Essays in Household Finance and Corporate Finance
In the first two essays of this dissertation, I examine the role of third-party debt collectors in consumer credit markets. First, using law enforcement as an instrument, I find that higher density of debt collectors increases the supply of unsecured credit. The estimated elasticity of the average credit card balance with respect to the number of debt collectors per capita is 0.49, the elasticity of the average balance on non-credit card unsecured loans with respect to the number of debt collectors per capita is 1.32. There is also some evidence that creditors substitute unsecured credit for secured credit when the number of debt collectors increases. Higher density of debt collectors improves recoveries, which enables lenders to extend more credit. Finally, creditors charge higher interest rates and lend to a larger pool of borrowers when the density of debt collectors increases, presumably because better collections enable them to extend credit to riskier applicants. In the second essay I investigate the economics of the debt collection industry. The existence of third-party debt collection agencies cannot be explained by the benefits of specialization and economies of scale alone. Rather, the debt collection industry can serve as a coordination mechanism between creditors. If a debt collection agency collects on behalf of several creditors, the practices it uses will be associated will all creditors that hired it. Hence, consumers will be unable to punish individual creditors for using harsh practices. As a result, the third-party agency may use harsher debt collection practices than individual creditors collecting on their own. As long as the costs of hiring third-party debt collectors are below the benefits from using harsh debt collection practices, the debt collection industry will create economic value for creditors. The last essay, written jointly with Thomas Chemmanur, develops a theory of corporate boards and their role in forcing CEO turnover. We show that in general the board faces a coordination problem, leading it to retain an incompetent CEO even when a majority of board members receive private signals indicating that she is of poor quality. We solve for the optimal board size, and show that it depends on various board and firm characteristics: one size does not fit all firms. We develop extensions to our basic model to analyze the optimal composition of the board between firm insiders and outsiders and the effect of board members observing imprecise public signals in addition to their private signals on board decision-making.