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Friday, May 24, 2019

Household debt over time

by Subhamoy Chakraborty and Renuka Sane.

In a previous article, Estimates of household debt in India, we presented some basic facts about household borrowings in the months of May - August 2018. We found that 46% of households in India had debt outstanding. There was a significant reliance on informal sources for the purpose of borrowing. Consumption expenditure was the most important purpose for which households borrowed followed by housing and business.

In this article, we use the same dataset, the Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) to understand household borrowing across time. We present metrics on household indebtedness across 3 waves (January-April 2016, January-April 2017, January-April 2018). We have chosen the first wave of each year so that comparisons are made at the same point of time each year. We use household weights for each wave provided by CPHS to get population estimates for share of households having debt and the distribution of debt across different sources and purposes. CPHS does not provide information on the value of debt outstanding. Our analysis, therefore, is restricted to understanding the proportion of households borrowing from various sources for different purposes.

Overall level of Borrowing

Table 1 presents percentage of households having debt outstanding in Wave 1 in each of the three years. This has increased dramatically over the last three years. In January - April 2016, only 12% of the population had debt outstanding. This increased to 39% by January - April 2018. There has been an increase in household indebtedness in urban regions - by 2018, 40% of urban households had debt outstanding relative to 37% of rural households.

Table 1: Borrowing Share in Population
Jan16 - Apr16 33 million
21.0 million
11.4 million
Jan17 - Apr17 67 million
45.3 million
20.8 million
Jan18 - Apr18 114 million
79.8 million
34.3 million

Share of sources in the population

Figure 1 presents the percentage of households in the population who have borrowed from the different sources. This throws up several interesting facts. First, the share of households who have debt outstanding from a bank has been steadily rising, consistent with rise in personal loans from banking data. The same is true for debt from relatives and friends. Second, there has been a reversal of borrowing from money-lenders. In 2016, less than 3% of households claimed to have debt outstanding from money lenders. In 2017, this rose to a little over 7.5%, and since then has fallen to 4.5% in 2018. Third, there has been a dramatic increase in borrowing from shops. In 2016, less than 1% of households had debt outstanding from shops. In 2018, this number was about 11%.

Figure 1:Share of borrowing in the population

Figure 2 presents the percentage of households who have borrowed from shops in each income decile. Borrowing from shops increased remarkably in 2018 across all income deciles. The increase was highest for the lowest income decile from 2% in 2017 to 15.5% in 2018. The corresponding increase in highest income decile was from 3% to 7.5%.

Figure 2:Borrowing from Shops across Income

Reasons for borrowing

Figure 3 presents the percentage of households who have borrowed for various purposes. Consumption expenditure remains the single largest reason behind household borrowing. Although in 2016 borrowing for consumption and housing were at the same level, housing grew slowly compared to consumption. Borrowings for business and repaying outstanding debt saw a sudden jump in overall share in 2018.

Figure 3:Reasons for borrowing in the population

Figure 4 presents the the percentage of household who have borrowed for consumption across income deciles. In 2016 the share of borrowing for consumption was almost equal across income deciles, around 2-3 %. However, by 2018, there was a huge difference between the deciles. The share of borrowing in the lowest income decile increased from 2% in 2016 to 21% in 2018. The corresponding rise in the highest income decile was from 2.5% to 10%. In 2018 21% of households in the lowest decile had borrowed for consumption expenditure as compared to 10% in the highest income decile.

Figure 4:Borrowing for Consumption across Income


In this article we have presented some facts about the change in household borrowings in India between 2016 and 2018. These are:

  • The percentage of households who have debt outstanding has increased from 12% of the population in 2016 to 39% of the population in 2018. The increase has been slightly higher in urban India relative to rural India.
  • There has been an increase in borrowing from banks, relative and friends, and shops. In fact, shops have seen the largest increase as the source of borrowing.
  • The incidence of borrowing from shops has been higher for the lower income deciles.
  • The biggest jump in the reasons for borrowing has been on consumption expenditure.
  • Borrowing for consumption expenditure increased more for lower income deciles.


The authors are researchers with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.

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