When Should You File For Bankruptcy ?


Some of the questions you will likely ask yourself before deciding to file bankruptcy include:

  • How much do you owe on your credit cards and are you only making minimum payments?
  • Are you using credit cards wisely or using them to pay for necessities?
  • Do you feel like your finances are out of your control?
  • Are you being contacted by bill collectors on a regular basis?
  • Are you in danger of losing your home to foreclosure?

If your answer to one or more of these questions is yes, then the decision to file bankruptcy may be obvious. However, the challenge may be whether the timing of a bankruptcy filing is right. Timing matters in some cases because filing at the wrong time could mean you lose assets you might otherwise be able to keep, and because filing at the wrong time could hamper negotiations with creditors.

Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Filings

It is important to understand the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 bankruptcy will eliminate many debts such as medical, credit card, and personal loan debts immediately upon discharge. A Chapter 13 will require you to enter into an agreement to repay most of your debts off over a period which may extend up to five years. During those five years, your debts will be paid down and any debt remaining at the end of the agreement will be eliminated. Most child support payments and tax payments which are in arrears cannot be discharged and may require payment in full regardless of a bankruptcy filing.

What to Avoid When Filing Bankruptcy

You can avoid problems with a bankruptcy filing by taking some proactive steps ahead of time. There are two specific situations where you can run into problems with a bankruptcy filing. The first is running up your credit cards to the maximum amounts with frivolous purchases such as high-end cell phones, large screen televisions, or other similar types of purchases. This does not mean if you or your child needs a warmer winter coat, or your heating system goes on the blink you should avoid using your credit card. However, one of the items the trustee may look at is what new credit you incurred over the last six months and how it was used. Frivolous purchases could be considered fraudulent use of bankruptcy which could lead you to face criminal charges.

The other issue is disposal of property which you have in your possession and transfer to another person or sell. You are well within your rights to liquidate or transfer any assets you own at any time. However, if you are considering filing bankruptcy, you want to make sure you have sold the property for market value and keep records of how the proceeds were used. This is important so the court does not suspect you have disposed of the property for the sole purpose of protecting it in a bankruptcy proceeding.

Keep in mind a bankruptcy trustee will review any property transfers made within certain time periods and they will investigate whether they believed the intention was to defraud your creditors. Should they be able to determine this is the case, they may claw back the asset from the person who purchased it or to whom you transferred the property.

Bankruptcy May be the Right Solution

Illness, divorce, or job loss can have a devastating impact on your finances, and you may need help deciding the best way to move forward and restore your financial life. People seldom go into debt thinking the best way out is to file bankruptcy but oftentimes, this is the only solution when you cannot seem to get out from under a burden of too much debt and circumstances in your life have made it difficult or impossible to pay that debt off.

For more than three decades, Philadelphia bankruptcy lawyers, Cibik & Cataldo, P.C., have been providing bankruptcy legal services in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. When you feel like your debt has taken control of your life, we can help you take control of your finances by helping you find the right bankruptcy solution. Contact our offices today and let us help you find a way forward.

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Cibik & Cataldo
1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

Can I Keep My Tax Refund After Filing Chapter 7?


Your tax refund is based on money that you’ve over-paid in taxes throughout the course of the calendar year. As you reach the end of the year, you’d like to get as much of that money back as possible. Unfortunately, if you’ve filed for bankruptcy, you may find yourself wondering if you can keep any of the money from your tax return. Whether you can keep any of the money from your tax return depends on several factors.

When Did You Earn the Money?

In order to establish whether you can keep the funds from your tax return, you’ll first look at when you earned the money included in that refund.

If you earned the money in a calendar year prior to the year you filed for bankruptcy, your refund will go to the estate. If, for example, you got behind on filing your taxes and needed to file an extension–or simply needed to get caught up–you may have a refund due for previous years. You may also, for example, file for bankruptcy early in the calendar year–say, in February–and then file your tax return in March or April. Because the money was earned before you filed for bankruptcy, it will go to the estate and may be used to help repay some of your debts.

