CONSUMER BANKRUPTCY AND CHAPTER CHOICE: STATE PANEL EVIDENCE
JON P. NELSON
"Between 1985 and 1996, the number of personal bankruptcy cases filed annually in the United States rose from 341,000 to 1.1 million, and the rate of bankruptcies per 100,000 adults increased from 203 to 596. By state, bankruptcy rates vary from a low of 147 in Hawaii to a high of 956 in Tennessee. A controversial aspect of bankruptcy policy is the discharge of debts permitted under Chapter 7, in contrast to Chapter 13, where the debtor agrees to repay all or a portion of unsecured debt over a 3-5-year period. This paper examines empirically the determinants of the frequency with which individuals choose Chapter 13 relative to Chapter 7 (chapter choice). The panel data set is a cross section of states and the District of Columbia for the 8-year period from fiscal year 1989 to 1996. The empirical model and policy application focus on the importance of several laws for bankruptcy decisions, and legal variables are included for each state's Chapter 7 homestead exemption, personal property exemptions, and garnishment laws. This study shows that both homestead exemption laws and garnishment laws are statistically significant for bankruptcy choices. Although the marginal effect of the homestead exemption is small, there is a large range under current laws, suggesting that changes in this exemption are important for bankruptcy policy." ("JEL" K1, K4, D2, D9) Copyright 1999 Western Economic Association International.
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