Archive for Friday, May 17, 2002

Bankruptcies increase to record level

May 17, 2002


— Consumers spent so freely during the recession that record numbers found themselves in heavy debt and filed for bankruptcy.

Personal bankruptcy filings rose 15.2 percent to a total of 1,464,961 in the 12 months ending March 31, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reported on Thursday.

Filings by businesses rose 10.7 percent to 39,845, including Enron's on Dec. 2.

Individuals account for about 97 percent of all bankruptcy filings.

Consumers lured by sales, car deals and low interest rates spent heartily, said Samuel Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute, a group of bankruptcy judges, lawyers and experts. The strong spending helped make the recession shallow but added to household debt, he said.

Gerdano noted that consumers were attracted by free-financing deals on vehicles and that lower interest rates brought a surge in mortgage refinancing that put more spending money in people's pockets.

The majority of consumer bankruptcy filings are filed under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, which allows people to dissolve their credit-card and other debts. Chapter 7 filings during the 12-month period jumped 17.2 percent, to 1,059,777.

In return for having their debts erased, people in Chapter 7 cases often turn their property over to a bankruptcy trustee, except for basic necessities. Property with value is sold to pay creditors. Debtors generally are allowed to keep some personal items and possibly some of the equity in their home, depending on state laws.

By contrast, filings under Chapter 13 in which people repay debts over time in accordance with a court-approved plan rose 10.2 percent to 433,107.

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