With loan defaults rising along with many mortgage payments, fast-growing numbers of homeowners are gambling on bankruptcy filings to try to stay in their homes, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Last month, as the nation's housing slump continued, consumer bankruptcy filings increased almost 23% from a year earlier -- representing nearly 69,000 people -- according to the American Bankruptcy Institute, a nonprofit research group whose members include bankruptcy attorneys, judges and lenders. Overall, consumer bankruptcy filings were up 44.76% during the first nine months of this year.
In some areas where the real-estate boom was especially heated, the increase in filings has been even sharper -- especially for a type of bankruptcy that allows homeowners to halt foreclosures on their homes.
The surge in filings hasn't caught up with the flood of bankruptcy cases consumers launched in 2005, as they raced to beat a change in federal law that made it harder for individuals to declare bankruptcy. Even so, it shows the rising sense of insecurity many Americans feel as housing values fall, lending standards get tighter and hundreds of thousands of mortgages with low introductory interest rates "reset" to higher rates, boosting the homeowner's monthly payments.
Most consumers filing for bankruptcy continue to do so under Chapter 7 of the federal Bankruptcy Code. Under that provision, a person must forfeit certain assets -- including, in some cases, a portion of home equity. Those assets are sold to pay off debts.
While Chapter 7 filings stop foreclosure proceedings, the break is usually only temporary. As a practical matter, many homeowners who file under Chapter 7 lose their homes.
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