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The number of Utahns who filed for bankruptcy fell 11 percent in the first quarter of 2012 from the previous year, though the state's per capita rate of filings is still fourth highest in the nation.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Utah Clerk David Sime said the court received a total of 4,149 filings during the first three months of this year, down from the 4,639 bankruptcy petitions from the same period a year ago.

"Filings were down during the first quarter but it is anyone's guess if that will continue through the rest of this year," Sime said.

The trend, though, may be in Utah's favor.

Although bankruptcy filings in Utah for all of 2011 were up 2 percent, the volume did plateau last summer and trended downward the rest of the year.

Nationally, bankruptcy filings decreased 12 percent in the first quarter this year, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute, a nonprofit Virginia-based research organization that tracks insolvency filings and the issues surrounding them.

ABI Executive Director Samuel J. Gerdano said with the economic recovery still weighted down by the distressed housing market and high unemployment, consumers and businesses are continuing to trim their debt.

"We expect that the 2012 bankruptcy totals will be less than last year as companies and families remain vigilant in cutting costs and shoring up their balance sheets," Gerdano said.

Despite the first quarter decline, though, Utah bankruptcy numbers remain extraordinarily high with the state claiming the fourth highest filing rate per capita in the country — 5.87 petitions for every 1,000 residents.

The average nationwide per capita bankruptcy-filing rate for the first three months of 2012 was 4.06 petitions for every 1,000 people, according to the ABI.

Of the 4,149 Utah consumers who sought bankruptcy court protection from their creditors during the first three months of the year, 34 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 66 percent filed for Chapter 7, which involves a trustee liquidating a debtor's assets and distributing the proceeds to creditors.

From down in the trenches, Salt Lake City bankruptcy attorney Len Carson said he is not seeing any sign the economy is improving despite all the talk that things are getting better.

"What I am seeing are individuals and families who file Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions in the hopes that they can repay their missed mortgage over a five-year period," he said. "Others are using Chapter 7 as a way to liquidate their debt because they are fed up with the stress."

Carson said his firm, Pearson, Butler, Carson & Cook, recently added several lawyers to keep up with its growing bankruptcy practice. The firm now has 11 attorneys specializing in bankruptcy matters. Twitter: @Oberbeckbiz