ALEXANDRIA, Va. — According to the latest statistics from the National Bankruptcy Research Center, U.S. consumer bankruptcy filings climbed more than 15.2 percent in February over the previous month.

Citing data from the NBRC, the American Bankruptcy Institute said overall consumer filings totaled 76,120 in February, up from the 66,050 filings recorded in January. The figure was also up 37.3 percent from February 2007.

Chapter 13 filings accounted for 36.4 percent of consumer cases in February, which is a slight dip from last month.

"February's bankruptcy spike — the highest single month since the 2005 law changes — forecasts the start of more to come for the balance of 2008," explained Samuel Gerdano, ABI's executive director.

"It is probably too early to attribute the current trend to the mortgage crisis. But if it continues — as it is certainly expected to with adjustable rate mortgages resetting — it could add to the bankruptcy rate," Gerdano indicated in a recent report.

While ABI said it is forecasting more than 1 million consumer bankruptcies in 2008, compared with about 800,000 in 2007, this figure could push higher "if this contagion affecting the home mortgage market continues," Gerdano highlighted.

A short time ago, Senate Republicans blocked a Democrat-written bill designed to revamp bankruptcy laws to stem increasing home foreclosures in an attempt to offer assistance to debt-ridden consumers.

Although there are reports that legislators may reconsider the bill in the near future, nothing is certain.

According to a recent report, the bill would basically let bankruptcy judges reduce mortgage amounts to reflect the current fair value of a home under Chapter 13 bankruptcies.

In response to the proposed legislation, the White House has threatened a veto, calling it too costly

Under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, secured debt, like a home mortgage, cannot be modified under current law, Gerdano pointed out.

Also being impacted by the rising tide of bankruptcies is businesses. While this figure only accounts for a tiny percentage of overall bankruptcies, it is growing.

"Here the scenario is a restriction in the flow of credit to troubled businesses," Gerdano highlighted in the report.

"In recent years, there was almost excess liquidity, which propped up a number of businesses and let them stave off a day of reckoning," he concluded.