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National Bankruptcy Research Center June 2011 Bankruptcy Filings Report

The middle of the year offers two perspectives on bankruptcy filings. In the short term, June filings were up from May (120,000 in June compared to 115,000 in May). And because June is not usually a high month for filings, this is a 10% increase on a seasonally adjusted basis. But the broader perspective suggests less of a concern. Filings were still lower than last year’s torrid rate (down by 5% from June 2010). And most importantly, filings for the first half of 2011 remain substantially below filings for 2010, down by 8%.

Nationwide, 2011 filings to date amount to about 3000 filings per million adults, about one in every 330 people. But national disparities show that this really is an average – reflecting starkly higher and lower filing rates across the country. As has been true for some time, the highest filing rates are concentrated in the Southwest and a swathe cutting up from the Southeast. Thus, on a population-adjusted basis, Nevada still has the highest rate by far, more than twice the national filing rate (6345); Utah, Georgia, and Tennessee follow (in that order), all with more than one and a half time the national average. At the other end of the spectrum, six jurisdictions this year have filings less than half the national average. In ascending order, they are Washington, D.C., Alaska, South Carolina, Vermont, North Dakota, and Texas. Texas’s place on that list (with 1424 filings/million adults) is noteworthy, since its population far exceeds that of all the other low-filing state’s combined. Also of note among large states is New York’s remarkably low rate (1645/million adults), only slightly more than half the national rate.

Another noteworthy trend is the sharp disparity in changes in filing rates since last year. Confirmation that the fall in filings has spread throughout the nation comes from the short list of states with filing increases over last year: only Delaware and Utah (both up by 10%). At the other end of the distribution, although most states have seen filings fall, several states have seen truly remarkable drops: filings are down by 29% in Vermont and by 20% or more in Washington DC, West Virginia, and North Dakota.

The most interesting point in filing trends comes from comparing Nevada and California. Although Nevada has had the highest filing rate in the country every month since the beginning of 2010, its filings during 2011 have fallen 16% this year compared to 2010. By comparison, neighboring California’s 2011 filings are almost identical to its 2010 filings. Its large population makes this important to national trends: in June, for example, more than one in every six bankruptcy filings nationwide was in California. The end result is that California has steadily risen through the ranks this year so that by mid-year its overall filing rate (4500 filings/million adults) is almost one and a half the national average.

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.