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A Debt Puzzle

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Listed:
  • David Laibson
  • Andrea Repetto
  • Jeremy Tobacman

Abstract

Over 60% of US households with credit cards are currently borrowing -- i.e., paying interest -- on those cards. We attempt to reconcile the high rate of credit card borrowing with observed levels of life cycle wealth accumulation. We simulate a lifecycle model with five properties that create demand for credit card borrowing. First, the calibrated labor income path slopes upward early in life. Second, income has transitory shocks. Third, consumers invest actively in an illiquid asset, which is sufficiently illiquid that it can not be used to smooth transitory income shocks. Fourth, consumers may declare bankruptcy, reducing the effective cost of credit card borrowing. Fifth, households have relatively more dependents early in the life-cycle. Our calibrated model predicts that 20% of the population will borrow on their credit card at any point in time, far less than the observed rate of over 60%. We identify a resolution to this puzzle: hyperbolic time preferences. Simulated hyperbolic consumers borrow actively in the revolving credit card market and accumulate relatively large stocks of illiquid wealth, matching observed data.

Suggested Citation

  • David Laibson & Andrea Repetto & Jeremy Tobacman, 2000. "A Debt Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 7879, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7879
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    9. Christopher D. Carroll, 1992. "The Buffer-Stock Theory of Saving: Some Macroeconomic Evidence," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 23(2), pages 61-156.
    10. Hubbard, R. Glenn & Skinner, Jonathan & Zeldes, Stephen P., 1994. "The importance of precautionary motives in explaining individual and aggregate saving," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 59-125, June.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. William Adams & Liran Einav & Jonathan Levin, 2009. "Liquidity Constraints and Imperfect Information in Subprime Lending," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 49-84, March.
    2. Patricia Sourdin, 2005. "Pension Contribution as a Commitment Device: Evidence of Sophistication among Time-inconsistent Households," School of Economics Working Papers 2005-17, University of Adelaide, School of Economics.
    3. Carol C. Bertaut & Michael Haliassos, 2001. "Debt Revolvers for Self Control," University of Cyprus Working Papers in Economics 0208, University of Cyprus Department of Economics.
    4. Charles Sprenger & Joanna Stavins, 2008. "Credit card debt and payment use," Working Papers 08-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, revised 2008.
    5. Igor Livshits & James MacGee & Michèle Tertilt, 2010. "Accounting for the Rise in Consumer Bankruptcies," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 165-193, April.
    6. Matthias Keese, 2009. "Triggers and Determinants of Severe Household Indebtedness in Germany," Ruhr Economic Papers 0150, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
    7. Lopes, Paula, 2003. "Credit card debt and default over the life-cycle," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 24869, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    8. Bilias, Yannis & Georgarakos, Dimitris & Haliassos, Michael, 2005. "Equity culture and the distribution of wealth," CFS Working Paper Series 2005/20, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
    9. Keese, Matthias, 2009. "Triggers and Determinants of Severe Household Indebtedness in Germany," Ruhr Economic Papers 150, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    10. Paula Lopes, 2003. "Credit Card Debt and Default over the Life-Cycle," FMG Discussion Papers dp470, Financial Markets Group.
    11. Yannis Bilias & Michael Haliassos, 2004. "The Distribution of Gains from Access to Stocks," CSEF Working Papers 125, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy.
    12. David B. Gross & Nicholas S. Souleles, 2001. "Do Liquidity Constraints and Interest Rates Matter for Consumer Behavior? Evidence from Credit Card Data," NBER Working Papers 8314, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Fulford, Scott L., 2015. "How important is variability in consumer credit limits?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 42-63.
    14. Toke Ward Petersen, 2001. "General Equilibrium Tax Policy with Hyperbolic Consumers," DREAM Working Paper Series 200101, Danish Rational Economic Agents Model, DREAM.
    15. Giuseppe Albanese & Guido de Blasio & Paolo Sestito, 2013. "Trust and preferences: evidence from survey data," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) 911, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    16. Huffman, David B. & Barenstein, Matias, 2004. "Riches to Rags Every Month? The Fall in Consumption Expenditures Between Paydays," IZA Discussion Papers 1430, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    17. repec:zbw:rwirep:0150 is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Patricia Sourdin, 2005. "Pension Contributions as a Commitment device: evidence of sophistication among time-inconsistent households," Public Economics 0512009, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    19. Bucher-Koenen, Tabea & Schmidt, Carsten, 2011. "Time (In)Consistent Food Choice of Children and Teenagers," MEA discussion paper series 11251, Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA) at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth

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