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Bankruptcy attorneys predict a rush of filers before reform

By: Dana Brueck
By: Dana Brueck

Attorneys say bankruptcy reform passed by the U.S. Senate makes it tougher on filers. But others say the legislation will reduce costs for everybody else.

The U.S. House still needs to consider the measure. The president still needs to sign it.

"Typically I see people who have fallen on hard times," bankruptcy attorney Claire Ann Resop says. "Anybody who believes bankruptcy might be an option they need to explore should call a bankruptcy lawyer as soon as possible."

Resop expects to see more people file for bankruptcy before anticipated reform goes into effect.

"It makes it much more difficult to get that fresh start and it makes it more expensive for them to get that fresh start," Resop says.

The Madison attorney says the bill, already passed by the U.S. Senate, pushes people from the most popular bankruptcy, Chapter 7.

"In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, typically there are no assets to distribute to creditors, unlike in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, where debtors make payments even if it only ten cents on a dollar."

The legislation imposes a means-based test to determine how people will file.

"The means based testing takes the debtor's income from the last six months ... it compares it to median income in that state so if you're a middle class income family or higher it may push you into Chapter 13."

Kurt Bauer represents more than 300 banks through the Wisconsin Bankers Association. He says, "in 2002, there were 1.5 million bankruptcy filings in the U.S. That was a record." Bauer says basing a filer's status on income prevents people from abusing the system.

"Eighty to 90 percent of the traditional filers will not be impacted by this, but it also forces those who abuse the system, who can pay all or part of their debt to do so," he says.

Bauer says that abuse costs everybody. "It drives up the cost of lending for all consumers so you look at it comparable to shoplifting," he says.

But Resop says it will take more time and money from people who already have very little. "Now you can't get that immediate relief by filing bankruptcy you have to wait until they can complete ... a credit counseling program and analysis of budget," Resop says.

The law could take effect this fall, if signed by the president this spring.

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