A few days ago, a lawyer from Oklahoma City called to refer me a new case, and, at the end of the call, he asked “Is anybody filing bankruptcy in Nashville? There’s just nothing going on here. Are you hearing anything about when it’s coming back?”
It’s a conversation I’ve had about 100 times over the last year, especially with local bankruptcy lawyers.
As of this moment (December 29), there have been 3,923 debtor bankruptcy cases filed in the Middle District of Tennessee in 2021. Compare that with 2011, when 12,546 debtor bankruptcy cases were filed. How on earth, in this economy and in month 21 of a global pandemic, has there been less than a third of the new cases we saw a decade ago?
For reference, here are the numbers for the past decade (plus):
- 2021: 3,923
- 2020: 5,616
- 2019: 8,263
- 2018: 8,577
- 2017: 8,710
- 2016: 9,198
- 2015: 9,290
- 2014: 10,089
- 2013: 10,092
- 2012: 11,827
- 2011: 12,546
- 2010: 14,063
- 2009: 14,940
It’s clear that 2021 brought a historically low number of new bankruptcy case filings. It also shows that the Middle Tennesseans aren’t necessarily disinclined to file bankruptcy (or unable to, since so many of the past filers are not time-barred or ineligible under 11 USC § 109 or otherwise). So, why aren’t more people and businesses filing bankruptcy?
Some people refer to the influx of federal relief money and high wages, but I’m not seeing many debtors doing financially better now than they were in years past. 2021 appears to be as big a financial struggle as any of those years before it.
My guess is that the federal and local moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions are a big factor, since so many potential debtors aren’t being forced into a filing to save a imminent threat to their home. For many residential and commercial lenders, even though the moratorium may not apply to their loan, the creditor is nevertheless taking no action, for a number of reasons.
From all over the creditor realm, I have heard for months to mark my calendar for “January 1, 2022,” which was when many of the “big” lenders were planning to turn the foreclosure machine back on. Of course, that was before this latest COVID variant completely reshaped the status quo.
I’d guess that the January 1 date is being moved farther out, especially since we’re back in the throes of an ever-evolving pandemic. While it’s impossible to predict what COVID has in store for us, it’s easy to see that all of the same factors and circumstances are present to keep mortgage lenders at bay.
As awful as it sounds, then, we won’t see more bankruptcy filings until–strangely–the economy gets back to normal and people return to regular life (which, if you ignore my prediction that filings would spike in June 2020, is basically what I said in this old post).