Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bankruptcy filings up 62.8% from a year ago

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By Curtis Lum

The number of bankruptcy filings in Hawai'i last month jumped to their second-highest increase this year as residents continue to struggle to make ends meet in the slowing economy.

There were 197 bankruptcy filings in October, a 62.8 percent increase from a year earlier, according to data from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Honolulu. Last month's filings were slightly lower than September, when the 209 filings were the highest number this year and the greatest monthly rise on a percentage basis, 100 percent, from a year earlier.

A vast majority of the October filings were for Chapter 7 bankruptcies and most of them were for personal bankruptcies. The 163 Chapter 7 filings were a 79 percent increase from a year earlier.

There were two Chapter 11 filings last month, with the most notable being that of kama'aina retailer Hilo Hattie. The company operates seven stores in Hawai'i and two in California and has 256 employees.

As the economy continues to slow and unemployment rises, the expectation is bankruptcies will continue to go up.

"I don't foresee it getting better," said Stuart Ing, an attorney who specializes in bankruptcies. "I'm pretty sure that this year's numbers will definitely be above last year's numbers."

Monthly filings have increased steadily over the year, peaking in September, and Ing believes the numbers may fall slightly over the next two months before climbing again early next year.

"Traditionally, Christmas time is the slow time for bankruptcies and early spring, when everyone gets their tax returns back, is traditionally the busy time," Ing said.

"But what happens is come February and March they see the (Christmas) charges and they look at how much money they're making and usually nothing changes. At some point they'll look at the charges and realize that even with the tax returns, they're not going to be able to make it."

He said many people will take care of their major bills, such as mortgage, rent and car loans, but won't be able to cover their credit card charges.

Nationally, bankruptcy filings in October topped 100,000 for the first time since more restrictive bankruptcy laws went into effect three years ago. There were 108,595 personal and business bankruptcy filings last month, up 13 percent from a year earlier.

Although the state's filings are on the rise, Hawai'i continues to have one of the lowest per capita bankruptcy rates in the nation. In the year ended June 30, Hawai'i had the second-lowest per capita rate of 1.24 filings per 1,000 residents, compared with the national rate of 3.15 filings per 1,000.

That same federal study, however, showed that bankruptcy filings here were increasing at a slightly faster pace than the national rate. During the same period, the number of filings in Hawai'i grew by 33 percent from a year earlier.

That compared with the national rate of about 29 percent.

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