updated 10/19/2005 8:07:12 PM ET 2005-10-20T00:07:12

Clerks at U.S. bankruptcy courts processed a record 205,129 personal bankruptcy filings last week, and a private consulting firm estimates that a backlog of unprocessed filings could push the total to 300,000.

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Hundreds of thousands of people have clogged the courts in recent weeks trying to beat a deadline of Monday, the day a new, more stringent law took effect.

Lundquist Consulting, a Burlingame, California, company that compiles bankruptcy statistics, said bankruptcy filings doubled from the previous week's record of 102,863 filings. Lundquist expects around 300,000 filings this week because of the weekend filings and the backlog at the courts, said company analyst Jane Truch.

In Chicago, U.S. Bankruptcy Court clerk Ken Gardner called the 8,316 total filings on Friday and Saturday "beyond our imagination." The office normally handles about 200 per day for the northern district of Illinois.

"We knew there'd be a rush _ every time a fee or law changes, we get that. But this was 15 times the normal level of activity," Gardner said Wednesday. Gardner's Chicago crew didn't leave the office until 1:30 a.m. Saturday, nine hours after its normal close.

The new law _ the most sweeping reform of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in decades _ sets new limits on personal bankruptcy filings and requires people to get professional credit counseling before they file petitions. It prohibits most filers with above-average income from filing Chapter 7 petitions that allow debts to be wiped out.

Instead, people deemed by a "means test" to have at least $100 (??83.68) a month left over after paying certain debts and expenses will have to submit a five-year repayment plan under the more restrictive Chapter 13.

Supporters believe the changes will help rein in consumers who pile up credit card debt only to wipe it out with a Chapter 7 filing. Opponents say the law will hurt those who incur debt unexpectedly such as with health problems or lost jobs.

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