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Back to this imaginary cancer patient. Let’s say he survives the illness but needs to take unpaid leave to recover. The bills are piling up in the meantime, and he has to apply for a new credit card and max out his spending limit to stay afloat. As a result, his credit rating drops drastically, and due to the high cost of chemotherapy and recovery, it remains low.

In situations like this, the researchers hypothesize that the data could help a company develop services that flag our imaginary patient as a candidate for targeted financial assistance or a subsidized health insurance plan like Medicaid.

“Many people often don’t understand the risk they put themselves through various forms of borrowing, and how it all leads to increasingly catastrophic outcomes for them,” says Matthew Harding, a professor in the department of economics from the University of California Irvine and the co-author of the study. “People’s lives could potentially be improved by having advanced information about [these] things.”

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