More in Thurston, Pierce counties file for bankruptcy

South Sound personal and business bankruptcy filings continued an upward trend in the first quarter of the year, rising in both Thurston and Pierce counties, according to data compiled by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington.

The increase in filings continues a trend that both counties experienced last year. Thurston County bankruptcy filings rose 10 percent in 2010; Pierce County filings rose 13 percent.

In the first quarter, Thurston County filings rose 16 percent to 349 from 300 in the same period last year, while filings in Pierce County rose less than 1 percent, the data show. Although the percentage change in filings for Pierce County wasn’t as dramatic, the total number of filings was much higher than in Thurston County. Pierce County filings rose to 1,237 in the first quarter from 1,229 in the same period last year, the data show.

Of those first-quarter filings in Thurston County, 261 were Chapter 7, three were Chapter 11 and 85 were Chapter 13 filings. In Pierce County, 885 were Chapter 7, 19 were Chapter 11 and 333 were Chapter 13 filings. A Chapter 7 filing is considered straight bankruptcy, and a Chapter 11 typically is filed by a business to restructure assets and remain in business; Chapter 13 filings can result in a payment plan.

Olympia bankruptcy attorney Jennie Patton said Thursday that she doesn’t expect any slowdown in the number of bankruptcy filings until more people get back to work. Thurston County’s jobless rate was 8.9 percent in March; the rate was 10.7 percent in Pierce County. April jobless data will be released next week.

Unemployment, under-employment and people struggling with their mortgages still are some of the main factors contributing to the decision to file for bankruptcy protection, Patton said.

“These are huge driving forces causing families to file bankruptcy,” she said, adding that there has been no let-up in the number of people coming to her office to discuss their financial concerns. An added challenge for those already struggling when money is tight is higher gasoline prices, she said. Average prices in South Sound this year have increased to about $4 per gallon, according to AAA data.

“People are eternally optimistic and they hold out as long as financially possible, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that individual families are able to turn it around and get through,” Patton said.

Total bankruptcy filings in Western Washington rose 2.34 percent to 6,592 in the first quarter from 6,441 in the first quarter of 2010.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403