Twice as many bankruptcy cases were filed from Carroll County in thefirst six months of this year as in the same period last year, numbers compiled by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court show.
Business bankruptcies increased 119 percent and personal bankruptcies by 99 percent.
Bankruptcy records tell the stories of self-employed truckers, carpenters, home-improvement contractors, developers and families who were forced into court because they couldn't keep up with their bills.
"It's a sign of hard times," said William L. Marquat, a Westminster attorney who handles bankruptcy cases. "People hold on as long as they can and find they're overwhelmed with bills."
By June 30, 1990, 16 business and 111 personal bankruptcies were filed from the county, records shows. By June 30, 1991, 35 business and 221 personal bankruptcies were filed. A third-quarter breakdown for this year was unavailable this week.
The increase mirrors a similar upturn in filings across the state.
Robert M. Jones of Eldersburg was forced to liquidate his commercial food equipment business in December after hismain customers went out of business.
R. Jones and Associates Inc.had total assets of about $52,000 and total liabilities of about $192,000, bankruptcy records showed. Jones, 44, founded the company in 1983 and incorporated in 1986, records said.
Closing the company was a hard decision, but with a stalled economy, he said, he didn't want to go into more debt to keep the business afloat. Since December, Jones has done consulting work and small jobs and is trying to decide whether to form another company or look for a job.
"It's a period of airing out and rethinking. It's almost like mourning a death. It takes almost a year to get over something like that," he said.
Jones filed under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, in which a trustee is appointed to sell all the debtor's property. The process took about four months and cost close to $2,500, he said.
Jon Buck of Sykesville, whose design engineering company has been in bankruptcy since last December, said he was surprised by the cost and duration of the process.
"Things work very slowly. It just takes a long time for them to work through the system," he said.
Buck, whose family owns Buck Industries Inc., filed to reorganize under Chapter 11. He haskept the business open while drawing up a plan to repay his debts. The plan must be approved by creditors and the court.
Buck hired a Baltimore attorney who charges $160 an hour. So far, the legal bill has been about $8,000, Buck said.
Westminster attorney Wesley D. Blakeslee, who sits on the board at Union National Bank, said county residents and bankers generally are willing to work out plans so peoplecan avoid filing for bankruptcy.
"We still have a general attitude in Carroll County that they ought to pay their bills. You have the work ethic and the idea that paying bills is something proper to do.
"Carroll County banks are willing to work with people and get themthrough hard times," he said.
Ferdinand A. Ruppel, president of Westminster Bank and Trust, said bank officials often negotiate with borrowers who are having problems meeting their payments.
"It only makes sense," he said.
Michael K. Billingslea, a certified financial planner with Legg Mason in Westminster, said: "The basic advice isto spend less, to look at your budget -- or to make one. It's a goodtime to get used to living on less than you need to."
He predicted the recession will last another year.
"There's nothing that's going to jump-start this," he said.
Marquat said there's no typical profile of a family or business that's forced into bankruptcy. He's worked with a man in his 50s, a couple in their 40s and a subcontractor who caught "pneumonia" after his contractor "got the sniffles."
"It's basically hard-working people who have bitten off more than they can chew," he said.
TYPES OF FILINGS
* Chapter 7 -- Liquidation.A trustee is appointed to take charge of all of the debtor's property, except for exceptions allowed in the law. The trustee will sell the remaining property for the benefit of creditors, and, unless a creditor objects and is upheld by the court, the debt will be discharged in whole or in part.
* Chapter 11 -- Reorganization. Available to all individuals or businesses, this chapter is primarily intended to allow an ongoing business to restructure its debt. A successful reorganization depends on filing a plan and obtaining its approval by creditors and the court.
* Chapter 13 -- Adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income. This chapter provides a method for individual debtors to repay creditors, in full or in part, over a period of up to five years. It ordinarily involves less than $100,000 in unsecured debt and $350,000 in secured debt.