DEADBEAT AND UPBEAT

PERSONAL BANKRUPTCY, THE CONSUMER'S NEW FINANCIAL TOOL, IS REACHING RECORD LEVELS. DOES ANYONE CARE?

Having a hard time paying your bills? Are your debts becoming unmanageable? Afraid that the bank may foreclose on your home? Why not join the crowd--and toss in the towel? Beat it. Just walk away. Declare yourself bankrupt. More than 266,000 consumers filed for bankruptcy in the first three months of 1996 alone, the highest quarterly total ever. Experts say an unprecedented 1 million individuals will go belly-up by the end of the year. In the process, they are turning an onerous personal disaster into something on the order of overdraft checking. "Personal bankruptcy," says researcher Robert Johnson at Purdue University's...

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