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Bucking the national trend, Utah bankruptcy filings rose in the first nine months of 2011 as the state continued to be the victim of its own comparative economic success.
Nationally, the number of consumers filing for bankruptcy protection declined 10 percent during the first nine months of 2011.
"The trend of declining filings [nationally] has been consistent with consumers continuing to rein in their spending, household debt, and an overall pullback in consumer credit," Samuel Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute, said in a statement.
Things are a bit different in the Beehive State.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Utah reported Monday that bankruptcy filings rose 7 percent during the first nine months of this year, continuing a five-year upward trend.
Utah's economy, holding its own with an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent as the U.S. rate continues to hover above 9 percent, may be playing a role.
Some experts and others involved in bankruptcies suggest that the absence of a higher jobless rate and its attendant miseries may be encouraging more than a few consumers to continue their profligate ways, even though many other parts of the country continue their struggle to throw off the lingering effects of the Great Recession.
"Although I'm not a statistical analyst, there does seem to be a greater degree of optimism among consumers in Utah," said Duane Gillman, a Salt Lake City-based attorney specializing in bankruptcy law who also serves as a court-appointed trustee. "And maybe it is just blind optimism."
But he observes that automobile dealers are still selling cars at a decent rate and that RC Willey continues to sell "a heck of a lot of furniture on credit.
"And you don't see a lot of people going out and buying big bags of brown rice and Ramen noodles to cook the way we probably all would be eating if things get real bad."
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Utah reported that 14,552 Utahns declared themselves insolvent during the first nine months of this year, up from the 13,571 who filed for bankruptcy during the same period in 2010.
Jason Kilborn, a visiting scholar at the American Bankruptcy Institute and professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, said Utah's upward trend was puzzling, given the decline in bankruptcy filings nationally.
However, he also offered a couple of possible explanations for the disparity.
"What you'll often see is that more people will file for bankruptcy if they think the economy is improving," Kilborn said, explaining that by eliminating or reducing debt those consumers believe they will be better positioned to take advantage of the turnaround. "And it could be that some consumers in Utah see the economy a little different than elsewhere."
Also, the state's home foreclosure rate could be playing a role.
Elsewhere there is an enormous backlog of home foreclosures to be processed, which is allowing many consumers to stay in their homes, even though they are seriously in arrears on their payments, he said.
"So if the foreclosure process in Utah is clipping along at a more normal rate it could be more quickly affecting consumers there than in other parts of the country," he said. "It wouldn't explain all the difference [between Utah's bankruptcy rate and the national numbers] but it could explain part of it."
Last week RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosure filings nationally, reported that Utah had among the 10 highest rates of filings for the third quarter of 2011.
Of the 14,552 Utah consumers who sought bankruptcy court protection from their creditors through the first nine months of this year, 33 percent filed for Chapter 13, according to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Utah. Chapter 13 gives consumers typically wage earners the opportunity to formulate a plan to repay their obligations over time.
The remaining 67 percent filed for Chapter 7, which involves a trustee liquidating a debtor's assets and distributing the proceeds to creditors.
Considering filing for bankruptcy?
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Utah's website at http://www.utb.uscourts.gov offers answers to frequently asked questions. Click on the "Public Resources" tab to access the information.