Using high-frequency transaction-level income, spending, balances, and credit limits data from an online financial service, we show that many consumers fail to stick to their self-set debt paydown plans and argue that this behavior is best explained by a model of present bias. Theoretically, we show that (i) a present-biased agent's sensitivity of consumption spending to paycheck receipt reflects his or her short-run impatience and that (ii) this sensitivity varies with available resources only for agents who are aware (sophisticated) rather than unaware (naive) of their future impatience. In turn, we classify users in our data accordingly. Consistent with present bias, we find that (i) sophisticated users' average paydown falls with higher measured impatience and that (ii) their planned paydown is more predictive of actual paydown than that of naives. We are the first to provide a theoretically-founded empirical methodology to measure naivete from spending and income data and validate this measure using our information on plans versus actual debt paydown. Moreover, our results highlight the importance of distinguishing between sophisticated and naive present-biased individuals in understanding their financial decision making.
Kuchler, Theresa, and Michaela Pagel. "Sticking to Your Plan: The Role of Present Bias for Credit Card Paydown." Journal of Financial Economics (forthcoming).
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