Posted on07 September 2015.
Mortgage Refinancing, Consumer Spending, and Competition: Evidence from the Home Affordable Refinancing Program
National University of Singapore
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)
Columbia Business School – Finance and Economics
University of Chicago – Booth School of Business
Vincent W. Yao
Georgia State University
NBER Working Paper No. w21512
We examine the ability of the government to impact mortgage refinancing activity and spur consumption by focusing on the Home Affordable Refinancing Program (HARP). The policy allowed intermediaries to refinance insufficiently collateralized mortgages by extending government credit guarantee on such loans. We use proprietary loan-level panel data from a large market participant with refinancing history and social security number matched consumer credit records of each borrower. A difference-in-difference empirical design reveals a substantial increase in refinancing activity by the program, inducing more than three million eligible borrowers with primarily fixed-rate mortgages – the predominant contract type in the U.S. – to refinance their loans. Borrowers received a reduction of around 140 basis points in interest rate due to HARP refinancing amounting to about $3,500 in annual savings per borrower. More than 20% of interest rate savings from refinancing was allocated to durable (auto) spending, with larger spending response among less wealthy and creditworthy. Regions more exposed to the program saw a relative increase in non-durable and durable consumer spending, a decline in foreclosure rates, and a faster recovery in house prices. A variety of identification strategies reveal that competitive frictions in the refinancing market may have hampered HARP’s impact. On average, these frictions reduced take-up rate among eligible borrowers by 10% and cut interest rate savings by 16 basis points, with both these effects being twice as large among the most indebted borrowers. These findings have implications for future policy interventions, pass-through of monetary policy through household balance sheets, and design of the mortgage market.
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