Mortgage Refinancing, Consumer Spending, and Competition: Evidence from the Home Affordable Refinancing Program

Mortgage Refinancing, Consumer Spending, and Competition: Evidence from the Home Affordable Refinancing Program

By Sumit Agarwal, Gene Amromin, Souphala Chomsisengphet, Tomasz Piskorski, Amit Seru, Vincent W. Yao
October 2015Working Paper No. 3478

We examine the ability of the government to impact mortgage refinancing activity and spur consumption by focusing on the Home Affordable Refinancing Program (HARP). The policy allowed intermediaries to refinance insufficiently collateralized mortgages by extending government credit guarantee on such loans. We use proprietary loan-level panel data from a large market participant with refinancing history and social security number matched consumer credit records of each borrower. A difference-in-difference empirical design based on eligibility requirements of the program reveals a substantial increase in refinancing activity by the program: more than three million eligible borrowers with primarily fixed-rate mortgages – the predominant contract type in the U.S. – refinanced their loans under HARP. Borrowers received a reduction of around 140 basis points in interest rate, on average, due to HARP refinancing, amounting to about $3,500 in annual savings per borrower. There was a significant increase in the durable spending by borrowers after refinancing, with larger increase among more indebted borrowers. Regions more exposed to the program saw a relative increase in non-durable and durable consumer spending, a decline in foreclosure rates, and faster recovery in house prices. A variety of identification strategies reveal that competitive frictions in the refinancing market may have partly hampered the program’s impact. On average, these frictions reduced take-up rate among eligible borrowers by 10%-20% and cut interest rate savings by 16-33 basis points, with larger effects among the most indebted borrowers who were the key target of the program. These findings have implications for future policy interventions, pass-through of monetary policy through household balance sheets, and design of the mortgage market.