Monday, April 6, 2009

Downturn Pushes More Into Bankruptcy Despite Tougher Rules

The ailing economy continues to pull more Americans into bankruptcy court, where the number of troubled consumers filing for protection soared in March to its highest level since October 2005, when a new law made it more arduous and expensive to file.

And as job losses continue to climb, they may well drag bankruptcy filings along with them.

An average of 5,945 bankruptcy petitions were filed each day in March, up 9 percent from February and up 38 percent compared with a year earlier, according to Mike Bickford, president of Automated Access to Court Electronic Records, a bankruptcy data and management company. In all, 130,793 people filed for bankruptcy in March.

The law, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, made it more difficult for consumers to erase their debts through Chapter 7 bankruptcies. Those who earn more than their state’s median income are now required to first pass a means test — based on income, living expenses and other factors. If they are deemed able to repay some debts, they are then forced to pursue a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which sets up a three- or five-year repayment plan and makes it more difficult to get a fresh start.

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