From 1980 to 2004, the number of personal bankruptcy filings in the United States increased more than five-fold, from 288,000 to 1.5 million per year. By 2004, more Americans were filing for bankruptcy each year than were graduating from college, getting divorced, or being diagnosed with cancer. In 2005, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) became law. It made bankruptcy law much less debtor-friendly. Personal bankruptcy filings fell to 600,000 in 2006. This paper explores why personal bankruptcy rates rose, and will argue that the main reason is the growth of "revolving debt" -- mainly credit card debt. It explains how the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) of 2005 altered the conditions of bankruptcy. Finally, this essay considers the balances that need to be struck in a bankruptcy system and how the U.S. bankruptcy system strikes these balances in comparison with other countries. I argue that a less debtor-friendly bankruptcy policy should be accompanied by changes in bank regulation and truth-in-lending rules, so that lenders have a greater chance of facing losses when they supply too much credit or charge excessively high interest rates and fees.
"Bankruptcy Reform and Credit Cards." Journal of Economic Perspectives,