If you earned the money in the same calendar year as your bankruptcy, you may get to keep part of your tax return, but not necessarily all of it. Suppose, for example, that you filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July of the previous year. When you file your taxes for that year, whether you file in January or as close to the April deadline as you can, you can keep the refund on income earned after you filed for bankruptcy (in this case, income earned in August through December), but not the refund on income earned prior to your bankruptcy (that is, in the example, income earned in January through July of the year you filed for bankruptcy).

If you earned the money in the year after you filed for bankruptcy, the refund is yours to keep and use as you see fit. Just as you will not lose income earned after your bankruptcy to your lenders, you need not pay your tax refund to the estate.

Can the Money Qualify as an Exemption?

In some cases, you can keep some cash on hand when you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Some states offer a specific exemption that will allow you to keep some cash–usually a minimal amount–when you file for bankruptcy. This will allow you to keep enough cash on hand to continue paying some of your bills or to ensure that you have enough to pay living expenses. Pennsylvania allows you to keep $300 in cash as a wildcard exemption when you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. While your tax return may well exceed the amount you’re able to keep on hand in cash, Pennsylvania offers some other exemptions that can help you keep as much cash as possible.

If you believe your tax refund may qualify as an exemption, consult with an experienced bankruptcy lawyer to learn more. While these exemptions do exist, an attorney can help you find and identify them more effectively–and ensure that you do not make a costly error in the process.

How Can You Keep More of Your Tax Refund?

Many people use their tax refund as a sort of extended savings account: they pay extra on their taxes each year both to ensure that they do not end up owing at the end of the year, and to help have a little extra in the bank when that tax return comes in. Tax returns are often used for vacations or to fund big purchases that just aren’t possible during the rest of the year. While keeping that extra money in the year that you file for bankruptcy can be difficult, there are several strategies you can use to make the most of your refund.

1. Adjust what you’re withholding. Work with an accountant or someone within your company to determine how much extra you should receive at the end of the year and adjust your withholding accordingly. Make sure that you continue to withhold enough to cover what you’ll owe in taxes by the end of the calendar year, but do not withhold additional funds. This will leave you with the extra funds in your paycheck, rather than waiting until your tax return comes in at the end of the year.

2. Use your refund on key expenses, if you haven’t yet filed for bankruptcy. Prior to filing for bankruptcy, you can use your tax return on necessary expenses: paying your mortgage, paying off some of your debts, or taking care of home repairs, groceries, or other necessary expenses. You cannot protect the refund if you use it to pay off friends and family members, nor can you use it to prepay expenses: paying several months’ rent ahead of time, for example. Talk with an experienced attorney about what expenses can be protected if you use your tax return on them before you file for bankruptcy.

3. Use an exemption to cover your tax refund. Keep in mind that this may prevent you from using the exemption on something else, so choose your exemptions carefully. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can help answer questions about Pennsylvania exemptions and how they may impact your refund.

If you have recently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or plan to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the immediate future, and you’re ready to file your tax refund and want to keep as much of it as possible, consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney to learn the laws and how they can impact you. Have questions about your bankruptcy, what assets qualify as exempt, or how to handle your tax refund when you’ve had to file for bankruptcy? Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

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Cibik & Cataldo
1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

The Three Main Types Of Consumer Debt


Americans are drowning in debt. In November 2019, American consumer debt climbed to $4.17 trillion. That’s trillion with a T–twelve zeros. Chances are pretty good that you’re one of those Americans, with credit cards, a mortgage, and a car payment or two. And that’s okay–in lots of ways, debt is good for our economy.

The reality is that we are living in a consumer economy, and most of us don’t have the savings to fund large purchases. So we use credit for everything from home purchases to education to new furniture and vacations. When you spend money, the dealership or hotel doesn’t care if you’re taking out a loan, using a credit card, or walking in with a briefcase full of hundred dollar bills–you’re helping their business grow.

Growth means bigger profits, and bigger profits contribute to rising stock prices, which makes a company more valuable. Higher valuations give companies more capital (money) to invest and hire more workers, which leads to job creation and rising incomes. The more money consumers have to spend, the more inclusive and better the economy. So spending is a good thing- as long as it’s done within your means.

All Debts Are Not The Same

The three examples of debt mentioned above–home, education, vacations, and stuff–represent three different kinds of consumer debt. Consumer debt is what you owe as an individual–you’re not a business and you’re not the government. If you’re a small business owner, you know that your business debts are separate from your personal credit cards and loans.

