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Easy Money? Health and 401(k) Loans

  • Christian E. Weller
  • Jeffrey Wenger

Rising health care costs and declining personal savings rates are nearly synonymous with household medical debt. For some, defined contribution (DC) retirement savings plans provide a ready source of funds to meet these medical debts. We examine whether health status and health insurance coverage predict the likelihood of having a DC loan using data from the Federal Reserve’s triennial Survey of Consumer Finances from 1989 to 2007. We find that poor health raises the likelihood that a household will borrow from their DC plans, even controlling for other forms of debt, access to credit, and whether households are covered by health insurance. Our estimates of the amount of the DC loan, taking selection effects into account, indicates that DC loan amounts are also influenced by health status; those with poor health borrow more from their DC plans. Apart from health status, once a household decides to borrow from their retirement funds, race and education also influence how much to borrow. We argue that public policy can improve the long-term financial retirement security of households by offering more opportunities to save for medical emergencies, while cautiously maintaining the opportunity to borrow from DC plans.

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Paper provided by Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst in its series Working Papers with number wp231.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:uma:periwp:wp231
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  1. Courtney Coile & Kevin Milligan, 2006. "How Household Portfolios Evolve After Retirement: The Effect of Aging and Health Shocks," NBER Working Papers 12391, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Harvey S. Rosen & Stephen Wu, 2003. "Portfolio Choice and Health Status," NBER Working Papers 9453, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Michael G. Palumbo, 1999. "Uncertain Medical Expenses and Precautionary Saving Near the End of the Life Cycle," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(2), pages 395-421.
  4. Paul A. Smith & David A. Love, 2007. "Does health affect portfolio choice?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2007-45, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  5. Fan, Elliott & Zhao, Ruoyun, 2009. "Health status and portfolio choice: Causality or heterogeneity?," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 33(6), pages 1079-1088, June.
  6. Smith, James P, 1998. "Socioeconomic Status and Health," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 192-96, May.
  7. Edwards, Ryan D, 2008. "Health Risk and Portfolio Choice," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 26, pages 472-485.
  8. Berkowitz, Michael K. & Qiu, Jiaping, 2006. "A further look at household portfolio choice and health status," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 1201-1217, April.
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