Bankruptcies surged in 2008

Hand filling out bankruptcy petition

The number of Americans filing for bankruptcy rose by nearly a third in 2008.

An American Bankruptcy Institute report found that overall consumer filings grew to 1.06 million in 2008. That's up from 801,840 in 2007.

The increase is due to the weak economy and consumers becoming more familiar with bankruptcy changes made in 2005, according to CNNMoney.com.

When Congress rewrote the nation's bankruptcy laws in 2005, it made it more difficult for consumers to wipe out most of their debts and get a fresh start under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code.

Once the regulations went into effect in 2006, many people thought Chapter 7 was no longer an option when filing for bankruptcy. Total consumer filings fell 72% that year.

Then, the economy struggled in 2007 and 2008, and by 2009 was officially in a recession for more than a year.

Bankruptcy filings increased 40% in 2007. They increased again in 2008 as more people learned that the 2005 filing changes had made Chapter 7 protection harder to get, but hadn't eliminated it altogether.

With the recession in its second year, personal bankruptcies are expected to rise again this year.

"Consumers are under great financial stress, with no immediate end in sight," American Bankruptcy Institute Executive Director Samuel Gerdano told CNNMoney.

Bankruptcy isn't the answer for everyone.