Consumer debt falls into three categories–secured, unsecured, and a nebulous third group that isn’t easily categorized, but in general, involves a court or government debt. Which category your debt falls into matters because if you are considering bankruptcy, that third category can’t be included in a debt discharge.

Secured Debt

The most common debt in the US is secured debt–where you have pledged an asset to the lender to reduce their risk against loss. Mortgages and car loans are examples of secured debt. The lender retains actual ownership of the house and car until you make the final payment, and if you can’t make the payments they seize the asset via foreclosure or repossession.

Your secured debts have a start date and a final payment date, and typically every payment due is the same amount (if you have an adjustable mortgage the amount will change after the predetermined period) on the same day of the month, which is most often the first or fifteenth. If you’re having a tough time managing your debt, secured debt should be your priority since it’s your house and car.

Unsecured Debt

Credit cards and personal loans are examples of unsecured debt–there is no security pledged against default. Card companies consider your overall credit health when they issue a credit card, basing your credit limit on your credit score. Your bank may have given you a personal loan based on the same factors.

Credit cards, including individual store cards like Target and Best Buy, are revolving debt–you have a limit on the card, and as long as you pay the debt off or down every month you can keep using the same credit over and over again. Your minimum payment every month depends on your outstanding balance, and that payment is not enough to keep interest from piling up. Lots of people get in financial trouble when they stick to that minimum payment on several cards until their balances creep up over their limits–you should always make more than the minimum payment.

Personal unsecured debts are amortized like car loans–you have the same payment due over a period of months or years. You can’t “re-use” credit as the balance declines, but you can be assured exactly when that debt is paid off.

Other Debts That Can’t Be Discharged

As noted earlier, there are some debts that stay with your forever, or at least until you pay them in full or negotiate some sort of settlement. And these are debts that involve money you owe to or through the government. Here are some examples.

  • Child support and alimony
  • Any fines, penalties, and restitutions for breaking the law
  • Taxes owed to the IRS or the state of Pennsylvania
  • Any money you owe as the result of someone else’s death or injury because you were driving while intoxicated

Bankruptcy will not wipe those debts out, but it can help you pay them in easy monthly installments.

If you do file for either a Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you are still on the hook for these debts. In Chapter 13 you’ll continue to pay then within the plan (through the trustee) and in Chapter 7 you’ll keep paying after the bankruptcy is over.

Student Loan Debt

Student loans have turned out to be crushing debts for many Pennsylvanians, and not just recent graduates. The seismic shift in job opportunities sent many adults back to school after 2008, and they took out loans to finance their re-education. Student loans may be eligible for a bankruptcy discharge if you meet the standards of the Brunner test or the Totality of Circumstance test. For both of these, you need to show undue hardship for your family if you continue to make the payments, and that you have made some good faith effort to repay.

Student loans that were incurred through for-profit, vocational, or trade schools may be eligible for discharge if you can prove they acted in bad faith. Bad faith would be a breach of contract, fraud, or unfair or deceptive business practice.

Take Control Of Your Debt

If you’re using new credit cards to pay off old debt, it’s time to consult one of the attorneys at Cibik & Cataldo. Take a proactive approach to managing your finances before things get out of control and you’re at greater risk of losing your house or car.


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Cibik & Cataldo
1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

What Assets Can You Keep in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?


Financial pressure can sometimes take a toll on daily life. When you can’t get a handle on your finances, starting over may be necessary to reach the road of financial recovery. For some people, filing bankruptcy is an ideal solution. Bankruptcy is a process in which individuals who cannot repay debts to their creditors seek relief from some or all of their debts.

There are various types of bankruptcies that individuals can file. However, the most common types of bankruptcies you might file include chapter 13 and Chapter 7. Chapter 13 Bankruptcy is a repayment plan. It essentially helps individuals to reorganize their debts by making monthly payments on some of their unsecured debts and all of their secured debts. This payment plan is approved by the court. Additionally, it is set up for debtors to pay off their debt between 3 to 5 years.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, however, is known as a liquidation bankruptcy or straight bankruptcy. Out of all bankruptcies, Chapter 7 is the most common among individuals who are having serious financial problems. In this process, a court-appointed trustee is responsible for overseeing the liquidation of your assets. Assets are considered anything that you own that has value. These assets are used to pay off your creditors. If you have any other unsecured debts, it will be erased.

