Bankruptcy filings in the region continued to slide in February.
The number of new cases filed in the Buffalo-Rochester market declined 20.4 percent in February from a year ago, to 335, according to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. That was the smallest figure for any month since February 2006.
The decline has become a familiar refrain, as experts say lenders have been more conservative about extending credit – evidenced by fewer credit card offers coming in the mail – and consumers have become more cautious about their spending in a post-recession economy.
Since the start of 2010, a span of 50 months, bankruptcy filings in Buffalo-Rochester increased on a year-over-year basis only six times. Full-year totals have dropped for four straight years through 2013 and are on track to do so again this year. The monthly Buffalo-Rochester filings total for February was only half of what it was six years earlier.
Paul Pochepan, an attorney with Tully Rinckey, said he was surprised the numbers dropped again in February, since he finds activity often picks up after the holidays are over. But he can relate to the long-term trend reflected in the region’s statistics.
Given how low the monthly filings have fallen, how much lower could they go?
“I think it’s leveling off at this point, that would be my impression,” Pochepan said. He also noted that if the economy gathers steam, filings might go up if people start to spend more freely.
Many of the cases Pochepan is handling these days stem from people facing overwhelming health care expenses – and perhaps a related job loss – and people still coping with the burden of student loans as other financial obligations also mount.
Bankruptcy attorney Jeffrey Freedman said mortgage delinquency rates – a potential trigger for bankruptcy filings – have fallen, and the foreclosed-home inventory has also declined. Freedman noted that recent increases in home sales have pushed up home values, providing some relief to homeowners who were underwater on their mortgages.
Of the 335 cases filed in Buffalo-Rochester in February, 69 percent were in Buffalo. And 246 of all the cases were Chapter 7 cases, in which debtors can liquidate their assets to pay off debts and then erase any remaining amounts owed so they can start over.