Expanding Financial Access Via Credit Cards: Evidence from Mexico

Aprajit Mahajan | Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley

Tuesday, March 16, 2021 12:15 PM



Credit card debt is increasingly common among poor and inexperienced borrowers – thus de facto a financial inclusion product. However, it remains relatively under-studied. We use detailed card-level data and a product that accounted for 15% of all first-time formal loans in Mexico and show that default rates are high and ex-ante unpredictable for new borrowers – suggesting an important role for ex-post contract terms in limiting risk. However, using a large nation-wide experiment we find that default is unresponsive to minimum payment increases, a commonly proposed policy remedy. We provide evidence that the zero result is driven by the offsetting effects of tightened liquidity constraints and lower debt burdens. Surprisingly, we also find muted default responses to large experimental changes in interest rates – suggesting a limited role for ex-post moral hazard in our context. Finally, we use job displacements to document large effects of unemployment on default, highlighting the centrality of idiosyncratic shocks as a barrier to the expansion of formal credit among poorer populations.

2020-2021 overall text