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Published: Wednesday, 3/2/2005

Month's bankruptcies set record

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Filings last month in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Toledo set a record for February.

The 888 cases were a 48 percent jump from over January's total and an 18 percent increase from the number in February, 2004.

The court had a record number of filings in 2004, but this year has an out-of the-gate surge toward its own record.

Dave Fickel, clerk of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Toledo, said he figured bankruptcy filings would have abated after last year's 10,623 cases.

However, Toledo bankruptcy attorney Elliot Feit said the economy seems to be driving the early growth this year.

"The economy is bad for manufacturing and we're now seeing more service industry people coming to us with credit problems," Mr. Feit said.

"Wages are down across the board, but yet we're seeing more and more people in trouble who are also getting more and more credit extended to them.''

In January, the American Bankruptcy Institute in Washington predicted that the bankruptcy rate - which in 2004 declined nationally for the first time since 2000 - was likely to rise again in the first quarter of 2005.

The institute based the prediction on its finding in the third quarter of 2004 that a measure of consumer financial obligations was beginning to rise.

Mr. Feit said he and other attorneys counsel clients to get their tax refunds as early as possible after Jan. 1, spend them on necessities like a refrigerator, clothing, and food supplies, and then file bankruptcy.

He said many of the February filings may have been clients who were counseled late last year about tax refunds.

"We see people who are barely making it from paycheck to paycheck," Mr. Feit said. "We see a lot of medical bankruptcy, a lot of people who refinanced mortgages when their credit was bad and got killed by lenders on interest rates. A person can file bankruptcy once ever six years and some people we are seeing for the second time."

Chapter 7 liquidation cases made up the vast majority of the February filings. There were 101 Chapter 13 repayment cases filed, but no Chapter 12 farm reorganization cases.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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