In stark contrast to bank debt contracts, most micro-finance contracts require that repayments start nearly immediately after loan disbursement and occur weekly thereafter. Even though economic theory suggests that a more flexible repayment schedule would benefit clients and potentially improve their repayment capacity, micro-finance practitioners argue that the fiscal discipline imposed by frequent repayment is critical to preventing loan default. In this paper we use data from a field experiment which randomized client assignment to a weekly or monthly repayment schedule and find no significant effect of type of repayment schedule on client delinquency or default. Our findings suggest that, among micro-finance clients who are willing to borrow at either weekly or monthly repayment schedules, a more flexible schedule can significantly lower transaction costs without increasing client default. (JEL: O12, O16, O22)
I elicit causal effects of spousal observability and communication on financial choices of married individuals in the Philippines. When choices are private, men put money into their personal accounts. When choices are observable, men commit money to consumption for their own benefit. When required to communicate, men put money into their wives' account. These strong treatment effects on men, but not women, appear related more to control than to gender: men whose wives control household savings respond more strongly to the treatment and women whose husbands control savings exhibit the same response. Changes in information and communication interact with underlying control to produce mutable gender-specific outcomes.
Microfinance clients were randomly assigned to repayment groups that met either weekly or monthly during their first loan cycle, and then graduated to identical meeting frequency for their second loan. Long-run survey data and a follow-up public goods experiment reveal that clients initially assigned to weekly groups interact more often and exhibit a higher willingness to pool risk with group members from their first loan cycle nearly two years after the experiment. They were also three times less likely to default on their second loan. Evidence from an additional treatment arm shows that, holding meeting frequency fixed, the pattern is insensitive to repayment frequency during the first loan cycle. Taken together, these findings constitute the first experimental evidence on the economic returns to social interaction, and provide an alternative explanation for the success of the group lending model in reducing default risk.
Female “empowerment” has increasingly become a policy goal, both as an end to itself and as a means to achieving other development goals. Microfinance in particular has often been argued, but not without controversy, to be a tool for empowering women. Here, using a randomized controlled trial, we examine whether access to and marketing of an individually held commitment savings product lead to an increase in female decision-making power within the household. We find positive impacts, particularly for women who have below median decision-making power in the baseline, and we find this leads to a shift toward female-oriented durables goods purchased in the household.
Financial stress is widely believed to cause health problems. However, policies seeking to relieve financial stress by limiting debt levels of poor households may directly worsen their economic well-being. We evaluate an alternative policy – increasing the repayment flexibility of debt contracts. A field experiment randomly assigned microfinance clients to a monthly or a traditional weekly installment schedule (N = 200). We used cell phones to gather survey data on income, expenditure, and financial stress every 48 hours over seven weeks. Clients repaying monthly were 51 percent less likely to report feeling “worried, tense, or anxious” about repaying, were 54 percent more likely to report feeling confident about repaying, and reported spending less time thinking about their loan compared to weekly clients. Monthly clients also reported higher business investment and income, suggesting that the flexibility encouraged them to invest their loans more profitably, which ultimately reduced financial stress.