U.S. Bankruptcies Soared to Record in 2001

With the economy mired in recession, debt-burdened U.S. consumers and businesses filed for bankruptcy in record numbers last year, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said Tuesday.

The total number of bankruptcies filed during the year jumped 19 percent to 1.49 million from 1.25 million in 2000. That total easily surpassed the previous high of 1.44 million bankruptcies recorded in 1998.

Economists have predicted for some time that bankruptcies would reach new highs in 2001 as the recession took a toll on the finances of consumers and corporations alike. And some experts forecast the surge will continue this year.

"I think the feeling of most people is that 2002 will be an equally big year," said Sam Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute. A recent poll of the institute's members found 93 percent thought filings would keep rising.

Congress has also been trying to tighten U.S. bankruptcy laws, which may have spurred some debtors to file preemptively. Somewhat paradoxically, that effort is now stalled largely because lawmakers don't want to be seen as piling on the pain at a time when consumers are feeling the economic pinch.

Personal bankruptcy filings totaled 1.45 million in 2001, up 19 percent from 1.22 million in 2000. Business bankruptcies rose slightly less sharply, increasing 13 percent to 40,099 from 35,472 in the previous year.

The total number of new bankruptcy filings between October and December of 2001 was 364,921, nearly 18 percent above the same quarter a year earlier, but still below the record 400,394 bankruptcies filed in the second quarter of 2001.