Household Debt: Facts, Puzzles, Theories, and Policies

38 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2014

See all articles by Jonathan Zinman

Jonathan Zinman

Dartmouth College; Innovations for Poverty Action; Jameel Poverty Action Lab; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: September 2014


Borrowing decisions affect most households, with large stakes and implications for subfields as varied as macroeconomics and industrial organization. I review theoretical and empirical work on household debt: its prevalence, level, growth, and composition, as well as various measures of consumer choice and market (in)efficiency, elasticities, and prices, including new evidence on how borrowing heterogeneity affects the distribution of the opportunity cost of consumption. I also discuss opportunities and challenges in policy evaluation. A key takeaway is that puzzles outstrip stylized facts, and I highlight numerous avenues for further research.

Suggested Citation

Zinman, Jonathan, Household Debt: Facts, Puzzles, Theories, and Policies (September 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w20496. Available at SSRN:

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