|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.
I lost money on the foreclosure of my home. Can I claim a loss on my tax return?
No. Losses from the sale or foreclosure of personal property are not deductible.
If I sold my home at a loss and the remaining loan is forgiven, does this constitute a cancellation of debt?
Yes. To the extent that a loan from a lender is not fully satisfied and a lender cancels the unsatisfied debt, you have cancellation of indebtedness income. If the amount forgiven or canceled is $600 or more, the lender must generally issue Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, showing the amount of debt canceled. However, you may be able to exclude part or all of this income if the debt was qualified principal residence indebtedness, you were insolvent immediately before the discharge, or if the debt was canceled in a title 11 bankruptcy case. An exclusion is also available for the cancellation of certain nonbusiness debts of a qualified individual as a result of a disaster in a Midwestern disaster area. See Form 982 for details.
If the remaining balance owed on my mortgage loan that I was personally liable for was canceled after my foreclosure, may I still exclude the canceled debt from income under the qualified principal residence exclusion, even though I no longer own my residence?
Yes, as long as the canceled debt was qualified principal residence indebtedness. See Example 2 on page 13 of Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments.
Will I receive notification of cancellation of debt from my lender?
Yes. Lenders are required to send Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, when they cancel any debt of $600 or more. The amount cancelled will be in box 2 of the form.
What if I disagree with the amount in box 2?
Contact your lender to work out any discrepancies and have the lender issue a corrected Form 1099-C.
How do I report the forgiveness of debt that is excluded from gross income?
(1) Check the appropriate box under line 1 on Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness (and Section 1082 Basis Adjustment) to indicate the type of discharge of indebtedness and enter the amount of the discharged debt excluded from gross income on line 2. Any remaining canceled debt must be included as income on your tax return.
(2) File Form 982 with your tax return.
My student loan was cancelled; will this result in taxable income?
In some cases, yes. Your student loan cancellation will not result in taxable income if you agreed to a loan provision requiring you to work in a certain profession for a specified period of time, and you fulfilled this obligation.
Are there other conditions I should know about to exclude the cancellation of student debt?
Yes, your student loan must have been made by:
(a) the federal government, or a state or local government or subdivision;
(b) a tax-exempt public benefit corporation which has control of a state, county or municipal hospital where the employees are considered public employees; or
(c) a school which has a program to encourage students to work in underserved occupations or areas, and has an agreement with one of the above to fund the program, under the direction of a governmental unit or a charitable or educational organization.
Can I exclude cancellation of credit card debt?
In some cases, yes. Nonbusiness credit card debt cancellation can be excluded from income if the cancellation occurred in a title 11 bankruptcy case, or to the extent you were insolvent just before the cancellation. See the examples in Publication 4681.
How do I know if I was insolvent?
You are insolvent when your total debts exceed the total fair market value of all of your assets. Assets include everything you own, e.g., your car, house, condominium, furniture, life insurance policies, stocks, other investments, or your pension and other retirement accounts.
How should I report the information and items needed to prove insolvency?
Use Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness (and Section 1082 Basis Adjustment) to exclude canceled debt from income to the extent you were insolvent immediately before the cancellation. You were insolvent to the extent that your liabilities exceeded the fair market value of your assets immediately before the cancellation.
To claim this exclusion, you must attach Form 982 to your federal income tax return. Check box 1b on Form 982, and, on line 2, include the smaller of the amount of the debt canceled or the amount by which you were insolvent immediately prior to the cancellation. You must also reduce your tax attributes in Part II of Form 982.
My car was repossessed and I received a 1099-C; can I exclude this amount on my tax return?
Only if the cancellation happened in a title 11 bankruptcy case, or to the extent you were insolvent just before the cancellation. See Publication 4681 for examples.
Are there any publications I can read for more information?
(1) Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments (for Individuals) is new and addresses in a single document the tax consequences of cancellation of debt issues.
(2) See the IRS news release IR-2008-17 with additional questions and answers on IRS.gov.
Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Extended – Updated 04/13/10 FOR CALIFORNIA
On April 12, 2010, SB 401, the Conformity Act of 2010 was enacted. It allows taxpayers who had all or part of the loan balance on their principal residence forgiven by their lender to exclude the forgiven debt from California gross income. The new law applies to discharges of qualified principal residence indebtedness on or after January 1, 2009, and before January 1, 2013.
New law – Taxable years 2009 through 2012
California law conforms, with modifications, to federal mortgage forgiveness debt relief for discharges that occurred in tax years 2007 through December 31, 2012. The amount of qualifying indebtedness is less than the federal amount and California imposes a state-only limitation on the total amount of relief excluded from gross income. The following summarizes the differences between the federal and California provisions. Federal provision applies to discharges occurring in 2007 through 2012, and:
- Limits the amount of qualified principal residence indebtedness to $2,000,000 for taxpayers who file as married filing jointly, single, head of household, or widow/widower, and to $1,000,000 for taxpayers who file as married filing separately.
