NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Bankruptcy: Past Puzzles, Recent Reforms, and the Mortgage Crisis

Michelle J. White

NBER Working Paper No. 14549
Issued in December 2008
NBER Program(s):   LE

This paper discusses four bankruptcy-related policy issues. First, what is the economic rationale for having a bankruptcy procedure at all and what defines an economically efficient bankruptcy procedure? Second, why did the number of U.S. bankruptcy filings increase so dramatically between 1980 and 2005? Third, a major bankruptcy reform went into effect in the U.S. in 2005--what did it do and how did it affect credit and mortgage markets? Finally, the paper discusses the mortgage crisis, the high social cost of foreclosures, and the difficulty of avoiding foreclosure by voluntarily renegotiation of mortgage contracts, even when such renegotiations are in the joint interest of debtors and creditors. I also discuss the pros and cons of government programs to refinance mortgages and the possibility of giving bankruptcy judges new power to change the terms of mortgage contracts in bankruptcy.

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Published: Michelle J. White, 2009. "Bankruptcy: Past Puzzles, Recent Reforms, and the Mortgage Crisis," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(1), pages 1-23.

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