Personal Bankruptcy and the Level of Entrepreneurial Activity

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor – Department of Economics University of California, San Diego (UCSD) – Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Abstract The U.S. personal bankruptcy system functions as a bankruptcy system for small businesses as well as for consumers. When firms are non-corporate, debts of the firm are personal liabilities of the entrepreneur/owner. If the firm fails, the entrepreneur has an incentive to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7, since both business debts and the entrepreneur’s personal debts will be discharged. The entrepreneur must give up assets above a fixed bankruptcy exemption level for repayment to creditors, but future earnings are entirely exempt. Exemption levels are set by the states and they vary widely. We show that higher bankruptcy exemption levels benefit potential entrepreneurs by providing partial wealth insurance. This means that the predicted relationship between the probability of owning a business and […]