Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Concern with Immediate Consequences Magnifies the Impact of Compulsive Buying Tendencies on College Students' Credit Card Debt

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Concern with Immediate Consequences Magnifies the Impact of Compulsive Buying Tendencies on College Students' Credit Card Debt

Article excerpt

This research examines whether temporal orientation moderates the impact of compulsive buying tendencies (CBT) on credit card debt. Participants completed the consideration of future consequences scale, a compulsive buying scale, and reported their credit card debt. Results revealed that CBT mediated the relationship between concern with immediate consequences and credit card debt, and high concern with immediate consequences magnified the impact of CBT on credit card debt. This suggests that compulsive buyers who focus on maximizing immediate consequences are at a much higher risk of building up significant amounts of credit card debt.


While credit cards are a convenient way to pay for products and services, consumers can sometimes use credit unwisely, carry high balances, and frequently pay only the minimum amount on each card they hold. Apart from the financial concerns, credit card debt has been linked with increased anxiety (Drentea 2000) and poorer health (Drentea and Lavrakas 2000). Credit cards are particularly problematic for young adults. It is estimated that 91% of college seniors have at least one credit card and 56% carry four or more cards. The average college student will graduate with more than $2,800 in credit card debt and up to one-fifth carry a credit card debt of $10,000 or more (Mae 2005; Consumer Federation of America 1999).

Given these concerns, it is important to examine predictors of credit card debt. In the present article, we focus on the joint impact of two theoretically relevant individual differences, namely compulsive buying tendencies (CBT) and the consideration of future consequences (CFC). Compulsive buying has a long history in the consumer welfare literature (O'Guinn and Faber 1989). By comparison, CFC (Strathman et al. 1994) has a shorter history, but has been shown to have meaningful links with financial decision making (e.g., Howlett, Kees, and Kemp 2008; Joireman, Sprott, and Spangenberg 2005). As we outline below, we hypothesize that CFC will predict CBT, which in turn will predict credit card debt (i.e., CBT will mediate the relationship between CFC and credit card debt). We also hypothesize that CFC will moderate the relationship between CBT and credit card debt.


Compulsive Buying

O' Guinn and Faber (1989) first defined compulsive buying as "chronic, repetitive purchases that becomes a primary response to negative events or feelings. The activity, while perhaps providing short-term positive rewards, becomes very difficult to stop and ultimately results in harmful consequences" (p, 155; c.f. Faber 2004). Whereas O'Guinn and Faber framed compulsive buying as a categorical variable (i.e., a consumer is a compulsive buyer only if his/her score reaches a certain threshold on a clinical screener for compulsive buying), other researchers have suggested that compulsive buying can be conceived as a continuum within a population of consumers (i.e., consumers differ in their CBT; d'Astous 1990). In the present article, we are interested in examining how compulsive buying predicts credit card debt among a normal population of college students, and therefore chose to focus on CBT.

Studies on CBT can be separated into two basic groups, including those that focus on the antecedents of CBT, and those that focus on the consequences of CBT. A variety of factors predict CBT. Much of this literature examines the direct effect of personality traits on compulsive buying. For example, in their original work, O'Guinn and Faber (1989) showed that consumers classified as compulsive buyers reported lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of compulsive personality and materialism, as compared to noncompulsive buyers. Research on CBT has revealed a number of similar and additional personality correlates. In short, CBT has been linked with lower levels of self-esteem (d'Astous 1990; Roberts 1998; Yurchisin and Johnson 2004) and conscientiousness (Mowen and Spears 1999; Wang and Yang 2008); and higher levels of materialism (Mowen and Spears 1999; Ridgway, Kukar-Kinney, and Monroe 2008; Roberts, Manolis, and Tanner 2003; Rose 2007), narcissism (Rose 2007), impulsivity (Billieux et al. …

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