So far, a surge of personal bankruptcies has been avoided during 2020 and to date, bankruptcy filings are trailing last year’s numbers.
Even though the federal stimulus payments and other government programs most likely have a lot to do with 2020’s decline in consumer bankruptcies, it could also be attributed to people borrowing less. However, consumer bankruptcies are likely to rise if unemployment and income loss continue.
Some industry experts forecast a “tidal wave” of filings starting in the fourth quarter of 2020 and gaining momentum after the first of 2021.
Mortgage forbearance nearing its end could also be the start of a significant bankruptcy filing surge. You remember that part of the CARES Act allowed homeowners with federally backed mortgages to stop making payments for periods of six months, with a possible extension of six additional months. Starting as soon as October 1, affected homeowners will not only have to resume payment, but banks could demand immediate make up of all missed payments.
Depending on how lenders work with those who exercised the deferral, a wave of Chapter 13 bankruptcies could begin. Chapter 13 allows debtors to set up a repayment plan usually allowing three to five years to catch up on payments.
Bankruptcy booms have happened in the past but it’s unlikely that even Covid-19 could produce anything like the historical peak of filings in 2005. In October of 2005, a new law, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, went into effect. Because it was seen as less favorable to borrowers, people rushed to court before the law’s effective date resulting in a short-term surge of filings. Soon after, filings dropped (significantly) and stayed low until the housing bubble began to collapse in 2007. The next peak was seen in 2010 as foreclosures skyrocketed.
In any case, looking for trends in this unprecedented time may be futile, as nothing is normal during the “new norm”. We will continue to keep you abreast of current trends as they unfold and share industry analysis and forecasts through our weekly blog.