The 20 Biggest Bankruptcies in United States History

The biggest bankruptcy of all time was declared by Lehman Brothers on Sept. 15, 2008. They had $691,063,000,000 in assets prior to bankruptcy.

Before filing for bankruptcy, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. was the fourth-largest investment bank in the U.S. Due to Lehman’s involvement in mortgage origination, it plummeted tremendously amid the 2008 mortgage crisis. Here are the 20 biggest bankruptcies in U.S. history and some noteworthy bankruptcies of 2017 and 2018.

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Washington Mutual, a savings and loan holding company, declared bankruptcy 11 days later due to the same financial crisis.

Washington Mutual’s was the second-largest bankruptcy of all time, with assets valued at $327,913,000,000. It was the largest savings and loan bank in America at the time.

The third-largest bankruptcy was by Worldcom Telecommunications on July 2, 2002, with assets of $103,914,000,000.

The downfall of what was once the largest global Internet network was triggered by a $4 billion accounting scandal. Auditors discovered that fraudulent accounting methods were used to hide Worldcom’s decreasing stock prices.

As for more recent financial calamities, here are five high-profile bankruptcies of 2018:

  1. Claire’s — In March, it announced that it would be closing some of its stores in an attempt to reduce its approximate $2.1 billion debt.
  2. Sears — When Sears filed for bankruptcy in October, it had 687 stores and about 68,000 employees. In February 2019, Sears chairman Eddie Lampert won court approval to buy Sears out of bankruptcy. The deal will keep about 400 stores open and save 45,000 jobs.
  3. Kmart — Kmart is a part of Sears Holdings and was affected by its parent company’s bankruptcy. Seventy percent of stores have closed in recent years.
  4. David’s Bridal — David’s Bridal declared bankruptcy in November. It was struggling with heavy debt, shifting tastes in the wedding industry, and a decline in U.S. marriage rates. It is now owned by lenders who helped reduce the debt load by about $450,000,000.
  5. Nine West — After filing for bankruptcy protection in April, Nine West closed down all 70 of its stores. The company sold its Nine West and Bandolino shoe and accessory businesses to Authentic Brands Group (owner of fashion brands like Frye, Vince Camuto, and Juicy Couture) in June for $340,000,000.

The Top 20 Biggest Bankruptcies in United States History, Ranked by Assets at Time of Bankruptcy

Company and Date Assets at the Time of Bankruptcy
Lehman Brothers
Sept. 15, 2008
Washington Mutual
Sept. 26, 2008
Worldcom Inc.
July 2, 2002
General Motors
June 1, 2009
CIT Group
Nov. 1, 2009
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)
Jan. 14, 2019
Dec. 2, 2001
Dec. 17, 2002
MF Global
Oct. 31, 2011
April 30, 2009
Thornburg Mortgage
Jan. 5, 2009
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)
April 6, 2001
Dec. 4, 1987
Financial Corporation of America
Sept. 9, 1988
Oct. 17, 2005
IndyMac Bancorp
July 31, 2008
Global Crossing
Jan. 28, 2002
Bank of New England
July 1, 1991
General Growth Properties
April 16, 2009
Lyondell Chemical
June 1, 2009