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Bankruptcy filings here buck trend by falling
Numbers show decline for first months of year

Bankruptcy filings in the Western District of New York fell 11 percent during the first two months of this year, flying in the face of national and regional trends elsewhere of soaring filings in the same period.

Buffalo-area filings fell to 720 in January and February, down 7.9 percent from the same two months last year, while filings in Rochester fell 15.8 percent to 388, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court statistics.

For the same two-month period, filings nationwide rose 14 percent, according to the National Bankruptcy Research Center, an affiliate of bankruptcy experts Lundquist Consulting.

In six states, including Arizona and California, increases ranged as high as35 percent.

That shows the degree to which the economic crisis continues to affect many families, although the center noted that the rate of increase in filings has slowed from the summer, indicating a recovery.

"We have not had anything approaching what has been hitting the rest of the country," Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Carl L. Bucki said. "Our filings went up, but nothing like Nevada or California or Arizona or Florida. Those areas have been really devastated."

This month, filings through Tuesday totaled 410 in Buffalo, up 16.5 percent, but 217 in Rochester, down 11.8 percent.

A spike in the last days of last March drove filings in Buffalo to 562 for the full month from 352 as of March 23.

That's still a far cry from the peak levels reached in both cities before passage of bankruptcy reform legislation in 2005.

So far this year, about one in every 530 households nationwide has filed for bankruptcy, according to the research center.
The highest rates are in Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee and California, while the lowest are in Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and the District of Columbia.

"It has turned out to be a good thing we missed the bubble economy that was seen in other parts of the country over the past few years, because now we are not seeing the effects of the bust," said Jeffrey Freedman, a Buffalo bankruptcy attorney.

A state law enacted last year has helped to reduce bankruptcies, Freedman said.

It protects the first $2,500 in a bank account from being frozen or "attached" by creditors.

The law was intended to protect Social Security and other government benefits, which are exempt from collection but still can be caught up if a bank account is frozen.

The measure has reduced the need for many consumers to file bankruptcy, Freedman said. "Now, when peoples' pay or benefit checks are deposited into their bank accounts, that money is safe," he said.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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