Your House or Your Credit Card, Which Would You Choose? Personal Delinquency Tradeoffs and Precautionary Liquidity Motives
Abstract: This paper presents evidence that precautionary liquidity concerns lead many individuals to pay credit card bills even at the cost of mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures. While the popular press and some recent literature have suggested that this choice may emerge from steep declines in housing prices, we find evidence that individual-level liquidity concerns are more important in this decision. That is, choosing credit cards over housing suggests a precautionary liquidity preference. By linking the mortgage delinquency decisions to individual-level credit conditions, we are able to assess the compound impact of reductions in housing prices and retrenchment in the credit markets. Indeed, we find the availability of cash-equivalent credit to be a key component of the delinquency decision. We find that a one standard deviation reduction in available credit elicits a change in the predicted probability of mortgage delinquency that is similar in both direction and nearly double in magnitude to a one standard deviation reduction in housing price changes (the values are -25% and -13% respectively). Our findings are consistent with consumer finance literature that finds individuals have a preference for preserving liquidity - even at significant cost.
Summary (5 min read)
- Assess the compound impact of reductions in housing prices and retrenchment in the credit markets.
- Indeed the recent crisis has highlighted that many may do so because of housing price declines.
- This past year, the Credit Card 1While to their knowledge, this paper is to rst to tackle the question of delinquency priority, a recent paper (Lusardi and Tufano, 2009) makes the argument that a study of consumer credit must include the joint-probabilities across types of credit and delinquency behavior.
- This nding mirrors the corporate nance literature's conclusions on the use of lines of credit as committed liquidity insurance.
I.1 Stylized Facts
- The authors provide some additional information here to motivate the study.
- A large fraction of these individuals choose delinquency on mortgages while continuing payment on credit cards, also known as Fact 2.
- Of the sample of individuals that have a mortgage in 2006 and 2007, 9,290 have had some type of credit card delinquencies in the sample time period.
- Individuals that were mortgage delinquent but not credit card delinquent increased 127% during the 18 month period.
- The nascent literature on consumer nancial decision making has not yet, to the authors' knowledge, tackled the question of delinquency priority, or its effects on the economy.
- Tufano (2009) also provides an overview of this new literature.
- Consumer bankruptcy emerges out of the same patterns of nancial distress that, in generally smaller amounts, lead to the delinquency tradeoffs discussed in this project.
- The second category is the role of the changes in the credit market environment that have made bankruptcy more attractive or expanded credit to a broader set of households, including higher-risk ones (see Dick and Lehnert, 2009, for a recent example).
- The implication, for delinquency tradeoffs, is that strategic consumers that nd themselves in a nancial stress situation, may resort to protecting their credit cards rather than their houses.
III The Market
- While credit card and mortgage products are likely understood by most readers, a short description is useful.
- Credit cards are consumer orientated lines of credit.
- Furthermore, most credit scoring systems currently in use are based on a logarithmic scale, meaning the difference in risk between 200 and 201 will not be equal to the change from 201 to 202.
- One a line has been opened, issuers routinely assess borrowers' probability of payment and adjust lines accordingly.
- In practice, most credit card and mortgage lenders will wait to enforce a default provision until payments are 90 days or more late.
IV Econometric Methodology
- The authors goal, as discussed, is to highlight the decision making amongst individuals facing moderate nancial distress.
- Neither those facing extreme distress nor those under little distress must choose between paying a household mortgage or paying credit card debt.
- Speci cally, the authors include individuals that have at least one mortgage and at least one revolving credit line in June of 2006.
- That is, a wealthy individual may need to be hit with a series of large shocks or a poor individual with one minor shock to reach this economic condition.
- The authors believe that individuals choose the type of delinquency based on two factors: one, the economic value of the underlying asset, the house and two, the consumption value of consumer credit in relieving the individual budget constraint.
- This paper draws primarily on a very large proprietary data set provided under contract by Transunion, one of the three large US credit agencies.
- As is customary, account les have been purged of names, social security numbers, and addresses to ensure individual con- dentiality.
- The authors exploit this vari12For their measure to be appropriate, they need that individuals, prior to delinquency, have then-optimal desired levels of available credit.
- The Transunion data also have a number of advantages for their study.
- Census Data and Other Information Together with the credit information, the paper uses an individual's geo-coded census block address from the Transunion data and links a wide variety of information on location characteristics.
VI.1 The Revolving vs Mortgage decision
- As explained above, their core methodological approach is to isolate the population of interest and illustrate the primary factors impacting their decision.
- Columns 1-3 show that, in general, housing price trends are positively correlated with the dependent variable.
- When faced with lower liquidity, individuals appear to choose mortgage delinquency in order to protect the available remaining credit on their credit cards.
- Table II reports all regressions with details on demographic and nancial control variables.
- The authors do nd that those with higher credit scores will choose to protect their houses.
- As their liquidity indicator appears strongly signi cant, one would expect that this effect would be stronger for individuals with low liquidity; lack of access to cash equivalent resources becomes a signi cant issue only the closer one is to a binding nancial constraint.
- From an empirical standpoint, this implies that individuals with the lowest availability of credit will have the highest marginal propensity to default on their mortgages for the liquidity reasons suggested.
- These lines have a few principal differences.
