Does the bankruptcy double standard play a role in personal bankruptcy?

A recent article from The New Yorker highlights a troubling disparity in the way we view bankruptcy and loan restructuring in general in this country. As was evidenced in the recent bankruptcy filing of American Airlines, bankruptcy for corporate entities is generally considered part of an overall savvy approach to managing debts and investments.

While American Airlines could have continued paying its debts (it filed bankruptcy with more than $4 billion in the bank), it opted to take the bankruptcy route, which will allow it to restructure its debts into ones that make more financial sense. After the company filed its Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, most analysts praised its decision, citing the success other airlines have had with reorganization bankruptcies in recent years.

However, for consumers interested in filing personal bankruptcy, the attitude of the general public is vastly different.

The current turmoil in the housing market highlights exactly how differently the general public views personal bankruptcy:

  • The housing bubble falsely inflated housing prices. Arguably, the analysts and economists who were equipped to recognize this bubble for what it was an attempt to prevent its burst did not. Also arguably, consumers might have recognized the bubble, but were less likely to do so than those trained in economic fields.
  • Lenders and homebuyers took on risky debts, betting on rising home prices to pay them off. We now know that those debts were not so good.
  • Many banks lost millions or billions of dollars on bad home loans. Some of those banks benefitted from taxpayer-funded bailouts. Others have staunchly refused to refinance (on a significant scale) mortgage loans that have become untenable for their borrowers.
  • Many homeowners are underwater on their homes. Sources note that many Americans owe up to 50 percent more than their home’s value on their loan. The “smart move” financially for these people would be to walk away from their mortgage, to abandon their homes and stop paying their mortgages. Most don’t, though.

One of the major reasons more homeowners aren’t walking away from their unaffordable homes, even though such a move would be financially logical, is that nonpayment of loans has been morally stigmatized in the media.

Figures including the head of the Mortgage Bankers Association have reportedly noted that defaults on home loans “send the wrong messages” to community and family members. Others have hinted that we would do well to bring back debtors’ prisons. The total effect, in other words, is that personal bankruptcy and similar moves (even when they’re financially savvy) have been labeled as morally deleterious.

The New Yorker article summarizes the problem in its closing paragraphs, noting that the prevailing attitude in the U.S. runs that individuals ought to “do the right thing” by honoring their debts, but that large businesses, banks, and corporations—who usually have much more capital at their disposal—can do whatever earns them the greatest profits.

Many experts believe that we may be headed for another recession. Don’t enter a second recession with piles of debts. I can counsel you on your debts. I am sure that I can be of assistance to you, a family member or a friend as we all know someone experiencing trouble these days even if we are not experiencing our own financial troubles. Please do not hesitate to make contact with me. I emphasize courteous and discrete consultations packed with plenty of information. The life impact of meeting with me in person will be unforgettable. You will enjoy a new peace of mind and a fresh hope for the future with a new roadmap for financial success that we develop together. You can email my scheduler through our website for your free 30 minute consultation at www.washingtonbankruptcy.com or e-mail directly at [email protected] To schedule immediately, we can be reached at 253-383-1001 M-Th 9am-5:45pm and Friday 9am – 12pm.

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