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Do Liquidity Constraints and Interest Rates Matter for Consumer Behavior? Evidence from Credit Card Data

  • David B. Gross
  • Nicholas S. Souleles

This paper utilizes a unique new dataset of credit card accounts to analyze how people respond to changes in credit supply. The data consist of a panel of thousands of individual credit card accounts from several different card issuers, with associated credit bureau data. We estimate both marginal propensities to consume (MPCs) out of liquidity and interest-rate elasticities. We also evaluate the ability of different models of consumption to rationalize our results, distinguishing the Permanent-Income Hypothesis (PIH), liquidity constraints, precautionary saving, and behavioral models. We find that increases in credit limits generate an immediate and significant rise in debt, counter to the PIH. The average 'MPC out of liquidity' (dDebt/dLimit) ranges between 10%-14%. The MPC is much larger for people starting near their limits, consistent with binding liquidity constraints. However, the MPC is significant even for people starting well below their limit. We show this response is consistent with buffer-stock models of precautionary saving. Nonetheless there are other results that conventional models cannot easily explain, e.g. why so many people are borrowing on their credit cards, and simultaneously holding low yielding assets. Unlike most other studies, we also find strong effects from changes in account-specific interest rates. The long-run elasticity of debt to the interest rate is approximately -1.3. Less than half of this elasticity represents balance-shifting across cards, with most reflecting net changes in total borrowing. The elasticity is larger for decreases in interest rates than for increases, which can explain the widespread use of temporary promotional rates. The elasticity is smaller for people starting near their credit limits, again consistent with liquidity constraints.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8314.

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Date of creation: Jun 2001
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Publication status: published as Gross, David B. and Nicholas S. Souleles. "Do Liquidity Constraints And Interest Rates Matter For Consumer Behavior? Evidence From Credit Card Data," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2002, v107(1,Feb), 149-185.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8314
Note: ME
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  1. Deaton, A., 1989. "Saving And Liquidity Constraints," Papers 153, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
  2. Paul S. Calem & Loretta J. Mester, . "Consumer Behavior and the Stickiness of CreditCard Interest Rates," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 03-94, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  3. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(4), pages 1797-1855, December.
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  6. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
  7. repec:fth:pennfi:69 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. David Laibson & Andrea Repetto & Jeremy Tobacman, 2000. "A Debt Puzzle," Documentos de Trabajo 80, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.
  9. David B. Gross & Nicholas S. Souleles, 2001. "An Empirical Analysis of Personal Bankruptcy and Delinquency," NBER Working Papers 8409, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Zeldes, Stephen P, 1989. "Consumption and Liquidity Constraints: An Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(2), pages 305-46, April.
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  14. T. Jappelli & J-S Pischke & N.S. Souleles, 1995. "Testing for Liquidity Constraints in Euler Equations with Complementary Data Sources," Working papers 95-19, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  15. Sydney Ludvigson, 1996. "The channel of monetary transmission to demand: evidence from the market for automobile credit," Research Paper 9625, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  16. Frederic S. Mishkin, 1995. "Symposium on the Monetary Transmission Mechanism," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(4), pages 3-10, Fall.
  17. Anil Kashyap & Jeremy C. Stein, 1993. "Monetary Policy and Bank Lending," NBER Working Papers 4317, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Jappelli, Tullio, 1990. "Who Is Credit Constrained in the U.S. Economy?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(1), pages 219-34, February.
  19. Jonathan A. Parker, 1999. "The Reaction of Household Consumption to Predictable Changes in Social Security Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 959-973, September.
  20. Sydney Ludvigson, 1996. "Consumption and credit: a model of time-varying liquidity constraints," Research Paper 9624, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  21. Joseph G. Altonji & Aloysius Siow, 1986. "Testing the Response of Consumption to Income Changes with (Noisy) PanelData," NBER Working Papers 2012, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. Runkle, David E., 1991. "Liquidity constraints and the permanent-income hypothesis : Evidence from panel data," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 73-98, February.
  23. Lawrence J. Christiano & Martin Eichenbaum & Charles Evans, 1994. "The effects of monetary policy shocks: evidence from the Flow of Funds," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues 94-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  24. 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.
  25. Ausubel, Lawrence M, 1991. "The Failure of Competition in the Credit Card Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(1), pages 50-81, March.
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