Surge in Bankruptcies Shows Signs of Slowing

By Mike Baker, Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The growth in bankruptcies around the country slowed significantly in 2010 from its breakneck pace in recent years, with about a dozen states recording a decline in filings from consumers and businesses, according to an Associated Press tally Tuesday.

Filings collected from the nation's 90 bankruptcy districts showed 113,000 bankruptcies in December, down 3% nationwide from the same month a year ago. That followed a similar year-over-year decline for the the month of October. It had been four years since an individual month showed such an improvement.

In total, the nation recorded 1.55 million filings in 2010, an increase of 8% from 2009 and a far slower growth rate than the 32% jump recorded in the year before and the 33% jump the year before that.

At the law firm Mayer & Newton in Knoxville, Tenn., staff members continue to work six days a week to handle the massive bankruptcy caseload. But filings there have leveled off, and partner John Newton said the firm decided it did not need to replace an attorney that left about a year ago.

He said the economy in Tennessee, while still challenging, appears to be more stable than other parts of the country. And he said many of the people who need relief from their debts have already gone through the bankruptcy process.

"I think we've sort of turned the corner," he said.

Numbers indicated stark regional differences. Thirteen states recorded an annual decline, mainly in the South, with West Virginia leading the way with a 10% drop in cases. The West, however, indicated ongoing growth in filings, with numbers rising in places like Hawaii (22%), Utah (19%), California (19%) and Arizona (18%).

Tracy Compo of Tucson, Ariz., said her family's financial troubles began about three years ago when her husband could no longer get overtime at work and mortgage payments became too costly. They tried unsuccessfully to get a mortgage modification before leaving the house to foreclosure.

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