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Long-run (positive) effects of personal debt relief

posted by Jason Kilborn

Empirical papers on the long-run effects of a personal bankruptcy relief system (i.e., discharge) are rare, so this fascinating new paper caught my eye. The first personal insolvency discharge system in continental Europe appeared in Denmark in 1984, and this paper takes advantage of that long lifespan to mine some rather unique data. The results are unsurprising but very useful in the ongoing debate about the salutary effects of such procedures: "debt relief leads to a large increase in earned income, employment, assets, real estate, secured debt, home ownership, and wealth that persists for more than 25 years after a court ruling." So the benefits of debt relief are not only substantial but robust, as debtors learn their lesson (if there was one to learn) about managing their finances, and they capitalize (literally) on their fresh start. Perhaps most important, the cause of these effects seems to be largely the desired result of any personal discharge system--getting debtors out from under the debilitating thumb of hopelessly unserviceable creditor demands and reactivating them as engaged workers and taxpayers: "The net transition of workers into employment accounts for two thirds of the increase in earned income." Great contribution to the literature on personal insolvency and well worth a read.

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