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Household Debt: Facts, Puzzles, Theories, and Policies

Jonathan Zinman

NBER Working Paper No. 20496
Issued in September 2014
NBER Program(s):Program on the Economics of Aging, Law and Economics Program

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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20496

Published: Jonathan Zinman, 2015. "Household Debt: Facts, Puzzles, Theories, and Policies," Annual Review of Economics, vol 7(1), pages 251-276. citation courtesy of

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