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Published: Tuesday, 8/12/2003

Behind area bankruptcies, lots of crushing debt

The 43 northwest Ohioans have little in common.

Their incomes vary widely, ranging from nearly nothing for an unemployed worker whose benefits ran out to a gross of $180,000 a year for a small-business owner.

Some own little more than the clothes on their backs and a smattering of personal possessions; others own real estate worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, including vacation homes and rental properties.

Some still owe thousands of dollars for cars that were repossessed, and others drive brand-new $40,000 sport-utility vehicles.

Among the 43 are single moms, couples with little kids, divorced dads (some with kids), and retirement-age workers.

They do, however, have one thing in common.

Each of them became a statistic Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Toledo, where they filed a total of 33 bankruptcy petitions.

They are among a record wave of filers, locally and nationally.

All day Friday, people from 21 counties that the court encompasses filed bankruptcies at the rate of one every 13 minutes.

Officials estimate that a record 10,000 households and businesses will file locally this year, and nationally it's almost certain that 2003 will set another record, surpassing last year's record 1.6 million bankruptcies.

In northwest Ohio and the United States as a whole, bankruptcies now occur at a rate more than quadruple that of two decades ago.

The rate's acceleration of recent years is perhaps because of the hangover from the free-spending 1990s or perhaps because many people realize that soon, filing for bankruptcy may be much more difficult.

For whatever reason, more than 33,000 bankruptcies were filed in northwest Ohio in the last five years, or about 2.2 percent of the 21-county population of nearly 1.5 million.

That mirrors the national experience of 7 million bankruptcies for a nation of 280 million.

Of course, over the last two decades, the damage is worse: over 100,000 locally and more than 18 million nationally filed.

That many consumers with impaired credit (even if only temporarily) has to be a big drag on the economy.

The causes of bankruptcy are many. A scanning of that one day's worth of filings in this region shows many of the reasons: credit-card debt, unemployment or reduced employment, medical costs not covered by insurance, business failures, bad real-estate deals, car wrecks, divorce, excessive student loans.

Here are just a few of Friday's filing

Dennis and Becky, a suburban Toledo couple, racked up $53,000 in credit-card bills, a $16,000 bank loan, and a $6,500 debt for defaulting on another loan - all this on an income of just $1,800 a month (he's a self-employed consultant and she's a cook). They also owe $100,000 on their home.

Brian, a self-employed swimming-pool maintenance worker in Toledo, and his wife, Jenny, a sales clerk, are struggling with $34,000 in medical bills and $20,000 they owe the Internal Revenue Service, on a combined income of $2,600 a month.

It was a rough day for nurses too. A nurse in Graytown has a $170,000 home but owes $62,000 on credit cards, and her first and second mortgages total more than the house is worth.

Her spouse is unemployed, and she's supporting the family of four on an income of $3,900 a month plus $700 a month in child support.

A divorced Toledo nurse with a young daughter makes $3,300 a month but owes more than $60,000 on 15 credit cards plus $6,500 for student loans.

Chad, a disabled worker in Van Wert County, has no way to pay his $9,500 worth of credit-card debt on his monthly disability income of less than $800.

Cynthia, an order clerk for a big Toledo company, had 16 credit cards with balances totaling more than $18,000 when she filed. She makes about $24,000 a year.

Richard and Martha, of Fremont, have assets of $84,000, including an annuity worth $46,000 for retirement, but their 16 credit cards have balances totaling $185,000, pushing their total liabilities to $222,000. The couple, with monthly income of $2,100, tried credit counseling, but they were too deeply in debt.

Some ruined their future credit over what seem to be minuscule debts, including Toledoan Sylvia, who owes just $7,800, including $3,700 for credit cards and $2, 000 in medical bills. She makes $1,600 a month.

Real estate holdings are no guarantee of success. Raymond, a factory supervisor in Findlay, owes $102,000 for property sold at sheriff's auction, tough to pay back on an income of $2,600 monthly.

And Terry, a truck driver, and Lisa, a clerk, have rental properties in Sandusky, but their combined income of $5,500 a month wasn't handling $27,000 in credit-card bills, $18,000 in medical bills, and $14,000 for equipment and repairs.

All of the filings Friday were for Chapter 7 liquidations, except for one Chapter 13 repayment plan.

Bill, a Tiffin insurance agent, wants to pay his $398,000 debts, including a bank loan of $84,000, $190,000 for mortgages, and $14,000 owed to an insurance company. He seems to have a good chance, with a gross income of $15,000 a month.



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