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Bankruptcy filings at record highs as new law looms

Associated Press

NEW YORK — The number of personal bankruptcy filings is soaring as the effective date nears for a new law making it harder for consumers to seek protection from debtors.

According to Lundquist Consulting, which tallies weekly bankruptcy statistics, 102,863 bankruptcy filings were received in U.S. courts last week — more than 20,000 per day, on average. The number of filings has climbed 19.4 percent year-to-date to 1.47 milllion, compared to 1.23 million during the same period in 2004.

A smaller surge was seen when President Bush signed the bankruptcy overhaul into law on April 20. The law is due to take effect Monday, and Lundquist Consulting, a Burlingame, Calif.-based financial research firm, said it expects the number of bankruptcy filings to remain high this week.

After Monday, the requirements for bankruptcy protection become much more stringent. People with above-average income, as determined by a standard “means test,” will be barred from filing for Chapter 7 protection, where debts may be wiped out entirely. Instead, they will have to file more restrictive Chapter 13 bankruptcies, which require a five-year repayment plan.

Filers also will be required to get professional credit counseling within 180 days of filing.

Hurricane victims forced into bankruptcy will be given leeway with regard to the credit counseling and income requirements. How much leeway a filer receives is up to bankruptcy trustees, the Justice Department officials tasked with overseeing bankrupcy filings.

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