Bankruptcy filings jumped 5.7% in calendar 2002 from the previous year and continue to break historic records, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Bankruptcies filed during the year totaled more than 1.5 million, the majority of which -- 97.6% -- were personal filings. These non-business filings experienced an increase in 2002, but business filings decreased by more than 1,500 cases.
From a quarterly perspective, fiscal first quarter filings increased 8.3% from the same time the previous year. The courts' fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and their first quarter begins in October.
The first quarter increase in filings was expected, said Samuel J. Gerdano, executive director at American Bankruptcy Institute.
"With historically high levels of consumer debt and many public companies in financial distress, we expect 2003 to continue this pace," he said.
Chapter 7, which almost totally wipes out an individual's personal debt, rose 5.2% during calendar year 2002. Chapter 13, which allows individuals to keep their house while repaying creditors in installments, increased 7.2% and was the next largest group of filings.
Chapter 11 filings, which allow businesses to formulate a plan to repay creditors and remain in operation, decreased 1.3%. Chapter 12, which gives debt relief to family farmers, fell 1.5%.
Districts that had the highest percentage increase in total filings during the courts' calendar year (January through December) are as follows: Guam, 31.6%; the Eastern District of Michigan, 21.9%; Middle District of Alabama, 19.5%; Arizona, 16.5%; and Western District of Missouri, 15.8%.
At the end of their fiscal year in September, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts asked for new judgeships to be appointed in order to alleviate the burgeoning caseload. Legislation containing new judgeships was considered in the 107th Congress but did not pass, and still no new judgeships have been appointed since 1992.