Twelve percent of Americans have either filed or considered filing for bankruptcy, according to a new survey released Thursday by FindLaw.com, a legal information Web site. The number of consumer bankruptcy filings has nearly doubled in the last three years, from 573,000 in 2006 to 1,064,927 in 2008, according to the National Bankruptcy Research Center.
“Bankruptcy can be a powerful, useful tool for debtors,” said Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor at FindLaw.com. “However, it is often a complicated and difficult process, and there are many misconceptions about what bankruptcy can and cannot do to help relieve debt burdens.”
According to the new FindLaw survey, 10 percent of Americans said they have considered filing for personal bankruptcy at some point in their lives, while two percent of Americans said they actually have filed for personal bankruptcy at some point in their lives.
The survey’s results come at a time when lawmakers are attempting to pass measures that would allow bankruptcy judges to change the terms of a mortgage — possibly increasing that two percent figure, as bankruptcy might be more appealing if a mortgage workout is on the table. Democrats have long advocated allowing judges to modify principal amounts of mortgages on primary residences in Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases filed by debtors; currently, such modifications are precluded by law.
In contrast, Republicans and most industry groups have strongly opposed so-called “debt cram-down” proposals for mortgages, saying that allowing cram-downs would add to the costs of a mortgage for most consumers and swell the ranks of borrowers filing for bankruptcy protection.
The House Judiciary Committee approved in a 21-15 vote at the end of January a measure for “cram-down” provisions that would allow bankruptcy judges to reduce interest rates, extend the life of a loan, and lower the principal or balance of a loan. The measure is headed for a full vote in the House next, before going to the Senate.