WASHINGTON – The number of bankruptcies in the United States surged to an all-time high in the second quarter of this year as financially troubled consumers scrambled to file before a rewrite of bankruptcy laws takes full effect.
Bankruptcy filings to federal courts in the April-to-June quarter totaled 467,333, according to data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. That marked a record number of filings made in any quarter.
Of that total, most – 458,597 – were personal bankruptcy filings; the remaining 8,736 were businesses filing for bankruptcy, the data showed.
“We are seeing the effect of consumers rushing to file now in order to avoid the impact of the new law,” said Samuel Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute. He said the new law goes fully into effect on Oct. 17.
Earlier this year, President Bush signed into law the most sweeping rewrite of U.S. bankruptcy codes in a quarter century. The measure makes it tougher to erase debt obligations in bankruptcy.
Gerdano said he expected another jump in bankruptcy filings during the current July-to-September quarter as people and businesses try to get filings in before the law is fully implemented.
Bankruptcy filings had been fairly stable. For the 12 months ending June 30, bankruptcy filings totaled 1,637,254. That was just a slight increase from 1,635,725 filings made during the corresponding 12-month period a year earlier.
Passage of the new bankruptcy law came after eight years of strenuous efforts by congressional backers, banks and credit card companies.
Supporters say new provisions were needed to curb abuses of the bankruptcy system. Opponents claims the changes will be especially hard on low-income working people, single mothers, minorities and the elderly and would remove a safety net for those who have lost their jobs or face mounting medical bills.
The record 467,333 bankruptcy filings in the second quarter surpassed the previous quarterly high of 440,257 filings in the second quarter of 2003, said Nathalie Martin, a resident scholar at the American Bankruptcy Institute.