Does borrowing behaviour influence wellbeing?

by Sara Davies

Standard Life Foundation recently commissioned us to conduct a rapid evidence review to understand people’s borrowing behaviour and how it impacts their financial wellbeing. This involved a structured, critical analysis of around 150 relevant items and an assessment of their methodological strengths and weaknesses. We found:

  • Income strongly influences borrowing behaviour. Low-income households are less likely to use consumer credit than those on higher incomes, but more likely to use high-cost lenders when they do borrow, often to make ends meet.
  • Owning assets has some relation to borrowing behaviour. Homeowners have higher levels of borrowing than non-homeowners; their borrowing is linked to their level of housing assets. However, we lack evidence on the effects of savings on borrowing.
  • Psychological factors shape borrowing behaviour, but not as much as socio-demographics. There are complex interactions between different psychological factors; and one can mediate (and moderate or amplify) the effects of another. Psychological effects seem less powerful in explaining borrowing behaviour than other personal factors, such as income.
  • Macro-economic conditions play a major role in shaping people’s financial situations, their access to borrowing and the cost of borrowing. Aggregate consumer borrowing rises when macro-economic conditions are good and falls when they deteriorate. At firm level, credit card design and marketing (such as credit limit increases and zero-interest offers) encourage borrowing. Speed, convenience and easy access attract borrowers to use high-cost credit, particularly where they have few other credit choices.
  • Lower financial literacy is linked to poor borrowing behaviours and over-indebtedness. There are concerns young people, with lower financial capability overall, are particularly at risk from poor borrowing decisions. The evidence is weak regarding the impact of financial literacy programmes (which tend to focus on financial knowledge) upon financial behaviour

Read more about this research

Report | Key Findings

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