Portraits of Bankruptcy Filers
59 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2021 Last revised: 15 Dec 2021
Date Written: March 18, 2021
One in ten adult Americans have turned to the consumer bankruptcy system for help. For the past almost forty years, the only systematic data collection about the people who file bankruptcy comes from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP), for which we serve as co-principal investigators. In this Article, we use CBP data from 2013 to 2019 to describe who is using the bankruptcy system, providing the first comprehensive overview of bankruptcy filers in thirty years. We use principal component analysis to leverage these data to identify distinct groups of people who file bankruptcy. This technique allows us to situate the distinctions among filers’ financial and household situations within what bankruptcy laws and courts can and cannot provide. We critique the consumer bankruptcy system, based on the totality of people who have used it recently, to identify avenues for reforming bankruptcy and to underscore the broader economic, racial, and social issues that consumer bankruptcy filings highlight.
Keywords: bankruptcy, consumer debtor, consumer debt, consumer credit, debt collection, mortgages, auto loans, student loans, financial fragility, racial disparity, gender disparity, divorce, garnishment, repossession, foreclosure, COVID-19, legal reform
JEL Classification: D10, K35, K36
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation