March 23, 2009

As you may already know, in 2005, the credit card companies lobbied mightily and won provisions that made it much more difficult to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. That successful effort put in place the current law, which has made it impossible to simply discharge consumer debt in order to keep paying the mortgage. Thanks, Congressional corporatists!

"Who could have seen this wave of foreclosures coming?" Don't make me laugh:

Cash-strapped families are seeking bankruptcy protection at nearly the same rate and in the same manner as they did before the much-debated 2005 bankruptcy law reform, a trend critics say proves the reform was a failure.

Congress wrangled for eight years before passing a reform act aimed at curbing abuse and ending an alarming rise in bankruptcy filings. With the economy in tatters and personal fortunes often in even worse shape these days, the bankruptcy law is beginning to undergo scrutiny again.

I suppose it never occurred to them that the bankruptcy filings were a symptom of economic stress - and not the problem itself?

For now, Congress is focused on efforts to stem home foreclosures by altering the law so that bankruptcy court judges will be allowed to modify certain mortgages to help people keep their homes. But once that's settled, attention will turn to the 2005 bankruptcy reform.

"There is continuing concern about the bankruptcy-reform bill and what its effects have been," says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who leads the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that oversees bankruptcy law. "We are looking at a number of things that we can do to address the problems."

On Tuesday, Whitehouse will hold a hearing that will discuss legislation he has introduced that would allow families burdened by exorbitant credit card rates and fees to more simply discharge their debt under bankruptcy. He is considering several other proposals.

Critics of the 2005 reform say filing is more tedious, more difficult and costlier for ordinary debtors. They also believe the reform benefited banks over consumers. An independent study says the reform has helped contribute to the surge in home foreclosures. Supporters, however, say the reform has helped reduce fraud and has not trampled on debtors who really need to file for bankruptcy.

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