What Assets are Liquidated in Chapter 7?

There are a few nonexempt assets that can be taken if you file Chapter 7. Some of these assets include:

  • Any property that can be sold by the court
  • A second vacation home
  • Additional cars or trucks
  • Cash, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and other investments
  • Family heirlooms
  • Expensive musical instruments (unless the individual is a professional musician)

Who can File for Chapter 7?

In most cases, anyone who owns a property or has permanent residency can file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. However, it’s important to note that there are a few requirements you should be aware of in order to file.

One thing to consider is that if you are filing for consumer bankruptcy, your income must pass the “means test”. The means test was designed to limit the use of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy to only those individuals who can’t pay their debts. This is determined by deducting specific monthly expenses from your current monthly income. The only exception is if you are a qualified disabled veteran or your debts are primarily from the operation of a business.

Another requirement is that you could not have filed bankruptcy previously within a certain period of time. Additionally, you must not be an incorporated entity. It’s important to always be aware that if the courts believe you are cheating creditors, you will be denied Chapter 7.

What Assets can Individuals Keep When they File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

When individuals are considering filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, one of their main concerns is whether their assets will be liquidated and if so, how much of their items will be liquidated. The good news is, Chapter 7 does allow for a few exemptions that may put your mind at ease.

When it comes to Chapter 7, an exemption will determine what assets you get to keep. This can include things such as a home, car, pension, personal belongings, and potentially other property. For instance, if your home is exempt, you will get to remain in your home before and after bankruptcy. However, if your home is nonexempt, the trustee has the right to sell it in order to pay off your unsecured debt.

Exactly how many assets can I protect in Bankruptcy?

How many assets you can protect will depend on the state you live in. Each state has its own rules when it comes to exemptions in bankruptcy. Most states require you to use their state exemptions. With that said, there are 17 states that give you the option to use an exemption system created by Congress. This is called the Federal Bankruptcy Exemption. Please note that you cannot choose two exemptions systems. You must choose one or the other.

Most states and federal bankruptcy do allow you to keep a few of your assets such as a certain amount of equity in your home, along with your personal property. Personal property includes items such as a car and many different retirement accounts. Some states may allow you to keep some wages but this is not likely.

As part of completing your bankruptcy paperwork. You will include all of your property and any exemptions that you claim. It’s important to be aware of potential complications that can occur in your bankruptcy process though. For instance, your car may be part of your exemptions. However, if you have unsecured debt (a car payment), the creditor’s lien on this asset will ensure that the creditor gets paid first.

Let’s take a look at a potential scenario. If you have a vehicle that is worth $15,000 and your state allows you to exempt $10,000. Your car loan will still be $5,000. In this case, the trustee is required to pay the lender the balance of $5,000. This would leave you with an equity of $5,000. These kinds of complications are important to take into account when you consider filing for Chapter 7.

Filing for bankruptcy can be a difficult decision. If you would like to learn more about your bankruptcy options or you would like to know more about how we can help you along your financial journey, contact us today. The trusted bankruptcy lawyers at Cibik & Cataldo have been providing superior, cost-efficient, and value-oriented bankruptcy legal services for over 35 years.

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1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

The 10 Most Common Reasons People File for Bankruptcy


Bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people find themselves on the brink of bankruptcy through no fault of their own. Bankruptcy can affect any person regardless of age, race, education level, and background. You are not alone – many people have been in your shoes and gotten a fresh start. Here are the top 10 reasons why people file for bankruptcy.

Job Loss

When a person loses their job unexpectedly, they take on additional expenses that they didn’t have to worry about before. Even with a comfortable savings account or hefty severance package, unemployment makes things like healthcare and emergency expenses, such as car troubles, even more pricey.

Income Shortage

Even if a person doesn’t lose their job, companies are always looking to cut back on unnecessary expenses. This could mean significant pay decreases and loss of bonuses at the drop of a hat. Employees may resort to dipping into savings accounts or credit cards to make ends meet, but these safety nets can only supplement one’s lifestyle for so long before they are in over their heads.


