Credit Card Redlining

QAU Working Paper No. QAU08-1
by Ethan Cohen-Cole

This paper evaluates the presence of racial disparities in the issuance of consumer credit. Using a unique and proprietary database of credit histories from a major credit bureau, this paper links location-based information on race with individual credit files. After controlling for the influence of such other place-specific factors as crime, housing vacancy rates, and general population demographics, the paper finds qualitatively large differences in the amount of credit offered to similarly qualified applicants living in Black versus White areas. An instrumental variables approach allows the paper to distinguish between issuer-provided credit (supply) and utilization of credit (demand), where instruments for demand are derived from social theory à la Veblen (i.e., `keeping up with the Joneses'). The results suggest that the observed differences in credit lines by racial composition of neighborhood are largely driven by issuer decisions rather than by demand.

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