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Bankruptcy in America

Demographics of the Average Bankruptcy Filer

Americans of all walks of life are struggling with debt and turning to bankruptcy protections to help them get a fresh start, and a new report from the Institute for Financial Literacy sheds some light onto the demographics of bankruptcy filers.

So, who is filing bankruptcy? The average bankruptcy filer in 2009 was a middle-aged, married, Caucasian woman with a high-school education or some college, employed and earning less than $30,000 a year. Over-extension of credit, unexpected expenses and reduction of income were the biggest motivators in her bankruptcy filing.

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Other findings include:


Females were slightly more likely to file than men: 52.4% to 47.6%. Women account for 51% of the U.S. population.

Age of Filers

Senior citizens 65 and older made up 8.3% of filers, compared to 7.3% in 2008. Younger people 34 and under made up 18.9% of filers, down from 21.7% in 2008 and 24.3% in 2006.


African Americans accounted for 11.4% of bankruptcy filers, down from 15.3% in 2006.

Asian Americans accounted for 4% of filers, up from 2.1% in 2006.


Individuals with higher educations are filing in greater numbers, with 28.8% holding at least an associates degree, up from 24.1% in 2006.

Individuals with some college experience but no degree accounted for 28.9% of bankruptcy filings, yet make up on 19% of the general population.


The vast majority of filers had a job of some sort: 59.3% indicated being employed, and another 10.3% identified as self-employed.

An additional 16.2% were unemployed. The official unemployment rate averaged 9.3% in 2009.

Retirees accounted for 9.3% of filings, up from 8.7% in 2008.

Marital Status

Married individuals made up the bulk of bankruptcy filers, at 65.1%, up from 62% in 2008 and 57.1% in 2006.

Singles filers made up only 16.7% of all filings, down from 21.9% in 2006. Of the total population, 30.5% are single.

Divorcees made up 14.4% of filings, down from 15.3% in 2008 and 15.9% in 2006.

Causes of Filings

In the Institute for Financial Literacy's survey, they asked responders to choose from a list as many causes as applied to them. The top reasons were:

  • Over-extension on credit (73.4 %)
  • Reduction of income (64.5%)
  • Unexpected expenses (55%)
  • Job loss (42.3%)
  • Illness or injury (31.1%)

Other reasons cited were:

  • Divorce (15.1%)
  • Birth or adoption of child (9.7%)
  • Death of family member (7.5%)
  • Retirement (6.7%)
  • Identity theft (1.9%)

In Debt? Learn More about Bankruptcy

As you can see, bankruptcy is not just a problem for one small pocket of the population. Anyone can find themselves deep in debt, and many people can benefit from the fresh start that bankruptcy offers.

If you're ready to see how Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy may help you meet your debt-freedom goals, contact a local bankruptcy attorney. Simply fill out our free case review form below to take the next step today.

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