Poor budgeting, a lack of financial discipline, and spending money that someone doesn’t have, especially on credit cards with high-interest rates, are easy ways to accumulate crippling debt that is difficult to recover from.


To avoid foreclosing on their homes, many Americans have no choice but to file for bankruptcy. When a person has to choose between losing their house or going bankrupt, the choice becomes clear, even if it’s not ideal. Financial burdens are stressful enough without the threat of having your house taken from you.

Utility Costs

Keeping a home warm in the winter and cool in the summer is not cheap. Whether a person rents or owns their home, the expenses that come with heating, air conditioning, and electricity often complicate a person’s finances.


Marital separations are one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy. Divorce can create tremendous financial burdens on both parties, even if the divorce is agreed upon. Between legal fees, dividing assets, child support, alimony, providing for two households instead of one, and any debt that one might become responsible for through their spouse, it’s no wonder why divorce is one of the top reasons people file for bankruptcy.

Unexpected Expenses

Sometimes, life just happens. When it hits you hard, you may not be as prepared as you think you are. Whether someone’s property is burglarized, their car suddenly has complications, or a natural disaster hits their home, unfortunate events happen every day that could suddenly cost a person thousands of dollars.

Credit Debt

Credit cards and personal loans may seem like quick fixes for piling bills and unforeseen expenses, but they prove to be slippery slopes for many Americans. Uncontrolled credit card spending, car installments, and other personal loans are quick avenues into debt that are difficult to recover from. Even if one’s credit card debt isn’t a result of a lack of self-control, but rather from unfortunate circumstances like a job termination, falling too far behind on minimum monthly payments is a sure-fire way to file for bankruptcy. Likewise, home-equity loans can sometimes help keep creditors at bay, however, if these payments go unpaid, they could result in having to foreclose on one’s home.

Student Loans

It’s estimated that 1 percent of all US bankruptcies, or about 15,000 a year, are a result of student debt. While it’s certainly common for people to have some student loan debt in their name even years after graduating, failing to pay it off as quickly as possible can have serious consequences on your financial well-being.

Medical Expenses

Even if a person has great health insurance, a serious illness or injury can easily leave them with a bill totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills. An unexpected diagnosis is the fastest way to clean out retirement, college, and savings accounts and still leave collectors searching for more. The result? Unavoidable bankruptcy.

If you have found yourself in over your head in debt caused by life’s unfortunate circumstances, you are not alone. The trusted bankruptcy lawyers at Cibik & Cataldo have been providing superior, cost-efficient, and value-oriented bankruptcy legal services for over 35 years. Proudly serving the Philadelphia and surrounding areas, our legal team is committed to helping you make well-informed decisions on all of your bankruptcy matters. Contact us today to regain your financial freedom as quickly as possible!

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Cibik & Cataldo
1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

Understanding the Repossession Laws in Pennsylvania


Here at Cibik & Cataldo, we want our clients and those who need answers to their questions, to understand, in layman’s terms, what is going on in their lives. That’s why we work diligently to make what can be quite confusing as understandable as possible. The laws concerning repossession are exceptionally complicated in some cases. Don’t worry! We’re here to help you navigate through this difficult time. 

PA Laws Concerning Creditors and Repossession

If you owe money to a bank, finance enterprise, or a creditor, the credit entity likely has a security interest in some of your property. This security interest is called collateral.

Creditors’ Rights Involving Repossession

A creditor can repossess the personal property (collateral) if he or she does so peacefully. If a creditor arrives at your door to repossess your car, refrigerator, or any other item you have purchased on credit, you have the right to deny him or her access to the property. If a creditor attempts to come into your home or onto your yard, you have the right to tell the creditor he or she cannot do so. However, a lender does not need the owner’s permission to repossess a car that is parked on a public street outside of someone’s home.

If you have restricted the creditor from coming onto your home or yard to repossess the property, the creditor will be obliged to go to court and attempt to get the property back. This action will accrue more costs for the defendant (the party receiving the complaint). The plaintiff is the person bringing the charge against the party who is delinquent in paying.

