Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion

Debt is an important component of young Americans’ balance sheets, in part because the effects of different types of debt can vary widely: while some types of debt can contribute to lifetime economic mobility, other types can drain resources. This paper used data from the 1996 Survey of Income and Program Participation to consider the role that a savings account might play in the use of secured and unsecured debt by young adult households. While a savings account was related to more accumulated debt overall, the type of debt accumulated was less risky and potentially more productive. Owning a savings account was associated with a 15% increase, or $7,500, in the value of secured debt and a 14% decrease, or $581, in the value of unsecured debt. Thus, a savings account may help young adults “invest in their debt” by entering better, healthier credit markets and protecting them from riskier ones.

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Financial Inclusion Working Paper Year 2015