- In most states, a chapter 13 bankruptcy restructuring allows a borrower to 'strip' off second and third liens, making HELOCs effectively junior to unsecured credit card debt.
- Second, revolving bank loans and retail cards are particularly easy to use as cash substitutes.
VI.4 Payday Lending
- The authors continue evaluating whether access to alternate forms of cash substitutes impact their results.
- In particular, Table V includes the prevalence and regulations on payday lending at the state level to determine if the ease of access to alternate nancing impacts the preference for liquidity.
- Essentially, if an individual is willing to maintain open lines of credit based on a precautionary demand for liquidity, on the margin, the presence and ease of access of payday loans should ameliorate this demand.
- Indeed, these are the only states in which any of their payday regulations appear signi cant.
- When a lender noticed a default on another card, it would trigger default provisions on its own lines, typically increasing interest rates to a penalty rate or lowering available credit lines.
VI.5 Credit Constraints
- The dearth of liquidity and its impact on delinquency decisions may be particularly salient for those that would have a higher chance of being credit constrained.
- Table VI reports the age dependent results of their baseline regression.
- This effect carries over into short term housing price uctuations as well where they are more apt to stop paying on mortgages than their elder counterparts.
- The magnitude for these individuals re ect the same liquidity preservation seen earlier, however the smaller coef cient on the short term price uctuations re ect the increased housing services that are derived from home ownership for middle aged individuals.
- As credit quality falls, available credit becomes increasingly important; the coef cient for the low credit quality is more than three times as large as the coef cient for the high credit quality individuals.
VI.6 Housing Prices and Local Distress
- The authors further explore the role of housing prices in predicting the type of delinquency.
- Speci cally, the authors highlighted the importance of three particular states that saw large drops in housing prices and the apparent magni ed impact, in those states, on changes in the delinquency decision.
- For each group, the authors estimate a separate regression identical to those above.
- The asymmetry of coef cient changes between the housing price and liquidity variables across speci - cations is strong evidence that their liquidity variable is not biased.
- Notice that the liquidity variable shows a signi cant and large effect across states with varying degrees of price changes and across circumstances.
VI.7 Scale and delinquency
- The authors sample in 2007 shows mean revolving credit card balances of approximately $17,000 and mean mortgage balances of $148,000.
- For those with mortgage delinquency, the authors see that mortgage balances increase versus the average and credit cards decline.
- Monthly payments on credit cards during the time period of their study were typically 3% of outstanding principal.
- The results of this exercise are in Table VIII.
- Importantly for their study, the coef cient on the liquidity variable of interest changes only slightly.
VI.8 New Credit Access
- Recall that the authors de ned their sample to include only individuals that had no delinquencies; as such, an unexpected nancial shock would leave the individual access to the credit that he or she had at the beginning of the sample.
- This indeed is part and parcel of the motivation for using the pre-shock credit access as a measure of liquidity insurance.
- During the time of this study, 3% was the norm.
- Next, the authors estimate the credit score penalty, conditional on delinquency type, for individuals that were delinquent in 2007 by subtracting the estimated credit score in (2) from the actual observed credit score in 2007.
- Indeed, the credit score penalty for being late on revolving credit is only 18 points larger than for a similar delinquency on the mortgage side.
VI.9 Speci cation Choice
- In Table X, the authors begin by adding county-level xed effects to absorb any unobserved heterogeneity across counties in income, habits, etc.
- The authors results are consistent with those above.
- Because a probit imposes a functional form on the error distribution, the authors repeat their speci cation with ordinary least squares, both with and without xed effects.
- The combination of these provide evidence that their results are not a product of their particular estimation choice.
- The authors can then observe the same relationship as above: higher available credit per dollar of income leads to more credit delinquencies, even controlling for total credit lines.
VI.11 Assessing the Shock
- First, the authors evaluate the correlates of having any delinquency at all.
- Recall that because individuals may face an exogenous shock of some type, this equation does not allow inference on the decision to become delinquent, but rather simply its correlates.
- The authors sample here is all individuals that had no delinquencies in 2006.
- Note that the authors have not isolated the individual decision here as they did in Table XI.
- That is, the result in the section above that lower cash-equivalent credit leads to the decision to default on a mortgage is a relative one.
VII Economic Spillovers
- The authors illustrate this link by showing that falling housing prices are correlated with increased mortgage delinquency in Table XIII.
- This is supportive of the spillover concept.
- The authors show that this choice for consumer credit leads to local spillovers in the form of increased delinquency.
- Results from this speci cation are available in Table IX, Columns 5 and 6.
- This paper has found evidence on the drivers of individual delinquency decisions.
- In this regard their study contributes to the eld in two important ways; rst the authors identify a subset of the population - those who face moderate nancial shocks - that to their knowledge has not been the focus of existing studies.
- The authors analysis then examines this effect in the broader context of regional variations in delinquency rates.
- This extension is important, not only from a political economy perspective but also as an important quali cation of the emerging literature which documents individuals decisions to become delinquent on their mortgages as a function of their debt to equity ratio on their homes.
- The authors results suggest that while the CARD act provided a range of regulations that are bene cial vis-a-vis assisting consumers in understanding often complex credit contracts, the direct consequence of the act will likely be to limit issuer fee income from low quality borrowers and thus may decrease access to credit for these same borrowers.
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