If you owe a debt to someone else and they cancel or forgive that debt, the canceled amount may be taxable.
The Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 generally allows taxpayers to exclude income from the discharge of debt on their principal residence. Debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in connection with a foreclosure, qualifies for the relief.
This provision applies to debt forgiven in calendar years 2007 through 2012. Up to $2 million of forgiven debt is eligible for this exclusion ($1 million if married filing separately). The exclusion does not apply if the discharge is due to services performed for the lender or any other reason not directly related to a decline in the home’s value or the taxpayer’s financial condition.
More information, including detailed examples can be found in Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments. Also see IRS news release IR-2008-17.
The following are the most commonly asked questions and answers about The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and debt cancellation:
What is Cancellation of Debt?
If you borrow money from a commercial lender and the lender later cancels or forgives the debt, you may have to include the cancelled amount in income for tax purposes, depending on the circumstances. When you borrowed the money you were not required to include the loan proceeds in income because you had an obligation to repay the lender. When that obligation is subsequently forgiven, the amount you received as loan proceeds is normally reportable as income because you no longer have an obligation to repay the lender. The lender is usually required to report the amount of the canceled debt to you and the IRS on a Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt.
Here’s a very simplified example. You borrow $10,000 and default on the loan after paying back $2,000. If the lender is unable to collect the remaining debt from you, there is a cancellation of debt of $8,000, which generally is taxable income to you.
Is Cancellation of Debt income always taxable?
Not always. There are some exceptions. The most common situations when cancellation of debt income is not taxable involve:
- Qualified principal residence indebtedness: This is the exception created by the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 and applies to most homeowners.
- Bankruptcy: Debts discharged through bankruptcy are not considered taxable income.
- Insolvency: If you are insolvent when the debt is cancelled, some or all of the cancelled debt may not be taxable to you. You are insolvent when your total debts are more than the fair market value of your total assets.
- Certain farm debts: If you incurred the debt directly in operation of a farm, more than half your income from the prior three years was from farming, and the loan was owed to a person or agency regularly engaged in lending, your cancelled debt is generally not considered taxable income.
- Non-recourse loans: A non-recourse loan is a loan for which the lender’s only remedy in case of default is to repossess the property being financed or used as collateral. That is, the lender cannot pursue you personally in case of default. Forgiveness of a non-recourse loan resulting from a foreclosure does not result in cancellation of debt income. However, it may result in other tax consequences.
These exceptions are discussed in detail in Publication 4681.
What is the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007?
The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 was enacted on December 20, 2007 (see News Release IR-2008-17). Generally, the Act allows exclusion of income realized as a result of modification of the terms of the mortgage, or foreclosure on your principal residence.
What does exclusion of income mean?
Normally, debt that is forgiven or cancelled by a lender must be included as income on your tax return and is taxable. But the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act allows you to exclude certain cancelled debt on your principal residence from income. Debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in connection with a foreclosure, qualifies for the relief.
Does the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act apply to all forgiven or cancelled debts?
No. The Act applies only to forgiven or cancelled debt used to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence, or to refinance debt incurred for those purposes. In addition, the debt must be secured by the home. This is known as qualified principal residence indebtedness. The maximum amount you can treat as qualified principal residence indebtedness is $2 million or $1 million if married filing
Does the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act apply to debt incurred to refinance a home?
Debt used to refinance your home qualifies for this exclusion, but only to the extent that the principal balance of the old mortgage, immediately before the refinancing, would have qualified. For more information, including an example, see Publication 4681.
How long is this special relief in effect?
It applies to qualified principal residence indebtedness forgiven in calendar years 2007 through 2012.
Is there a limit on the amount of forgiven qualified principal residence indebtedness that can be excluded from income?
The maximum amount you can treat as qualified principal residence indebtedness is $2 million ($1 million if married filing separately for the tax year), at the time the loan was forgiven. If the balance was greater, see the instructions to Form 982 and the detailed example in Publication 4681.
If the forgiven debt is excluded from income, do I have to report it on my tax return?
Yes. The amount of debt forgiven must be reported on Form 982 and this form must be attached to your tax return.
Do I have to complete the entire Form 982?
No. Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness (and Section 1082 Adjustment), is used for other purposes in addition to reporting the exclusion of forgiveness of qualified principal residence indebtedness. If you are using the form only to report the exclusion of forgiveness of qualified principal residence indebtedness as the result of foreclosure on your principal residence, you only need to complete lines 1e and 2. If you kept ownership of your home and modification of the terms of your mortgage resulted in the forgiveness of qualified principal residence indebtedness, complete lines 1e, 2, and 10b. Attach the Form 982 to your tax return.
Where can I get this form?
If you use a computer to fill out your return, check your tax-preparation software. You can also download the form at IRS.gov, or call 1-800-829-3676. If you call to order, please allow 7-10 days for delivery.
How do I know or find out how much debt was forgiven?
Your lender should send a Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, by February 2, 2009. The amount of debt forgiven or cancelled will be shown in box 2. If this debt is all qualified principal residence indebtedness, the amount shown in box 2 will generally be the amount that you enter on lines 2 and 10b, if applicable, on Form 982.
Can I exclude debt forgiven on my second home, credit card or car loans?
Not under this provision. Only cancelled debt used to buy, build or improve your principal residence or refinance debt incurred for those purposes qualifies for this exclusion. See Publication 4681 for further details.
If part of the forgiven debt doesn't qualify for exclusion from income under this provision, is it possible that it may qualify for exclusion under a different provision?
Yes. The forgiven debt may qualify under the insolvency exclusion. Normally, you are not required to include forgiven debts in income to the extent that you are insolvent. You are insolvent when your total liabilities exceed your total assets. The forgiven debt may also qualify for exclusion if the debt was discharged in a Title 11 bankruptcy proceeding or if the debt is qualified farm indebtedness or qualified real property business indebtedness. If you believe you qualify for any of these exceptions, see the instructions for Form 982. Publication 4681 discusses each of these exceptions and includes examples.