NBER Working Papers by Brian T. Melzer

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Working Papers

January 2017Non-Cognitive Abilities and Financial Delinquency: The Role of Self-Efficacy in Avoiding Financial Distress
with Camelia M. Kuhnen: w23028
We investigate a novel determinant of household financial delinquency, namely, people’s subjective expectations regarding the cost-benefit trade-off in default decisions. These expectations are determined by individuals’ self-efficacy, which is a non-cognitive ability that measures how strongly people believe that their effort will influence future outcomes. Using longitudinal household survey data, we show that people with higher self-efficacy, measured earlier in life, are less likely to be financially delinquent later on and to face consequences such as losing assets or access to traditional credit markets, are more likely to prepare for dealing with potential adverse shocks such as a job loss or a health event, and when faced with such shocks, are less likely to become financially deli...
December 2016Accelerator or Brake? Cash for Clunkers, Household Liquidity, and Aggregate Demand
with Daniel Green, Jonathan A. Parker, Arcenis Rojas: w22878
We estimate the importance of household liquidity for the effect of the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) on vehicle transactions. We measure the average program impact by comparing households with "clunkers" eligible for CARS to households with similar vehicles that were ineligible. The liquidity provided by CARS contributed to its larger than anticipated take-up. Clunkers with existing loans, which required immediate repayment upon trade-in, were traded-in at much lower rates, an effect consistent with liquidity constraints and distinguishable from that of other debt, household income, and the size of the program subsidy. Household debt capacity did not measurably constrain participation.
November 2014Retail Financial Advice: Does One Size Fit All?
with Stephen Foerster, Juhani T. Linnainmaa, Alessandro Previtero: w20712
Using unique data on Canadian households, we assess the impact of financial advisors on their clients' portfolios. We find that advisors induce their clients to take more risk, thereby raising expected returns. On the other hand, we find limited evidence of customization: advisors direct clients into similar portfolios independent of their clients' risk preferences and stage in the life cycle. An advisor's own portfolio is a good predictor of the client's portfolio even after controlling for the client's characteristics. This one-size-fits-all advice does not come cheap. The average client pays more than 2.7% each year in fees and thus gives up all of the equity premium gained through increased risk-taking.
July 2014Positive Externalities of Social Insurance: Unemployment Insurance and Consumer Credit
with Joanne W. Hsu, David A. Matsa: w20353
This paper studies the impact of unemployment insurance (UI) on consumer credit markets. Exploiting heterogeneity in UI generosity across U.S. states and over time, we find that UI helps the unemployed avoid defaulting on their mortgage debt. We estimate that UI expansions during the Great Recession prevented about 1.4 million foreclosures. Lenders respond to this decline in default risk by expanding credit access and reducing interest rates for low-income households at risk of being laid off. Our findings call attention to two benefits of unemployment insurance not previously highlighted: reducing deadweight losses from loan default and expanding access to credit.

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