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Wisconsin bankruptcy filings lowest in 9 years at over 16.8K

File photo of money. (Image courtesy of MGN Online)

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Bankruptcy filings in Wisconsin fell to their lowest level in nine years last year as an improving economy and jobs climate helped more consumers keep up with their debts.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court data show there were more than 16,800 bankruptcy petitions of all types filed in Wisconsin in 2016. That was down almost 9 percent from 2015 and was the fewest since 2007, when there were just more than 15,600.

Milwaukee bankruptcy attorney James Miller said the slowdown seems to track with a reduction in mortgage foreclosures.

Bankruptcy filings peaked in Wisconsin at nearly 30,000 in 2010 and have been declining ever since, as the economy slowly has healed from the Great Recession and the unemployment rate has dropped, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Preliminary data show the unemployment rate in Wisconsin in December was 4 percent, the lowest since January 2001. Wisconsin's worst unemployment rate was at the end of 2009, at 9.2 percent.

The 9 percent reduction in bankruptcy filings in Wisconsin last year was better than the overall national average reduction of 6 percent, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.

About two-thirds of bankruptcy petitions in the state were Chapter 7 filings, which are intended to give people a fresh start by wiping out debt such as overwhelming credit card balances and medical or utility bills.

But bankruptcy attorneys say they've found that as employment has increased, fewer people want to file Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcies. They instead opt for a Chapter 13 filing, which allows consumers with regular income to develop a plan to repay all or some of their debts over three to five years.

"A lot of people are saying, `Look, I created these debts. I can't pay them all back right now but I want to pay as much as I can afford to pay,"' said attorney Todd Esser, of EsserLaw LLC in Milwaukee. "And so those repayment plans are working out well."

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