Rewards and Consumption in the Credit Card Market
65 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2023 Last revised: 6 Nov 2023
Date Written: November 3, 2023
Reward programs are often a prominent feature of credit cards. Collaborating with a leading bank in China, I combine proprietary consumer-level data and a survey to study the causal effect of rewards on consumption and consumers' subjective expectations. I leverage a fuzzy regression discontinuity (RD) design to show that a more generous reward design causes consumption increases across both reward-earning and non-reward-earning categories. Applying the fuzzy RD to the survey data, I find that consumers correctly understand the impact of reward design on reward-earning consumption but underestimate its effect on total consumption. Using a stylized model, I study the implications of this misperception for market structure and welfare. My calibration results show that consumer misperceptions incentivize banks to offer more generous rewards, which ultimately diminishes market efficiency and leads to a cross-subsidy from less to more sophisticated consumers.
Keywords: Credit Cards, Rewards, Consumption, Inattention, Budget Negligence
JEL Classification: D90, E21, G40, M31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation