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Published: Saturday, 1/3/2004

10,381 bankruptcy filings in 03 shatter area record

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Though expected, the figure nonetheless was staggering. More than 10,000 people and businesses filed bankruptcy last year in northwest Ohio, smashing a record by more than 1,500 cases.

With December filings up 12 percent, the year s tally released yesterday was 10,381 cases for the 21 counties covered by U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Toledo.

Nearly all the cases were personal bankruptcies and sought forgiveness of, not a repayment schedule for, their debts. The previous year s record filings, at 8,853, had vaulted past the prior year s by nearly 1,000.

High personal spending and reduced income from lost jobs or overtime have been credited as the main reasons behind the soaring numbers.

Disturbing to a bankruptcy expert was not so much last year s figure but the ever-increasing number of filings since 1999.

In fact, the 2003 number is nearly double the cases filed just four years earlier.

What we ve seen the last five or six years disobeys the historical cyclical patterns and such, said David Fickel, clerk in charge of the Toledo court.

Over the years, you would see three or four years of steady but not exponential growth, then a plateauing for about three or four years, then a spike again.

There s been a big spike for four years, and the folks in Washington say they think it will continue next year.”

Since 1999, bankruptcy filings at the Toledo court have climbed an average of 19 percent each year.

National bankruptcy experts predict personal bankruptcy filings in 2004 to increase by 20 to 22 percent. The latest national figures show a record 1.66 million bankruptcies for the year ending Sept. 30.

Last year marked the first time in northwest Ohio that more than 1,000 cases were filed in a month, whereas just three years earlier, no month had ever exceeded 600. In 2001, two months jumped over 800 filings, and by 2002, four months were over 800.

Last year, only one month, January, had fewer than 700 cases. The most cases were filed in October, at 1,017. December had 776 cases.

For 2003, the Toledo court had 9,434 Chapter 11 liquidation cases, up 16 percent from 2002; 15 Chapter 11 business reorganization cases, the same as in 2002; four Chapter 12 farm cases, double those in 2002; and 928 Chapter 13 wage-earner repayment cases, up 29 percent from the prior year.

The local court does not separately tally the Chapter 7 business bankruptcies, but relatively few of the total cases involve businesses.



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