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US bankruptcy filings rose in July 2019 — what does that mean

Bankruptcy filings are on the rise as Americans pile up more debt. The latest ABI data pegs household debt near $14 trillion, which is $1 trillion more than the 2008 Great Recession peak.

According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, U.S. bankruptcy filings in July 2019 were up 3% from the same time a year ago. But bankruptcy filings have actually been declining over the past eight years year-over-year, so “2019 is the first year in that span to project an increase,” Samuel Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute, told Yahoo Finance’s On the Move. “Historically, filings correlate with economic activity, particularly in the consumer sector because 98% of all bankruptcies are filed by individuals with household debt. So, we typically look to the household debt sector as consumers do their part to grow sustain the economy.”

But Gerdano pointed out that it is just six months of data “so you have to be careful not to draw too many conclusions.”

What the latest data reveals is that the economy is healthy because consumers are spending money, he said. According to Gerdano the economy has been driven by consumers over the past couple of years and this has an effect on household balance sheets.

When consumers spend “they are adding to their household debt burden and when they do that that can make them particularly vulnerable to setbacks that are temporary but can push them over the edge,” he said. “You’ve seen this over the 40 years of the modern bankruptcy code.”

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Older people most vulnerable

One particular segment of the population that may be facing a bleak financial future — older Americans, Baby Boomers and aging Baby Boomers, according to Gerdano. They are in “some financial jeopardy” because people are living longer, he said.

People don’t have pensions so they are relying more on 401(k) plans and as they live longer they have higher medical expenses that may or may not be covered by Medicare or gap coverage.

“So, there is a population that there is some concern about their long term financial health,” he said.

Yvette Killian is a producer for Yahoo Finance’s On The Move.

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