Two weeks before a new, more restrictive national bankruptcy law goes into effect, financially strapped Americans are rushing for protection...
WASHINGTON — Two weeks before a new, more restrictive national bankruptcy law goes into effect, financially strapped Americans are rushing for protection from their creditors, with filings climbing to an unprecedented average of 13,000 a day last week.
Week after week, records are toppled. Last week’s 68,287 new filings surpassed the record set the week before by 24 percent, and this week’s total is likely to be higher, according to data released yesterday by Lundquist Consulting, a California-based financial-research firm.
Daily filings averaged 10,367 in September, compared with an average 6,079 a year earlier.
The surge is in anticipation of the new bankruptcy law, which takes effect Oct. 17. Long sought by the financial industry, the law will make it harder and more expensive for consumers to completely wipe out their debts under Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
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“We are seeing a rush, mainly from people we saw a year ago,” Northern Virginia bankruptcy lawyer Robert Weed said.
A year ago, Weed’s clients thought they could work their way out of debt without filing for bankruptcy, he said, “but now they’re in a panic to get in before the law is changed.”
That is what prompted Samantha Gordon, 28, of Woodbridge, Va., to file. “I was putting it off and putting it off,” the single mother of three said.
Gordon, a patient-care coordinator, said she kept hoping to pay off her debts, but every time she had thought she was close, “a new bill, mostly medical, came up.”
She decided to take action after her father alerted her about the new law.
Lawyers say some consumers mistakenly believe they will not be able to file for bankruptcy protection after Oct. 17.
The new law sets tighter requirements for filing, including the condition that a debtor’s family income must be below the median for his or her state to completely erase debt.
The median income for a family of four in Washington state is $69,130, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Under the new law, the cost of filing will be higher. People will be required to provide more paperwork, including six months of income and expense data, and to attend credit-counseling sessions before filing.
For the year to date, bankruptcy filings are up 14 percent, to 1.36 million from 1.19 million in 2004, according to Lundquist, which reports on case information collected daily from all of the nation’s bankruptcy courts.
Most of those petitions are for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which are up more than 21 percent from last year, Chris Lundquist said.
Filings for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, in which debtors are required to pay back at least a portion of their debts, are down 6.5 percent from 2004.