By Gajendran Raveendranathan
I build a model of revolving credit in which consumers face idiosyncratic earnings risk, and credit card firms direct their search to consumers. Upon a match, they bargain over borrowing limits and borrowing interest rates — fixed for the duration of the match. Using the model, I show that improved matching between consumers and credit card firms, calibrated to match the rise in the population with credit cards, accounts for the rise in revolving credit and consumer bankruptcies in the United States. I also provide empirical evidence consistent with the two key features in my model: directed search and bargaining. The lifetime consumption gains from improved matching are 3.55 percent— substantially larger than those previously estimated by alternative explanations for the rise in revolving credit and consumer bankruptcies (0.03-0.57 percent). Finally, I analyze how the credit card firm’s bargaining power impacts the welfare of introducing stricter bankruptcy laws.
That is going to surprise a few: the higher credit card debt and default are actually welfare improving. Or at least if they are the consequence of better matching and bargaining. Which means that one should not necessarily worry if the credit card market should more defaults.