Unless the defendant has signed a written security agreement that clarifies that repossession will occur if he or she does not pay, legal assistance must take place. If the creditor breaks any of these laws, the defendant has the right to sue the creditor in court.

Is a Warning that Property is in Danger of Being Repossessed Required?

Typically, no warning is necessary before repossession. There are, however, two situations that do require notice before repossession:

Non-Vehicle Personal Property

If you borrowed money to purchase personal property that is not a vehicle (i.e., furniture, outdoor equipment), the creditor must give you a 21-day notice before your property removed. This action provides buyers a chance to catch up with back payments.

Mobile Homes

A written 30-day notice from the creditor must appear before the creditor can repossess your mobile home. This notice gives buyers a chance to catch up with past payments. To further prevent repossession, the buyer must:

  • Pay “back-payments.”
  • Pay late charges
  • Pay up to $50 for the creditor’s attorney fees
  • Acquire insurance for the home (if the contract requires doing so)
  • After 30 days, the buyer may have to pay court costs and attorney’s fees

Let’s Talk about Debt

Since we just mentioned the “written security agreement,” this is an excellent time to discuss the types of debt we see most often.

Unsecured Debt

This type of debt has no assets supporting the debt. It usually occurs in the areas of:

  • Medical bills
  • Credit Cards
  • Old apartment leases, and more

Chapter 7 Cases

If you choose to take care of your debt by filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy agreement, the trustee will gather and sell the debtor’s nonexempt assets and use the money to pay creditors. There is more to this choice that we are happy to assist you with by calling our office for a free consultation.

Chapter 13 Cases

This type of bankruptcy move is known as a “wage earner’s plan.” It allows an individual with a regular income to create a plan for repaying all or part of the debts. This step is also quite complicated, and you will need assistance to follow all the “legalese.”

Secured Debts

Secured debts that occur most often are for vehicles and houses. In these cases, the buyers put up some form of collateral. During the bankruptcy process, the automatic stay will keep creditors from taking the property. After the bankruptcy, you will have to reaffirm the debt to keep your house or vehicle. If you do not, the bank has the authority to keep your property.

No Discharge Debts

These debts include:

  • Student loans
  • Debts obtained fraudulently
  • Child support debts
  • Financial obligations related to a criminal case
  • Some types of IRS debts fall into this category

We want to share with you all we know about repossession. Still, in practically every case, a knowledgeable and experienced attorney will need to be by your side as you navigate what can become something of a maze. 

Tips for Avoiding Repossession

As upsetting as repossession can be, it gives you a chance to reassess how you spend your money and how to stay out of debt. This action can be accomplished by:

  1. Doing all you can to avoid getting in over your head financially
  2. Determining that you make enough each month, even if your salary decreases somewhat, to handle the payments on your vehicle or house
  3. Paying attention to the interest rate on your loan
  4. Letting the creditor know if or when you hit a rocky place with your budget (Creditors are humans. He or she may find a way to give you an extension of time for payment or possibly refinance the entire loan.)
  5. Remember, you will also need enough income to keep up maintenance and repair costs that you must pay regularly.

Contact Cibik & Cataldo

If you are facing foreclosure, bankruptcy, or repossession,  Michael A. Cibik and Michael A. Cataldohave filed over 20,000 personal bankruptcy documents during their 35 of practicing law. When you are looking for legal help in the bankruptcy arena, Cibik & Cataldo offer compassionate and respectful guidance to assist you with what may seem to be problems with no solutions.

If you need assistance and you live in and around Philadelphia, contact the law offices of Cibik and Cataldo today for a free consultation. It’s time to find your way back to financial freedom.

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1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

Should You Reaffirm Your Mortgage When Filing for Bankruptcy?


If you choose to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, one option you may be urged to consider is signing a “reaffirmation” of your obligation to make mortgage payments. You should not make that decision without the advice of your attorney.

Each year, about three-quarters of a million Americans, file under Chapter 7 seeking a fresh financial start and relief from creditor demands. Therefore, it is worth understanding “reaffirmation.” It is an agreement that you can sign—if you choose to do so–during a bankruptcy proceeding. In the reaffirmation, you agree: 

  1. That you realize that a successful bankruptcy “discharge” will free you from the obligation to make payments on your home mortgage, and
  2. That you hereby “reaffirm” your legal obligation to make those payments.

