MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) – The sluggish economy and temptation posed by plastic apparently are taking a toll on businesses and individuals in Maine and New Hampshire, which are showing an increase in bankruptcy filings.

Maine is on a pace to have more than 5,000 filings this year, which would be an increase of more than 10 percent over 2002. Last year, 4,423 consumers filed for personal bankruptcy protection in Maine.

Through May, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manchester shows New Hampshire is on track to have more than 4,600 filings, which would represent an increase of almost 14 percent over last year.

In New Hampshire, Bankruptcy Court clerk George Vannah says the bankruptcies of the early 1990s mostly were businesses. Now, there are many more individuals and families, which have overextended themselves in debt.

“It does have a lot to do with the easily available credit cards,” he said. “People do tend to over-use their plastic.”

Generally, the total number of filings is pretty consistent with the performance of the U.S. economy and the state’s economy, said Vannah, who has served as clerk of courts in Manchester for 20 years.

At the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland, Maine, Clerk of Courts Celia Strickler said most filings appear in March and April, a few months after the Christmas shopping season and just before the April 15 tax return filing deadline.

If the state has experienced an unusually cold winter and consumers have had to pay high heating bills, that can also push them to the financial brink, she said.

Maine has had some high-profile business bankruptcies in the past year, notably Great Northern Paper Co., which in January filed for Chapter 11 protection.

The company, which has mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket, has since been sold to Brascan Corp. of Toronto. What’s now known as Katahdin Paper Co. has resumed scaled-back production with up to 400 workers.

WestPoint Stevens Inc., owner of a Biddeford mill that makes sheets, pillow cases and towels, filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors June 2 so it can reorganize its finances. The filing did not cause immediate layoffs.

Atlantic Precision, a metal products plant in Sanford, closed because its parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Allied Devices Corp. is based in Hicksville, N.Y.

Efforts were under way this spring to reopen the Atlantic plant and restore dozens of jobs.

AP-ES-06-15-03 1450EDT

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