US bankruptcies resume upward path in 1st quarter

Fri May 14, 2010 3:01pm EDT

* Consumer filings up 18 pct, business filings up 2 pct

* Nevada has most filings per capita, Arizona filings soar

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, May 14 (Reuters) - U.S. bankruptcy filings resumed their upward climb in the first quarter, nearly equaling their highest level since 2005, as high unemployment and a still-strained housing market squeezed consumers.

There were 388,148 filings between January and September, up 17 percent from 330,394 a year earlier, according to data released Friday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Consumer filings rose 18 percent to 373,541, while business filings edged up 2 percent to 14,607.

Filings also rose 4 percent from last year's fourth quarter, the government data show. That had been the first period with a quarter-to-quarter drop in filings since 2006.

For the 12 months ended March 31, there were 1.53 million filings, up 27 percent from a year earlier and the most since 2006. Some experts expect the number to stay above 1.5 million in future periods.

"We're not anyway near through our housing situation, and are going to see more foreclosures, perhaps for another three years," said David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies in Fairfax, Virginia. "The job situation is also serious. It's not just that people cannot find jobs, but many who have found jobs are finding them at lower wages."

First-quarter filings were the second-most since the fourth quarter of 2005, when Congress overhauled federal bankruptcy laws to make it tougher for people to file. They nearly equaled the 388,485 filings in the third quarter of 2009.

According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, Arizona had a 69 percent rise in total filings over the last year, the biggest increase in any federal district.

On a per capita basis, Nevada had the most filings, with 11.7 per 1,000 people.

Both states have been among the hardest hit by the nation's housing and commercial real estate problems.

Tennessee ranked second per capita, followed by Georgia, Indiana and Alabama. Among the most populous states, California was 8th per capita, Texas 48th, New York 41st and Florida 15th. Alaska had the fewest filings per capita, with 1.54 per 1,000 people.

In the quarter, about 73 percent of bankruptcy filings came under Chapter 7 of the U.S. bankruptcy code, 26 percent under Chapter 13, and most of the rest under Chapter 11.

Consumers use Chapter 7 to get a fresh financial start. Chapter 13 lets people discharge some debts. Businesses often use Chapters 7 and 11. Farmers use Chapter 12 of the code. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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