February 2017 (Revised November 2017)

Minimum Wages and Consumer Credit: Impacts on Access to Credit and Traditional and High-Cost Borrowing

Lisa J. Dettling and Joanne W. Hsu


Proponents of minimum wage legislation point to its potential to raise earnings and reduce poverty, while opponents argue that disemployment effects lead to net welfare losses. But these arguments typically ignore the possibility of spillover effects on other aspects of households' financial circumstances. This paper examines how state-level minimum wages affect the decisions of lenders and low-income borrowers. Using data derived from direct mailings of credit offers, survey-reported usage of high-cost alternative credit products, and debt recorded in credit reports, we find that higher minimum wages increase the supply of unsecured credit to lower-income adults, who in turn, use more traditional credit and less high-cost alternative credit like payday loans. Further, delinquency rates fall and credit scores rise in both the short run and one year later. Overall, our results suggest that minimum wage policy has positive spillover effects by relaxing borrowing constra ints among lower-income households, thereby reducing borrowing costs. This reduction in borrowing costs can increase disposable income by 20-110 percent more than the direct effect on earnings alone.

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Original paper: PDF | Accessible materials (.zip)

Keywords: Consumer debt, credit cards, credit constraints, credit supply, delinquency, minimum wages, payday loans

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2017.010r1

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: January 09, 2020