Utah’s economy, the state’s low unemployment and rock-bottom interest rates appear to be helping more people stay out of financial trouble.
During the first six months of this year, the number of Utahns who filed for bankruptcy declined 12 percent over the same period a year ago.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Utah Clerk David Sime reported this week that Utahns filed 7,596 bankruptcy petitions during the first half of 2013 compared with 8,647 filings submitted during the first six months of 2012.
Sime said the decline in the first half’s numbers represent the continuing of a trend that so far has been in place for nearly two years.
"We started noticing filings beginning to go down in the final quarter of 2011," Sime said, pointing out the downward trend continued throughout 2012 and resulted in a 12 percent drop last year — the first significant decline in Utah bankruptcy petitions in more than six years.
And 2013 is shaping up to be another such year.
"Were I to guess, I’d say that the low interest rates that we’re seeing, along with our better-than-average unemployment numbers, are playing a role [in Utah’s declining bankruptcy numbers]," Sime said.
Despite the lower bankruptcy numbers , many of the state’s residents still are struggling to make ends meet.
"We’ve seen a steady increase in demand for our services over the past few years," said Rob Harter, executive director of the Christian Center of Park City, the operator of a food pantry that in 2012 served more than 4,200 Utahns. "And now, instead of just seeing people from the Park City and Heber areas, we’re also helping an increasing number of people coming up from Salt Lake City and Provo."
Harter said many of those coming to the food pantry for help are struggling financially in low-paying or part-time jobs.
"What I think happened was that a lot of Utahns saw their finances pushed right to the brink during the recession. It ate up what savings they had and now they’re trying to get by and are really struggling," he said. "Our economy may be improving, but for a lot of people it’s still real slow out there."
And that may help explain why Utah’s bankruptcy numbers remain comparatively high nationally, with the state claiming the sixth highest filings per capita — 5.36 for every 1,000 residents, according to the Virginia-based American Bankruptcy Institute, a research and educational organization that studies issues surrounding insolvency.
Of the 7,596 bankruptcy petitions filed in Utah so far this year, Sime noted that 32 percent sought Chapter 13 — a type of bankruptcy that allows financially troubled consumers to formulate a plan to repay all, or at least part, of what they owe over a period of time, typically three to five years.
The remaining 68 percent of those who filed sought Chapter 7, which involves a trustee liquidating a debtor’s assets and distributing the proceeds to creditors. Any remaining debts are wiped out, and a debtor receives a fresh financial start.
Utah’s falling numbers parallel what is happening nationally.
Bankruptcy filings across the country during the first six months of this year totaled 544,390 cases, a 14 percent decrease from the 532,541 total filings during the same period a year ago, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.
Samuel J. Gerdano, executive director of the institute, said the declining numbers nationally "confirm a new normal of reduced bankruptcies, as consumers and businesses continue to deleverage in a sustained low-interest-rate environment. We expect the trend to continue through the end of 2013."
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