Blacks Face Bias in Bankruptcy, Study Suggests

Saturday 21 January 2012

by: Tara Siegel Bernard, The New York Times News Service | Report

Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to wind up in the more onerous and costly form of consumer bankruptcy as they try to dig out from their debts, a new study has found.

The disparity persisted even when the researchers adjusted for income, homeownership, assets and education. The evidence suggested that lawyers were disproportionately steering blacks into a process that was not as good for them financially, in part because of biases, whether conscious or unconscious.

The vast majority of debtors file under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code, which typically allows them to erase most debts in a matter of months. It tends to have a higher success rate and is less expensive than the alternative, Chapter 13, which requires debtors to dedicate their disposable income to paying back their debts for several years.

The study of racial differences in bankruptcy filings was written by Robert M. Lawless, a bankruptcy expert and law professor, and Dov Cohen, a psychology professor, both with the University of Illinois; and Jean Braucher, a law professor at the University of Arizona.

A survey conducted as part of their research found that bankruptcy lawyers were much more likely to steer black debtors into a Chapter 13 than white filers even when they had identical financial situations. The lawyers, the survey found, were also more likely to view blacks as having “good values” when they expressed a preference for Chapter 13.

“Unfortunately I’m not surprised with these results,” said Neil Ellington, executive vice president of Consumer Education Services, a credit counseling agency in Raleigh, N.C. “The same underlying issues that created the problem in mortgage lending, with minorities paying higher interest rates than their white counterparts having the same loan qualifications, are present in all financial fields.”

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