When motivation is against debtors' best interest: The illusion of goal progress in credit card debt repayment

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 2014, 33 (2), pp. 143 - 158
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© 2014, American Marketing Association. The authors explore the illusion of goal progress by consumers who own multiple credit cards and pay off their debt balances to facilitate the achievement of their subgoal rather than the superordinate goal of being debt-free. The first experiment shows that debtors use their savings toward the credit card debt they can pay off entirely or substantially, even if it is associated with the smallest balance and the lowest annual percentage rate rather than toward the debt with the highest annual percentage rate. The second experiment reveals that when the income available to pay down the debt is in the form of effortless money (i.e., windfall or reward money) as opposed to hard-earned savings, the tendency to allocate money toward the smallest credit card debt is exacerbated. However, people tend to pay their debt more rationally when the number of debt accounts increases. Finally, the third experiment shows that credit card debt repayment decisions depend on the nature of the debt (hedonic vs. utilitarian) and the timing of consumption benefits (past vs. future). The article concludes with a discussion of managerial and public policy implications.
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