Bankruptcy filings surged 25.9% in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, hitting an all-time high of 1.1 million, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts announced Monday.

That's nearly five times the rate of growth in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 1995, when bankruptcy filings increased 5.4% to 883,139.

In the most recent period, bankruptcy filings were highest in districts of California, Illinois, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida.

Business filings made up a fraction of the bankruptcy total, accounting for 53,520, while personal bankruptcies accounted for 1.06 million.

The vast majority of debtors file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which allows individuals to keep certain assets and has no repayment requirements. Chapter 7 filings in the year ending Sept. 30 totaled 761,652, up 27.3% over the year-earlier period.

Filings for Chapter 13, which does require full or partial repayment over three to five years, hit 336,615, an increase of 23.9%.

Separately, the Bankruptcy Issues Working Group - a coalition of credit card lenders - released on Monday the results of a poll to determine the public's perception of bankruptcy.

One-third of the 1,011 adults surveyed in mid-November attributed the huge increase in filings to easy access to credit. Another third cited "irresponsible money management by individuals."

About 20% of the respondents said problems such as unemployment or poor health are the main reason people seek bankruptcy protection. And 10% said the ease of filing for bankruptcy was an important factor.

The poll, conducted by Opinion Research Corp., also showed 83% of the people surveyed think bankruptcy should not automatically erase a person's debts.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said the laws should be changed to make filers prove they need to erase debts and to require debtors to pay what they can afford.

The working group's survey also showed that most Americans do not know much about bankruptcy or how to avoid it. "This lack of knowledge is spread across all demographic groups, varying little by age or education," according to a release from the working group.

The coalition was formed this fall to educate consumers about alternatives to bankruptcy such as credit counseling.

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