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Study: bankruptcy reform created 'insolvent class' in U.S.

In 2005, Congress passed a law that made big changes to federal bankruptcy law. The law, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act or BAPCPA, officially went into effect on Oct. 17 of that year. Now, nearly a decade later, it appears that the new law has been good for credit card companies, but a disaster for many families struggling with debt.

One portion of the new law quadrupled the cost of filing for bankruptcy protection. According to a study released earlier this year, the larger fee has made filing impossible for many people, who are frequently at the very point in their lives when they can least afford to make such a large payment.

Thus, the study’s lead author says, bankruptcy reform has created a new economic class: the permanently insolvent. People who can never get out of the cycle of debt collection and civil judgments. People who may lose their homes to foreclosure, and can never get a loan again. People who cannot get the chance at a fresh start that bankruptcy protection provides.

Meanwhile, the study cites research suggesting that credit card companies’ profits have risen since BAPCPA became the law of the land. The economists behind the study concluded that banks and other financial institutions also benefitted financially from the law.

On the consumer side, the law had the effect of reducing bankruptcy filings. But that does not mean that fewer people were struggling with debt. Instead, BAPCPA led to fewer people filing for bankruptcy when they needed to, because they could not afford to file.

This report may be discouraging, but readers should remember that it is still possible to file for bankruptcy in New York, and other options may help them get out of debt as well.

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