Abstract

Many indebted consumers carry multiple credit cards with significant balances and do not generate enough income to pay off these balances in full at the end of each repayment period. In managing their debt over time, these consumers must decide how to allocate repayments across their debt accounts. This research examines how different monthly repayment allocations, varying from entirely concentrated into one debt account (i.e., a concentrated strategy) to equally dispersed across all debt accounts (i.e., a dispersed strategy), influence consumers’ motivation to repay their debts. Evidence from a field study of indebted consumers with multiple debt accounts and from three experiments shows that concentrated (vs. dispersed) repayment strategies tend to boost consumers’ motivation to become debt free, leading them to repay their debts more aggressively. Importantly, this motivating effect is most pronounced when the repayments are concentrated into consumers’ smallest accounts because consumers tend to infer overall progress in debt repayment from the greatest proportional balance reduction (proportion of starting balance repaid) within any one account. These findings advance our understanding of how consumers repay their debts and help pinpoint the psychological process by which debt repayment strategies affect consumers’ motivation to get out of debt.

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