Do We Know What We Owe? A Comparison of Borrower- and Lender-Reported Consumer Debt

59 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2011

See all articles by Meta Brown

Meta Brown

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Andrew Haughwout

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Donghoon Lee

Federal Reserve Bank of New York; New York University

Wilbert van der Klaauw

Federal Reserve Bank of New York; IZA

Date Written: October 2011

Abstract

Household surveys are the source of some of the most widely studied data on consumer balance sheets, with the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) generally cited as the leading source of wealth data for the United States. At the same time, recent research questions survey respondents’ propensity and ability to report debt characteristics accurately. We compare household debt as reported by borrowers to the SCF with household debt as reported by lenders to Equifax using the new FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel (CCP). Moments of the borrower and lender debt distributions are compared by year, age of household head, household size, and region of the country, in total and across five standard debt categories. The debt reports are strikingly similar, with one noteworthy exception: the aggregate credit card debt implied by SCF borrowers’ reports is less than 50 percent of the aggregate credit card debt implied by CCP lenders’ reports. Adjustments for sample representativeness and for small business and convenience uses of credit cards raise SCF credit card debt to somewhere between 52 and 66 percent of the CCP figure. Despite the credit card debt mismatch, bankruptcy history is reported comparably in the borrower and lender sources, indicating that not all stigmatized consumer behaviors are underreported.

Keywords: consumer debt, measurement

JEL Classification: G20, D14, D31

Suggested Citation

Brown, Meta and Haughwout, Andrew F. and Lee, Donghoon and van der Klaauw, H. Wilbert, Do We Know What We Owe? A Comparison of Borrower- and Lender-Reported Consumer Debt (October 2011). FRB of New York Staff Report No. 523. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1946871 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1946871

Meta Brown (Contact Author)

Federal Reserve Bank of New York ( email )

33 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10045
United States

Andrew F. Haughwout

Federal Reserve Bank of New York ( email )

33 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10045
United States
212-720-2685 (Phone)
212-720-1844 (Fax)

Donghoon Lee

Federal Reserve Bank of New York ( email )

33 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10045
United States
212-720-8699 (Phone)
212-720-1844 (Fax)

New York University

NY
United States

H. Wilbert Van der Klaauw

Federal Reserve Bank of New York ( email )

33 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10045
United States
212-720-5916 (Phone)
212-720-1844 (Fax)

IZA ( email )

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