheresberg

In this paper, we examine high-cost methods of borrowing in the United States, such as payday loans, pawn shops, auto title loans, refund anticipation loans, and rent-to-own shops, and offer a portrait of borrowers who use these methods. Considering a representative sample of more than 26,000 respondents, we find that about one in four Americans has used one of these methods in the past five years. Moreover, many young adults engage in high-cost borrowing: 34 percent of young respondents (aged 18-34) and 43 percent of young respondents with a high school degree have used one of these methods. Using well-tested questions to measure financial literacy, we document that most high-cost borrowers display very low levels of financial literacy, i.e., they lack numeracy and do not possess knowledge of basic financial concepts. Most importantly, we find that those who are more financially literate are much less likely to have engaged in high-cost borrowing. Our empirical work shows that it is not only the shocks inflicted by the financial crisis or the structure of the financial system but that the level of financial literacy also plays a role in explaining why so many individuals have made use of high-cost borrowing methods.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18969.

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Date of creation: Apr 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18969
Note: AG
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  1. Lusardi, Annamaria & Mitchell, Olivia S., 2008. "Planning and financial literacy: How do women fare?," CFS Working Paper Series 2008/03, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  2. van Rooij, Maarten & Lusardi, Annamaria & Alessie, Rob J. M., 2011. "Financial literacy, retirement planning, and household wealth," CFS Working Paper Series 2011/21, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  3. Annamaria Lusardi & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2011. "Financial Literacy and Retirement Planning in the United States," NBER Working Papers 17108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Marianne Bertrand & Adair Morse, 2011. "Information Disclosure, Cognitive Biases, and Payday Borrowing," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 66(6), pages 1865-1893, December.
  5. Lusardi, Annamaria & Mitchell, Olivia S., 2010. "How ordinary consumers make complex economic decisions: Financial literacy and retirement readiness," CFS Working Paper Series 2010/11, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  6. Sumit Agarwal & John C. Driscoll & Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2009. "The Age of Reason: Financial Decisions over the Life Cycle and Implications for Regulation," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 40(2 (Fall)), pages 51-117.
  7. Justine S. Hastings & Lydia Tejeda-Ashton, 2008. "Financial Literacy, Information, and Demand Elasticity: Survey and Experimental Evidence from Mexico," NBER Working Papers 14538, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Jere R. Behrman & Olivia S. Mitchell & Cindy Soo & David Bravo, 2010. "Financial Literacy, Schooling, and Wealth Accumulation," NBER Working Papers 16452, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Lusardi, Annamaria & Mitchell, Olivia S. & Curto, Vilsa, 2012. "Financial sophistication in the older population," CFS Working Paper Series 2012/08, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  10. Kristopher Gerardi & Lorenz Goette & Stephan Meier, 2010. "Financial literacy and subprime mortgage delinquency: evidence from a survey matched to administrative data," Working Paper 2010-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  11. Sumit Agarwal & John C. Driscoll & Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2007. "The age of reason: financial decisions over the lifecycle," Working Paper Series WP-07-05, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  12. Annamaria Lusardi & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2011. "Financial Literacy around the World: An Overview," NBER Working Papers 17107, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Laibson, David, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-77, May.
  14. Brian T. Melzer, 2011. "The Real Costs of Credit Access: Evidence from the Payday Lending Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(1), pages 517-555.
  15. Alessie, Rob & Van Rooij, Maarten & Lusardi, Annamaria, 2011. "Financial literacy and retirement preparation in the Netherlands," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(04), pages 527-545, October.
  16. repec:ecj:econjl:v:122:y:2012:i::p:449-478 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. Lawrance, Emily C, 1991. "Poverty and the Rate of Time Preference: Evidence from Panel Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(1), pages 54-77, February.
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