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Do the math: Bankruptcy numbers for Northern Illinois

The website of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois features an interesting statistical tool that makes comparing years and types of bankruptcies very easy. We decided to take a look at how our district fared from 2010 through 2014. The results were surprisingly interesting.

The total number of Chapter 7 liquidation filings has fallen every year for the past five years. In 2010, the district handled 48,852 cases; in 2014, that number was down to 30,798 -- more than 35 percent. In all but one year, March was the busiest month: In 2013, April took the top spot, beating March by just 59 filings. The lowest numbers occurred in November, December and January.

Of course, the Chapter 7 statistics cover both personal and business bankruptcies. The tool does not differentiate, so we can't tell if the peaks, valleys and overall trends were driven by one category.

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a different story. Chapter 13 is available only to individuals and married couples, not businesses. This is the bankruptcy that offers debtors the opportunity to pay creditors back over time, usually three to five years.

Chapter 13 is a different story statistically, too. The numbers have increased over time -- with the exception of a dip from 2010 to 2011 -- and the highs and lows come at different times of the year compared to Chapter 7.

In 2010, the court handled 15,104 Chapter 13 filings. By 2014, that number had increased to 19,170, a little more than 20 percent. September and October were the busiest months, except in 2013, when March logged the most filings. In 2010, 2012 and 2014, the least active month was January; in 2013, it was December, another cold month. In 2011, though, May came in with the lowest count.

These are just numbers, though. They don't tell us anything about individual debtors and their circumstances. They don't tell us how many people had medical bills piling up and how many had credit cards or student loans. We don't know if anyone was on the brink of foreclosure.

We do know, however, that something happened in 2013.

Source: U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Northern Illinois, Statistical Analysis, accessed March 17, 2015

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