According to estimates, the number of American taxpayers who filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010 was the highest in nearly half a decade. Experts predict these numbers could increase in 2011 as Americans continue to struggle with debt and an uncertain economy.
Roughly 1.53 million consumer bankruptcy petitions were filed in 2010, up 9 percent from 1.41 million in 2009, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute, citing data from the National Bankruptcy Research Center.
Filings in December totaled 118,146, up 4 percent from a year earlier and 3 percent from November's total.
The full-year total is the highest since the 2.04 million recorded in 2005, when there was a rush to seek bankruptcy protection ahead of a stricter federal law taking effect in October of that year.
Samuel Gerdano, executive director of the ABI, said filings are rising even as consumers try to cut spending and debt after the 2008 financial crisis and accompanying recession, and with the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent.
He said there is usually a 12- to 18-month lag between declines in consumer spending and bankruptcy levels.
According to the Federal Reserve, U.S. consumer credit outstanding has fallen in 19 of the last 21 months for which data are available, declining to $2.41 trillion in October 2010 from $2.57 trillion in January 2009.
"Consumers have been on sort of a strike when it comes to taking on more debt, as they become more aware of the dangers of high debt burdens in a weak economy," Gerdano said.