BOOKS, VIDEOS TEACH PEOPLE HOW TO FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY

As bankruptcy goes, so goes the bankruptcy business.This year, the United States will see a record 1 million filings for protection from creditors, according to estimates released this week by the American Bankruptcy Institute. Individuals make up the bulk of the cases - about 80 percent - and their numbers have nearly tripled since 1985. The rest are businesses. Lots of companies are keen to show people how to deal with a credit crunch. Since bankruptcy is a legal procedure, there are specialist lawyers who can do the job (at a cost of up to $2,500). The Consumer Credit Counseling Service has a toll-free line to help people find a local counseling office. There are self-help books on the subject; even videos on how to file for bankruptcies yourself. "People think they can't do it themselves - and that's entirely wrong," says Chicago bankruptcy attorney Marc Shuger. The procedure is so simple that most people don't need a lawyer's help, he says. For $79.95, Mr. Shuger sells a videocassette: "Five Steps to Debt Relief: File Your Own Bankruptcy." In some states, such as California, Florida, and Massachusetts, document-preparation companies have taken up the call to help people file their own bankruptcy. For a fee of a couple hundred dollars, these firms will fill out the necessary forms. Some local bar associations aren't too happy with the competition. They object that these document-preparation firms are illegally practicing law - a charge the firms reject. Sales of Shuger's video have been tepid so far. "It's not the Madonna video," he concedes. But he's hard at work on an updated version, due for release at the end of this year.

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