Research / BFI Working PaperOct 01, 2009

Information Disclosure, Cognitive Biases and Payday Borrowing

If people face cognitive limitations or biases that lead to financial mistakes, what are possible ways lawmakers can help? One approach is to remove the option of the bad decision; another approach is to increase financial education such that individuals can reason through choices when they arise. A third, less discussed, approach is to mandate disclosure of information in a form that enables people to overcome limitations or biases at the point of the decision. This third approach is the topic of this paper. We study whether and what information can be disclosed to payday loan borrowers to lower their use of high-cost debt via a field experiment at a national chain of payday lenders. We find that information that helps people think less narrowly (over time) about the cost of payday borrowing, and in particular information that reinforces the adding-up effect over pay cycles of the dollar fees incurred on a payday loan, reduces the take-up of payday loans by about 10 percent in a 4 month-window following exposure to the new information. Overall, our results suggest that consumer information regulations based on a deeper understanding of cognitive biases might be an effective policy tool when it comes to regulating payday borrowing, and possibly other financial and non-financial products.

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