Lines of Credit and Consumption Smoothing: The Choice between Credit Cards and Home Equity Lines of Credit

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The author models the choice between credit cards and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) within a framework where consumers hold lines of credit as instruments of consumption smoothing across state and time. Flexible repayment schemes for lines of credit induce risk-averse consumers with sufficiently high discount rates to underinsure and hold lines of credit instead as a buffer, even when they have access to full and fair insurance markets. Weighing the fixed upfront fees and higher default costs of HELOCs against the advantages of low and income-tax-deductible interest payments, the author finds a threshold level of potential borrowing belowwhich consumers prefer to use credit cards exclusively. Above that threshold, consumers decide touse HELOCs and consolidate all outstanding credit card debt into them; however, a rising probability of default and the resulting loss of equity in the home will put an upper bound on the potential HELOC borrowing that will prevent full debt consolidation.

JEL Code(s): D, D1, D8, D81