- Does not limit the debt relief amount; it only limits the indebtedness amount used to calculate the debt relief amount.
- See the federal law Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation for more information.
California provision applies to discharges that occurred in 2007 through 2012, and:
Taxable years 2009 through 2012
- Limits the amount of qualified principal residence indebtedness to $800,000 for taxpayers who file as married/registered domestic partners (RDP) filing jointly, single, head of household, or widow/widower, and to $400,000 for taxpayers who file as married/RDP filing separately.
- Limits debt relief to $500,000 for taxpayers who file as married/RDP filing jointly, single, head of household, or widow/widower, and to $250,000 for taxpayers who file as married/RDP filing separately.
Taxable years 2007 and 2008
- Limited the amount of qualified principal residence indebtedness to $800,000 for taxpayers who file as married/(RDP) filing jointly, single, head of household, or widow/widower, and to $400,000 for taxpayers who file as married/RDP filing separately.
- Limited debt relief to $250,000 for taxpayers who file as married/RDP filing jointly, single, head of household, or widow/widower, and to $125,000 for taxpayers who file as married/RDP filing separately.
How to File
Form 540 – Claiming mortgage forgiveness debt relief on an original tax return
You can file for debt relief on your original Form 540, California Resident Income Tax Return, or Form 540NR, California Nonresident or Part-Year Resident Income Tax Return.
If the amount of debt relief for federal purposes is the same as or less than the California limit, then no adjustment is necessary on Schedule CA (540/540NR).
If the amount of debt relief for federal purposes is more than the California limit, include the amount in excess of the California limit on Schedule CA (540/540NR) line 21f, column C.
You must include a copy of your federal return, including Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness (and Section 1082 Basis Adjustment), with your original California tax return. There is no similar California form.
Form 540X – Claiming mortgage forgiveness debt relief for a previously-filed tax return
If you already filed your tax return, file a Form 540X, Amended Individual Income Tax Return, in order to claim debt relief.
If the amount of debt relief for federal purposes is the same as or less than the California limit(s), an adjustment to income is no longer necessary on Schedule CA (540/540NR). On Form 540X, simply enter on line 2e, column B, the amount originally entered on Schedule CA (540/540NR) line 21f, column C.
If the amount of debt relief for federal purposes is more than the California limit(s), complete a new Schedule CA (540/540NR) and revise the amount originally reported on line 21f, column C, attributed to federal mortgage forgiveness debt relief, to the amount in excess of the California limit. Complete Form 540X following the instructions for that form and enter on line 2e, column B the difference from the original Schedule CA (540/540NR), line 21f, column C, less the amount from the revised Schedule CA (540 or 540NR), line 21f, column C.
When filing Form 540X, write “Mortgage Debt Relief” in red across the top of your amended tax return.
Cancellation of Debt
Generally, if you have property that is used as security for a debt and that property is taken by the lender (foreclosed) in full or partial satisfaction of the debt, you are treated as having sold the property.1 This may generate either a gain or a loss, and in some cases cancellation of debt (COD) income. A mortgage restructuring (such as reduction in principal), that reduced your debt may also generate COD income.
In the wake of the 2007 American housing market collapse and subsequent mortgage crisis, the U.S. Congress enacted the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 (P.L. 110 142) and Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-343).
These Acts include provisions under federal law that, subject to certain conditions, that allows taxpayers to exclude from their federal taxable income the discharge of debt on their principal residence (COD income) that they would otherwise have been required to report (2007 through 2012).2 The special federal rules relating to qualified principal residence apply to debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as to mortgage debt forgiven in connection with a foreclosure.
Property other than principal residence
The federal Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act only provides for the exclusion of COD income relating to qualified principal residence. If you have COD income as the result of a foreclosure on other property, such as a second (vacation) home, rental, or other business property, you may still be able to exclude COD income under other provisions if:
- You were bankrupt when the discharge occurred (Title 11 discharge).
- You were insolvent (limited to level of insolvency).
- Qualified farm indebtedness was canceled.
- Debt was Qualified Real Property Business Indebtedness (QRPBI)3 and you make a federal election.
If more than one of these exceptions applies, they are applied in the above order.4
For more information, see IRS Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments. The IRS Publication 4681 has a worksheet that can be used to help calculate the extent to which a taxpayer is insolvent immediately before the cancellation.
1Refer to the February 2010 Tax News article California Code of Civil Procedures and Foreclosure for more information regarding how California Civil Procedure Code (CCP) Sections interact with IRC Section 108.
2Federal law initially applied to discharges occurring from 2007 through 2009 (the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, Public Law 110-142, December 20, 2007). Federal mortgage forgiveness debt relief was subsequently extended to apply to discharges occurring from 2009 through 2012 (the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, Public Law 111-5, October 3, 2008).
3The taxpayer cannot be a C corporation to use this exclusion.
4IRC section 108(a)(2).