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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Area bankruptcy filings rise in '07

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Personal bankruptcies in northwest Ohio rose by 47 percent last year from the number in 2006, and although the total was only a third of 2005's record, experts said they expect bankruptcies to grow steadily.

"Put it this way: I'm meeting with six new clients today and I'm a small practitioner," said Toledo bankruptcy attorney Amy Stoner, who predicted that 2008 "is going to be crazy."

U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Toledo, which covers a 21-county territory of northwest Ohio, reported 5,627 filings for last year, compared with 3,837 a year earlier.

Chapter 7 liquidation filings totaled 4,570, an increase of 58 percent, and Chapter 13 repayment cases totaled 1,046, a 14 percent increase.

Filings in December totaled 397 cases, an increase of 17 percent and the highest total since 699 in December, 2004 - the year before a new bankruptcy law went into effect.

Debtors swarmed bankruptcy courts in 2005 to beat the new law, fearing that they might not qualify for bankruptcy Chapter 7 liquidation under the changes.

As a result, filings in the court in Toledo hit a record 16,883, and filings nationally totaled just over 2 million.

After the law changed in October, 2005, every attorney's case load dropped significantly, according to Ms. Stoner. Then in 2006 and last year the filings started to increase gradually, and starting in July last year filings went up dramatically, she added.

"I think people finally understood that they were able to file Chapter 7 again, but you also had the foreclosures and job losses. It seemed like everybody was just surrendering here."

Toledo bankruptcy attorney Jerry Purcel said 2007 brought another previously unseen trend.

"It used to be that 90 percent of the people that came in wanted to keep their house. Now they just come in and say 'I can't afford to keep my house, so get rid of it.'•

"Bankruptcies are definitely up, and I think 2008 will probably have more filings than 2007 or 2006," he said.

In Ohio, 48,967 bankruptcies were filed last year, up from 34,149 in 2006, according to Lundquist Consulting, Inc., of Tustin, Calif., which tracks bankruptcy statistics.

In Michigan, 44,357 bankruptcies were filed last year, up from 31,958 the year before.

Chapter 7 liquidation filings grew 52 percent last year in Ohio and 57 percent in Michigan, according to Lundquist.

Nationally, the consulting group said, 801,840 cases were filed last year, up sharply from 573,203 the year before.

Attorney Reginald Jackson, president of the American Bankruptcy Institute, said he is certain that bankruptcy filings are headed back to pre-2005 levels.

"All those who were filing to avoid the new law, that has already worked its way through the system. What you have now are those getting in financial difficulty, losing their jobs, other problems," said Mr. Jackson, of Columbus.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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