WASHINGTON-Bankruptcy filings have increased nationwide since President George W. Bush signed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act into law in April. According to a New York Times article highlighting the issue, “Debtors in Rush to Bankruptcy as Change Nears” (New York Times, Aug. 21, 2005), filings were up 12% nationwide for April, May and June, according to data from LexisNexis. The mid-West has been particularly swamped with cases. “Bankruptcies historically have risen with debt, and a lot more people are now living near the edge,” Henry J. Sommer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, told NY Times. “What we’re seeing now is a rush to get in before October. After that, a certain amount of people will be priced out of bankruptcy.” Debt is certainly rising and credit unions are not immune to the trend. AssetExchange, a credit card portfolio brokerage firm, recently noted a number of debt trends among credit unions and their members. First is that the percentage of members with credit union credit cards is declining, falling from 19.1% in June 2004 to 18.2% in June 2005. At the same time, total card assets for portfolios over $1 million increased from $20.3 billion to $21.5 billion, or more than 3% growth in inflation-adjusted dollars. And, aggregate card assets increased as a percentage of total assets from 4.01% in June 2004 to 4.04% in June 2005. AssetExchange looked at 2,100 credit unions with credit card portfolios of $1 million and larger, based on NCUA Call Report data. The new bankruptcy reform law will take effect Oct. 17 and will make if more difficult for debtors to walk away from their debts. More will be forced into Chapter 13 repayment programs rather than Chapter 7, which allows for a clean slate. “Bankruptcies are up,” NAFCU Senior Economist Jeff Taylor confirmed. “Through June, the number of members is 147,000 [or 294,000 annualized] which is more than last year’s 255,000, so again the trend is increasing at credit unions. “Also the amount of loans subject to bankruptcy is $1.3 billion through June compared to $2.3 billion for all of last year.” He concluded, “It looks like credit union members are also filing a little bit faster than last year.”

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