Article | Business History Review | Fall 2011

A Brief Postwar History of U.S. Consumer Finance

by J. Gunnar Trumbull and Peter Tufano


In this brief history of U.S. consumer finance since World War II, the sector is defined based on the functions delivered by firms in the form of payments, savings and investing, borrowing, managing risk, and providing advice. Evidence of major trends in consumption, savings, and borrowing is drawn from time-series studies. An examination of consumer decisions, changes in regulation, and business practices identifies four major themes that characterized the consumer-finance sector: innovation that increased the choices available to consumers; enhanced access in the form of consumers' broadening participation in financial activities; do-it-yourself consumer finance, which both allowed and forced consumers to take greater responsibility for their own financial lives; and a resultant increase in household risk taking.

Keywords: consumer finance; Consumer credit; u.s. history; Consumer Behavior; Personal Finance; Credit; Trends; United States;


Trumbull, J. Gunnar, and Peter Tufano. "A Brief Postwar History of U.S. Consumer Finance." Business History Review 85, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 461–498.