On the face of it, that seems a silly thing to do.  If you win bankruptcy relief from your obligation to make your mortgage payments, why turn right around and “reaffirm” that obligation?  Well, your creditor (the bank or other lending institution holding your mortgage) would like you to do so. But why should you agree?

Choosing Chapter 7

Some background on Chapter 7 may help to clarify the context in which the “reaffirmation” option arises.

Broadly speaking, Chapter 7 is one of two ways that personal bankruptcy works. Under Chapter 7, you liquidate “all” your remaining assets—but with some “exemptions” or exceptions—to pay as much as possible of what you owe your creditors. Under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, you set up an agreed repayment plan, “scheduling” your debt payments to be manageable over time given your expected income.

Almost 70 percent of consumer bankruptcy petitions (or filings) in the federal courts are under Chapter 7. The other 30 percent are under Chapter 13. The overwhelming majority of both types of filings are categorized as “non-business; that is, they mainly involve consumer debt.

The apparent preference of consumers for Chapter 7 may be explained by the speed of the debt relief. You can obtain such relief much more quickly under Chapter 7. By contrast, a Chapter 13 repayment plan can last up to five years.

(By the way, you probably have heard, as well, of Chapter 11 filings.  Corporations, partnerships, and sole proprietorships that desire to remain in business, avoiding liquidation while they go through “reorganization,” often choose Chapter 11.)

If you do consider a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, you should be aware that your petition is not automatically accepted for action by the court. There are certain qualifications that you, the debtor, must meet. Also, you are required to have a trustee assigned to your case; pay various court charges; and provide financial statements such as income-and-expense reports, copies of tax returns, and a list of all property—among other things.

It is imperative to have the assistance of a qualified lawyer as soon as you start considering the possibility of filing for bankruptcy. By the time you actually make a court filing (if that turns out to be your choice), you will have taken many preliminary steps with your lawyer’s advice.

If you are asked to sign a “reaffirmation”

If you are a homeowner filing Chapter 7 (or a husband and wife filing jointly), and “all” your assets are turned over to be liquidated to pay some part of what you owe, your home is not included. It is exempt.

Furthermore, if the court “discharges” you (your filing is successful), you have no obligation to make any more payments on your mortgage.

Does that sound too good to be true? It is. When you arranged for your mortgage with the bank, you entered into not one but two agreements. You signed a promissory note that you would make the scheduled payments on the mortgage loan (home loan). And you agreed to a “lien” on your home, which became the bank’s security in case you defaulted on your payments on the promissory note.

With your successful bankruptcy, the promissory note, per the court, no longer binds you. But the lien is not canceled. Therefore, if you no longer make payments on the mortgage loan, the bank will have recourse to selling your home to pay the mortgage loan.

It often is said that filing under Chapter 13 can “enable you to keep your home.” That means only that if your debt payments are stretched out in a five-year repayment plan, you might thereby be able to make payments to the bank and keep your home.

But under Chapter 7, you also can keep your home. You can keep it if you make your mortgage payments. In order to make those payments, you certainly do not have to sign the “reaffirmation” of your promissory note. You just keep making the payments, when due, but you are not legally obligated to do so. You are doing so because wish to keep your home.

That is why many attorneys wonder why people would want to sign a “reaffirmation.” They can keep making payments on their home if they are able. In addition, they seem to have a definite advantage under one scenario.

If the bank does end up selling your home, and if the sale does not yield all the money required to pay your entire mortgage, the bank would like you to make up the difference. If you and your bank have entered into the “reaffirmation” agreement, then the bank has a legal basis for this: You reaffirmed your promissory note.

If you did not sign the reaffirmation, the bank has no basis for collecting from you the balance of the mortgage not covered by the sale of your home.

This means–to repeat what we said at the outset–there is at least one obvious reason to refuse to sign a reaffirmation. And, finally, be aware that acceptance of your reaffirmation agreement by the court is not automatic. Most judges will ask some tough questions about why you are reaffirming. And some judges don’t sign reaffirmations at all because you don’t need one to keep making your mortgage loan payments.

