THE Obama administration introduced a plan this week to encourage defaulting homeowners to sell their houses at a loss, the latest in a long line of reform packages promising to break the logjam of underwater mortgages. But without major changes to the bankruptcy system, such measures won’t aid the American families torn apart by the economic upheavals of the last two years.
To date, our bankruptcy courts have done little to help the millions of people swimming in debt. Almost 5 percent of mortgage loans are now in foreclosure, an increase of more than 85 percent since the beginning of 2008, and more than 10 percent of credit card accounts are delinquent. Yet bankruptcy filings for the first two months of this year are only 1.5 times what they were two years ago. And even after that increase, current filing levels are far below those in the first half of this decade.
The problem is that our bankruptcy system is too difficult and expensive for the people who use it. The system has always been complicated, but in 2005 Congress made things worse by changing the rules to make it harder for bankrupt people to avoid paying their outstanding bills. Now that the recession has exposed the flaws of the system, Congress should go back to the drawing board and drastically simplify the bankruptcy system.