Thurston County bankruptcies up 13%

Thurston County bankruptcy filings remained brisk through the first nine months of the year, rising nearly 13 percent from the same period in 2009, according to data compiled by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington.

Total filings rose to 964 through September, up 12.74 percent from the 855 cases filed last year through September 2009, the data show. Total bankruptcy filings also surged in Pierce County, rising almost 18 percent to 3,849 from 3,262. The slower economy also boosted bankruptcy totals for Western Washington in the same year-over-year period, which rose nearly 14 percent to 20,388 from 17,914, according to court data.

Of the 964 filings in Thurston County so far this year, most were Chapter 7 filings, followed by Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 cases. The same held true last year in the county, with Chapter 7 cases leading the way, followed by Chapter 13 and equal number of Chapter 11 and Chapter 12 cases.

Chapter 7 filings are considered straight liquidations, while corporations typically file Chapter 11 to restructure debt and remain in business. Chapter 13 requires that creditors be repaid over time, and Chapter 12 cases are reserved for family farms.

Olympia bankruptcy attorney Jennie Patton said Tuesday that she’s not surprised filings continue to rise. “Until the unemployment rate drops, we’re going to see people that need to file bankruptcy because they are out of resources,” she said. “Employment is one of the last things to recover following a recession.”

If her clients aren’t unemployed, then some of them are “underemployed,” trying to get by with a new job that earns less. “It’s especially devastating to those who used to have high incomes with correspondingly high debt that doesn’t go away, such as a mortgage and car payments,” she said.

Paul Roberson of Shelton just emerged from bankruptcy after working with Patton. Roberson, 71, retired from a long career in computers, tried his hand in real estate and found success in north Idaho during the upswing in the housing market, he said.

When the downturn hit, his income fell 90 percent in less than a year. He and his wife cashed in their savings and retirement plans to get by, plus sold a sailboat, a tractor and a truck, but finally packed up the RV and a car and left north Idaho for Mason County to stay with friends. Eventually they lost the RV and the car, Roberson said.

The decision to file bankruptcy wasn’t easy, Roberson said, and the challenge with this recession compared to past ones is that previously he could find another job to work his way out of a tough spot. “This time there wasn’t (a job),” he said.

He and his wife collect Social Security, and he recently found part-time work for the U.S. Census. For now, things are OK, he said.

“I still have my wife and dog, and I pretty much don’t care about anything else,” he said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403