Wharton Pension Research Council Working Papers

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Working Paper

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Between 2003 and 2015, real aggregate debt in the hands of Americans aged 50 to 80 increased by 59 percent. Meanwhile, real debt held by Americans in their twenties and thirties was approximately flat. Using data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Consumer Credit Panel, we describe the extent of this debt increase and the distribution of debt growth by loan type. Real per capita home-secured debts held by older consumers show the steepest growth, though older borrowers have increased their obligations in all major debt categories. For long-held debts, these developments lead us to ask how such changes emerged: did older borrowers carry more debt through the Great Recession, after which access to consumer credit declined for new borrowers of all ages? Alternatively, have loan originations since the Great Recession favored older over younger borrowers? While our results indicate that the stock of long-held, home-secured debt sits largely with older borrowers, we also uncover evidence of a decisive tilt of new auto and mortgage originations away from younger borrowers and toward borrowers in their fifties, sixties, and even seventies. The motivation behind older consumers’ substantial new borrowing, often with long repayment terms, is the focus of ongoing research.


The published version of this working paper may be found in the 2020 publication: Remaking Retirement: Debt in an Aging Economy.


Older adults, debt, home-secured debt, Great Recession

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Copyright/Permission Statement

The views and opinions offered in this paper do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. All findings, interpretations, and conclusions of this paper represent the views of the author(s) and not those of the Wharton School or the Pension Research Council. © 2019 Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved.


The authors wish to thank Andrew Haughwout, Henry Korytkowski, Equifax, and seminar participants at the Financial Planning Association for comments.

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WP 2019 - 9 - M. Brown et al Online Appendix.pdf (504 kB)
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Economics Commons



Date Posted: 25 September 2019