The Effect of Consumer Interest Rate Deregulation on Credit Card Volumes, Charge-Offs, and the Personal Bankruptcy Rate
Federal Deposit Insurance Company, Bank Trends, No. 98-05
12 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 1998
Date Written: March 1998
The rising level of credit card debt is often cited as one of the factors in the rising U.S. personal bankruptcy rate. Numerous theories have been advanced to explain the increases, including aggressive marketing by credit card issuers and a lack of discipline on the part of consumers. These explanations do not address the underlying reason for these trends. This paper argues that a 1978 Supreme Court decision ("Marquette") fundamentally altered the market for credit card loans in a way that significantly expanded the availability of credit and increased the average risk profile of borrowers. Marquette ushered in deregulation of usury ceilings on consumer interest rates by allowing lenders in a state with liberal usury ceilings to export those rates to consumers residing in states with more restrictive usury ceilings. The result was a substantial expansion in credit card availability, a reduction in average credit quality, and a secular increase in personal bankruptcies. The Canadian experience with bankruptcies supports this argument. This paper contends that a tightly regulated world, marked by restricted access to consumer credit and a low level of personal bankruptcies was exchanged for a deregulated world, marked by expanded access to consumer credit and a higher level of personal bankruptcies. This argument implies that a return to the bankruptcy rates and charge-off levels that prevailed in the early 1980s or before may be unlikely.
JEL Classification: G21, G23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation