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National Bankruptcy Research Center April 2010 Bankruptcy Filings Report

Bankruptcy filings in April 2010 fell slightly to 145,000 (from 150,000 in March). Because March usually has one of the highest filing levels of the year, it is probably wrong to attribute any significance to the fall. On a seasonally adjusted basis (accounting for the typical variation in filings through the course of the year), filings were down about 1% from March to April. Comparing filings this April to last April shows a 15% increase. For the year to date, aggregate filings are up 17% from a year ago.

The filings also reflect the continued prevalence of Chapter 7 (liquidation) filings; only 25% of the April filings sought relief under Chapter 13 (rehabilitation). The continuing decline in the share of Chapter 13 filings contrasts with the strong push by Congress in its 2005 bankruptcy legislation to encourage bankrupts to choose Chapter 13 rather than Chapter 7. As is typical, there was a substantial variation among the States in the prevalence of bankrupts seeking Chapter 13 relief. The States with the highest share of Chapter 13 filings remain concentrated in the South. For April 2010, Louisiana’s share was 56%, followed by Alabama and Texas (both over 50%), and then by Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Mississippi. At the other end of the spectrum were States with relatively low Chapter 13 shares; South Dakota, Iowa, and New Mexico all had less than 10% of their filings under Chapter 13.

Nationwide, filings to date amounted to about 4500 filings per million households – about 1 in every 225 households. As the attached map shows, the high filing rates are concentrated in two clusters: the Southwest and the Southeast. The states with the highest household-adjusted bankruptcy filing rates are Nevada (substantially more than twice the national average), followed by Georgia, Tennessee, and California (all about one and a half times the national average). The lowest filing rates were in Alaska (about a third of the national average), followed by the District of Columbia, and South Carolina (both less than 40% of the national average). At the county level, the counties with the highest filing rates (adjusting for households located in the county) were concentrated in suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. Seven of the ten counties with the highest filing rates were in Georgia, with the highest rate in the country (more than 4000 filings/million households, more than xxx times the national average)) occurring in Douglas County, Georgia.

The most noteworthy trend in the data is the sharp disparity in changes since last year. The general trends discussed above, however, obscure sharp localized patterns. Where a few states already have begun to see rates fall after the recession, some states continue to experience sharp increases, even by comparison to the elevated filing rates of 2009. Thus, filings in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama have fallen since last year. Filings in Arizona and California, by contrast, have risen by 46% and 40% respectively. The attached map displays the pattern graphically.

This analysis was performed on data collected by the National Bankruptcy Research Center (NBKRC) by NBKRC contributor Professor Ronald Mann of the Columbia Law School. Figure1_April2010