Credit Smoothing

Sean Hundtofte, Arna Olafsson, Michaela Pagel

Research output: Working paperResearch

Abstract

Standard economic theory says that unsecured, high-interest, short-term debt — such as borrowing via credit cards and bank overdraft facilities — helps individuals smooth consumption in the event of transitory income shocks. This paper shows that — on average — individuals do not use such borrowing to smooth consumption when they experience a typical transitory income shock of unemployment. Instead, individuals smooth their credit card debt and overdrafts by adjusting consumption. We first use detailed longitudinal information on debit and credit card transactions, account balances, and credit lines from a financial aggregator in Iceland to document that unemployment does not induce a borrowing response at the individual level. We then replicate this finding in a representative sample of U.S. credit card holders, instrumenting local changes in employment using a Bartik (1991)-style instrument. The absence of a borrowing response occurs even when credit supply is ample and liquidity constraints, captured by credit limits, do not bind. Standard economic models predict a strictly countercyclical demand for credit; in contrast, the demand for credit appears to be procyclical which may deepen business cycle fluctuations.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge, MA
PublisherNational Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Number of pages69
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
SeriesNational Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper Series
Number26354
ISSN0898-2937

Cite this

Hundtofte, S., Olafsson, A., & Pagel, M. (2019). Credit Smoothing. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper Series, No. 26354 https://doi.org/10.3386/w26354
Hundtofte, Sean ; Olafsson, Arna ; Pagel, Michaela. / Credit Smoothing. Cambridge, MA : National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2019. (National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper Series; No. 26354).
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Hundtofte, S, Olafsson, A & Pagel, M 2019 'Credit Smoothing' National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), Cambridge, MA. https://doi.org/10.3386/w26354

Credit Smoothing. / Hundtofte, Sean; Olafsson, Arna ; Pagel, Michaela.

Cambridge, MA : National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), 2019.

Research output: Working paperResearch

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Hundtofte S, Olafsson A, Pagel M. Credit Smoothing. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2019 Oct. https://doi.org/10.3386/w26354