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A Brief Postwar History Of US Consumer Finance

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Executive Summary

This paper describes the consumer finance sector in the US since World War II. The authors define the sector in terms of the functions delivered by firms. They provide time series evidence on major trends in consumption, savings, and borrowing. Examining consumer decisions, changes in regulation, and business practices, they identify four major themes that characterize the sector: innovation that increased the choices available to consumer; enhanced access in the form of broadening participation of consumers in financial activities; do-it-yourself consumer finance, which allowed and forced consumers to take greater responsibility for their own financial lives; and the resultant increase in household risk taking.

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