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Published: Tuesday, 7/7/2009

Toledo area bankruptcies up sharply

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Bankruptcy filings rose sharply in the first half of 2009 as the prolonged national economic meltdown and dramatic contractions in the automotive industry continue to exact a personal toll on northwest Ohio.

There were 4,420 cases filed in the first six months of 2009 in the 21-county territory served by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Toledo, a 29 percent increase over the 3,426 cases filed during the same period a year ago.

"It just keeps coming and coming from all different directions," local bankruptcy lawyer Fred M. Boyk said. "It's not just the low-income people; it's the higher-income people. It's the managers and the assistant managers and the owners as well."

Mr. Boyk said bankruptcy filings have come in waves as the economy has continued to deteriorate. When Chrysler LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of April and suspended production in Toledo and across the nation, he said, a number of clients told him "they just couldn't make it any more and had to file."

From January through June locally, there were 4,026 Chapter 7 liquidation cases, 40 percent more than in the same period last year. In such cases, filers hope to have most of their debt erased.

In a sign of growing stress locally, fewer filers have income high enough to work out a plan to gradually repay debts. So far this year, so-called Chapter 13 wage-earner repayment cases totaled 380, nearly a third fewer than in the same period last year.

Although high debt levels contribute to many filings, more often than not the trigger is loss of a job. The average unemployment rate in northwest Ohio has been above 12 percent for several months. Williams and Defiance have been among counties with the state's highest unemployment rates for several months.

In a bright spot in the report, local bankruptcy filings have trended downward monthly since peaking in March at 916 cases. The 741 filings last month were 23 percent higher than a year earlier but down 19 percent from March.

And the rate of increase across northwest Ohio in the first half of 2009 was smaller than the 37 percent jump in the nation overall. Nationwide, 675,351 bankruptcy petitions were filed through June 30, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.

"I'm seeing a lot of people who are laid off - affected by the auto industry either directly or indirectly - and a lot of people that are in foreclosure as well," local bankruptcy attorney Jennifer Fogle said. "It's just everyday people that have lost their jobs," she added.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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