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How Do Individuals Repay Their Debt? The Balance-Matching Heuristic


  • John Gathergood
  • Neale Mahoney
  • Neil Stewart
  • Joerg Weber


We study how individuals repay their debt using linked data on multiple credit cards. Repayments are not allocated to the higher interest rate card, which would minimize the cost of borrowing. Moreover, the degree of misallocation is invariant to the economic stakes, which is inconsistent with optimization frictions. Instead, we show that repayments are consistent with a balance-matching heuristic under which the share of repayments on each card is matched to the share of balances on each card. Balance matching captures more than half of the predictable variation in repayments and is highly persistent within individuals over time.

Suggested Citation

  • John Gathergood & Neale Mahoney & Neil Stewart & Joerg Weber, 2017. "How Do Individuals Repay Their Debt? The Balance-Matching Heuristic," NBER Working Papers 24161, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:24161
    Note: CF IO LS PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Achten, Sandra & Lessmann, Christian, 2020. "Spatial inequality, geography and economic activity," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 136(C).
    2. John Gathergood & David Hirshleifer & David Leake & Hiroaki Sakaguchi & Neil Stewart, 2019. "Naïve *Buying* Diversification and Narrow Framing by Individual Investors," NBER Working Papers 25567, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Sandra Achten & Christian Lessmann, 2019. "Spatial inequality, geography and economic activity," CESifo Working Paper Series 7547, CESifo.
    4. Paul D. Adams & Stefan Hunt & Christopher Palmer & Redis Zaliauskas, 2019. "Testing the Effectiveness of Consumer Financial Disclosure: Experimental Evidence from Savings Accounts," NBER Working Papers 25718, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. J. Anthony Cookson & Erik P. Gilje & Rawley Z. Heimer, 2020. "Shale Shocked: Cash Windfalls and Household Debt Repayment," NBER Working Papers 27782, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Lunn, Pete & McGowan, Féidhlim & Howard, Noel, 2018. "Do some financial product features negatively affect consumer decisions? a review of evidence," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number RS78, November.
    7. Tal Gross & Raymond Kluender & Feng Liu & Matthew J. Notowidigdo & Jialan Wang, 2019. "The Economic Consequences of Bankruptcy Reform," NBER Working Papers 26254, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Gomes, Francisco J & Haliassos, Michael & Ramadorai, Tarun, 2020. "Household Finance," CEPR Discussion Papers 14502, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. John Gathergood & Neale Mahoney & Neil Stewart & Jörg Weber, 2019. "How do Americans repay their debt? The balance-matching heuristic," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 39(2), pages 1458-1466.
    10. Johannes G. Jaspersen & Marc A. Ragin & Justin R. Sydnor, 2019. "Predicting Insurance Demand from Risk Attitudes," NBER Working Papers 26508, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Edika G. Quispe-Torreblanca & Neil Stewart & John Gathergood & George Loewenstein, 2019. "The Red, the Black, and the Plastic: Paying Down Credit Card Debt for Hotels, Not Sofas," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 65(11), pages 5392-5410, November.
    12. Bronson Argyle & Taylor D. Nadauld & Christopher Palmer, 2019. "Monthly Payment Targeting and the Demand for Maturity," NBER Working Papers 25668, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • G02 - Financial Economics - - General - - - Behavioral Finance: Underlying Principles
    • G20 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - General

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