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Sliding economy sends bankruptcies soaring


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Statewide bankruptcy filings jumped 64.1 percent in the third quarter from the same period last year as Hawaii residents and businesses continued to buckle under the weight of the slumping economy.

Bankruptcies rose each of the three months with 157 filings in July, 191 in August and 204 in September, extending the string of increased filings to four consecutive months.

There were 553 filings last quarter, 416 of them for Chapter 7 liquidation, the most common type of bankruptcy. That type of filing wipes out debts with the exception of taxes, alimony and child support.

There were 133 Chapter 13 filings, up 95.6 percent from 68 a year ago. Chapter 13 allows wage-earners to establish plans to repay creditors over time.

The four Chapter 11 filings, which typically are used for business reorganizations, were double the two cases filed a year ago and were all linked to Hawaii Medical Center LLC, which filed for bankruptcy last month in Delaware because it was incorporated in that state, but switched its case to federal Bankruptcy Court in Honolulu earlier this month.

“;It is a large increase (in total filings) from last year,”; said state economist Pearl Imada Iboshi. “;But if you look at historical levels, it really is that 2006 and 2007 (were) extremely low in terms of bankruptcy filings.”;

There were 4,489 filings in 2005 as many people sought financial protection ahead of a new federal law that went into effect on Oct. 17 of that year that made it more difficult to file for bankruptcy. With many people beating the implementation of that law, the total number of filings fell to 965 in 2006 and 1,386 in 2007. Through the first nine months of this year, there have been 1,443 filings.

“;On the one hand, you don't want to sound pollyanna-ish,”; she said. “;You don't want to make it sound that things are not worse than they were, because they are.”;

The numbers reflect a continuing upward trend in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 filings, the most telling about the consumer situation, said bankruptcy attorney Chuck Choi.

“;I think Chapter 7 filings will continue at this rate for the short term because the Hawaiian economy is really now feeling the full effects of the slowdown of the mainland economy,”; he said.

Given Hawaii's tourism-driven economy, “;the numbers that I've seen from businesses small and large that cater primarily to tourists are ugly,”; Choi said.

“;I wish I could be more optimistic,”; he said, noting that foreclosures are also “;way up.”;

In August, Hawaii's foreclosure rate more than doubled for the second month in a row as it jumped 132 percent over the same period a year ago, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketplace for foreclosures.

When homeowners allow their homes to go into foreclosure, filing for bankruptcy is often the next step, Choi said.

Looking for optimism in the monetary morass, Iboshi said that “;when you look at Hawaii's economic growth rate for most of the major economic indicators, as compared to the U.S. average, we're doing better.”;

The growth is slower than before “;so it is a concern,”; she said.

Iboshi acknowledges there is no single magic bullet to fix the economic picture because everything is intertwined.

“;It's global,”; she said.