What Determines Consumer Financial Distress? Place- and Person-Based Factors
58 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2020
Date Written: March 3, 2020
We use credit report data for a representative sample of 35 million individuals over 2000-2016 to examine consumer financial distress in the United States. We show there are large, persistent geographic disparities in consumer financial distress, with low levels in the Upper Midwest and high levels in the Deep South. To better understand these patterns, we conduct a "movers" analysis that examines how financial distress evolves when people move to places with different levels of financial distress. For collections and default, there is only weak convergence following a move, suggesting these types of financial distress are not primarily caused by place-based factors (such as local economic conditions, loan supply, and state laws) but instead reflect person-based characteristics (such as financial literacy and risk preferences). In contrast, for personal bankruptcy, we find a sizable place-based effect, which is consistent with anecdotal evidence on how local legal factors influence the bankruptcy filing decision. Individual characteristics determine whether you get into financial distress, while place-based factors determine whether you use bankruptcy to get out.
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