Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Bankruptcy Law | Law | Law and Economics


Center for Law and Economic Studies


This paper questions several longstanding descriptions of consumer bankruptcy in the United States. We focus on Chapter 13, which discharges debts after consumers pay disposable income to creditors for up to five years. Many studies document pathologies, including high failure rates, racial disparities, low creditor recoveries, and attorney biases. We observe the same patterns in new data drawn from Cook County, Illinois, but show that these pathologies are central tendencies that ignore substantial heterogeneity across consumers. Several are driven by subsets of consumers; some disappear once we account for account for consumer heterogeneity. We present new evidence that some pathologies reflect biases in non-bankruptcy law, not in the bankruptcy process itself.