A reaffirmation is a decision, like many you will face if you elect Chapter 7, to be made only after discussion with your attorney. And, by the way, a reaffirmation, if you decide to make one, can be approved by the judge only at the time you make your court filing. It cannot be approved when your bankruptcy is discharged. Therefore, an affirmation is one of many issues you and your lawyer must discuss as early as possible.

Cibik & Cataldo Can Help

As Philadelphia bankruptcy lawyers, Cibik & Cataldo, P.C. has 35 years of experience providing legal services to thousands of clients in the Philadephia area. We have done so with a strong value orientation and with compassion and respect for clients. Michael A. Cibik, Esq. and Michael A. Cataldo, Esq. are both certified by the American Bankruptcy Certification Board, which means that you have an objective standard of excellence and reliability when you make your choice of legal counsel in financial and bankruptcy matters.

Check back here regularly for information, insights, and updates on all legal aspects of financial and bankruptcy matters.

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Cibik & Cataldo
1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

Can filing for bankruptcy take my social security away?


A major concern for filing bankruptcy is whether your social security funds can be taken from you.  The good news is that social security benefits are exempt and therefore protected in bankruptcy.


This means you can continue to receive ongoing payments as well as payments you received prior to filing for bankruptcy if your social security benefits are in their own account.  If your social security funds are mixed with other funds, you will have to prove that the money came from social security and not from another source, which can be difficult.


Before moving money around, it is best to talk to a lawyer to determine the best steps should take and what type of bankruptcy you should file for.

Michael A. Cibik, Esquire

Michael A. Cibik is a partner at the Philadelphia law firm of Cibik & Cataldo, P.C. He is one of the few bankruptcy attorneys in the Philadelphia area certified by the American Bankruptcy Board.

If you or someone you know is having financial problems, stop worrying and call Michael at (215) 735-1060 for a free consultation.

The post Can filing for bankruptcy take my social security away? appeared first on Cibik & Cataldo.

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Cibik & Cataldo
1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

Will filing bankruptcy eliminate tax debts?


Once you file for bankruptcy, the automatic stay will go into effect. This means that creditors, including the IRS, cannot continue to collect money from you.  After the bankruptcy, the IRS can resume collection unless the debt has been paid in full or discharged.


Some tax debt can be discharged in bankruptcy. You can discharge wage-related income taxes that were due at least three years ago if you filed the related tax returns at least two years ago and the IRS assessment was at least 20 months ago. If you committed fraud or tried to evade paying your taxes, or if you did not file a return, filed late, or the IRS filed a substitute return for you, your taxes may not be eligible for discharge.


If your tax debt cannot be discharged, a chapter 13 bankruptcy plan can help you pay it back over time. Even if you can’t get out of your tax debt, bankruptcy can help you get it under control and behind you.

Michael A. Cibik, Esquire

Michael A. Cibik is a partner at the Philadelphia bankruptcy law firm of Cibik & Cataldo, P.C. He is one of the few bankruptcy attorneys in the Philadelphia area certified by the American Bankruptcy Board.

If you or someone you know is having financial problems, stop worrying and call Michael at (215) 735-1060 for a free consultation.

The post Will filing bankruptcy eliminate tax debts? appeared first on Philadelphia Bankruptcy Lawyers.

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Cibik & Cataldo
1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

Should I file a bankruptcy to delay my foreclosure?


If you fall behind on your mortgage payments, you may be at risk for foreclosure. If you are facing foreclosure, bankruptcy may help. Once you file either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the court will issue an automatic stay. This causes creditors to cease collection from you immediately.


By filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can buy yourself some time because the sale will be legally postponed due to the automatic stay. However, after a few months, the lender will file a motion to lift the automatic stay. At that point, the sale will go forward and you will lose your home.


If you would like to keep your home, then filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a better option. This allows you to pay off the late unpaid payments over a repayment plan, however, you will need enough money to make your current mortgage payment as well as the payment plan amount. If you make all payments throughout the payment plan, you can avoid foreclosure and keep your home.


Ultimately, bankruptcy can delay and even stop foreclosure on your home.

The post Should I file a bankruptcy to delay my foreclosure? appeared first on Philadelphia Bankruptcy Lawyers.

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Cibik & Cataldo
1500 Walnut Street Suite 900
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-1060

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