This paper develops a new theory of long term unsecured credit contracts based on costly contracting that matches the data in a variety of dimensions. Credit lines are long term relations between lending firms and households that pre-specify a credit limit and interest rate in each period. Households can unilaterally default in as in the U.S. Bankruptcy code, and can unilaterally switch credit lines. Lending firms can set a new credit limit at any time, but must commit to the interest rate or not depending on the regulatory setting. We solve and characterize the equilibria, finding the resulting set of contracts as well as the distribution of households over interest rates, credit limits and wealth. We find that this model replicates the main properties of typical lending contracts. We use the theory to study the new regulatory rules in the U.S. credit card market which require a stronger commitment from lending firms not to raise interest rates discretionally. This results in tighter limits but lower interest rates, reduced indebtedness and lower default. Typically, but not for all households, the new policy improves welfare.
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