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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 22:10 GMT 23:10 UK
US set to tighten bankruptcy law
Credit cards
Americans have long been used to a wealth of available credit
Legislation that makes it harder for US consumers to escape their debts by filing for bankruptcy has been passed by Congress.

The Bankruptcy Reform Bill, long-wanted by US banks and credit card companies, is designed to stop people abusing the bankruptcy system to avoid repayments.

On Thursday it was passed by the House of Representatives by a 302-126 vote after previously passing the Senate.

It now goes to President George W Bush who has already said he is in favour.

'Restores integrity'

Supporters of the bill say that in preventing the abuse of the bankruptcy system it will make credit cheaper for the great majority of borrowers.

It massively tilts the playing field in favour of banks and credit card companies and against working people and their families
Democrat Representative John Conyers

Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert said the bill's passage "restores integrity in the system".

"It makes it harder for those who want to use bankruptcy as a scapegoat to avoid debts," he said.

"Bankruptcy is for those who need help, not those who want to shift costs to other hard-working Americans."

Critics

Yet opponents say it is too harsh on low income Americans who are driven into debt by unemployment, ill health, divorce, or simply through poverty.

"This is the most special interest-invested bill that I have ever dealt with in my career in Congress," said Michigan Democrat Representative John Conyers.

"It massively tilts the playing field in favour of banks and credit card companies and against working people and their families."

Applications for personal bankruptcy in the US were down 3.8% last year to 1.6 million.


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