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The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation

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
separately.

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?
Yes.

(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.

                       

Short Sale Terms

Advertising- (or Publishing)

A copy of the Notice of Foreclosure Sale must be published once a week for four weeks.

Bankruptcy-Chapter 7

Often called a straight bankruptcy-involves the liquidation of all non-exempt by the bankruptcy trustee, who in turn distributes the proceeds to qualified creditors. All dischargeable debts are discharged and the person(s) filing receive a ‘fresh start’.

Bankruptcy-Chapter 13

Often called a debt reorganization. A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy is generally appropriate for those individuals who have non-exempt property they wish to retain and who have enough income to reasonably pay the reorganized debt after covering reasonable living expenses.

Beneficiary

The beneficiary in a foreclosure context is generally the mortgage lender. Frequently referred to as the ‘Benny’.

Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure

The voluntary surrender of property by an owner/borrower to a lien holder that eliminates the need to continue foreclosure action by the lien holder. The lien holder can refuse to accept the Deed in Lieu and file a Notice of Non Acceptance with the County Recorder.

Discounted Payoff

The payoff of a mortgage loan where the lender accepts an amount less than the actual amount owed to payoff the loan.

Equity Deficient

A property is Equity Deficient when, if sold, sales proceeds would not fully pay off existing mortgage debt.

Forbearance Agreement

An agreement between a mortgage holder and a borrower that lays out a specific loan payment plan and puts a stop on the foreclosure action so long as the borrower meets the terms of the agreement. The payment plan includes provisions for repayment to the mortgage holder of all delinquent interest and fees and could include extending the life of the mortgage beyond it's original term. A Forbearance Agreement is a tool that allows the borrower to keep the property.

Judicial Foreclosure

A foreclosure action conducted through the courts instead of through a foreclosure trustee.

Junior Liens

A lien, usually a mortgage loan, that is subordinate to a Senior Lien, usually a first mortgage. Lien priority is generally established by order of recordation . NOTE: if you refinance a 1st mortgage on a property with a 2nd mortgage already in place the new 1st mortgage holder will require a subordination agreement from Junior Lien holders to legally establish the new mortgage holder as 1st or Senior Position.

LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate)

The interest rate charged among banks for short-term Eurodollars loans - LIBOR is a very common index for adjustable rate mortgages (ARM).

Loss Mitigation

Home mortgage lenders look to limit losses on delinquent mortgages by working out solutions with borrowers through their Loss Mitigation Departments.

Mailing

A copy of the Notice of Trustee’s Sale must be mailed (certified and first class) at least 20 days before the foreclosure sale to the borrower and to anyone who was entitled to receive a copy of the Notice of Default and Secretary of State and IRS, if applicable.

NOD

Short for Notice Of Default.

Notice of Default

An official notice filed and recorded by a designated trustee at the request of a lender indicating lender has commenced foreclosure action.

Notice of Trustee Sale

An official notice that is posted, mailed, published/advertised and recorded by trustee at the direction of lender indicating lender’s intention to sell the property at public auction. The notice includes a specific date, time and location.

Posting

A copy of the notice of sale must be posted in a conspicuous place on the property to be sold at least twenty days before the sale. Also, a copy of the notice must be posted at one public place in the city where the property is to be sold at least twenty days before the sale.

Postponement

Trustee Sales may be postponed by the first at the direction of the lien holder. Notice may be given in advance or at the time and location specified for the intended sale.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

A policy of insurance paid for by the borrower to protect the lender in the event the borrower defaults on the mortgage. Typically PMI is required by the mortgage holder when the down payment is less than 20% of the purchase price.

Qualifying Funds

In order to bid at a Trustee Sale bidder must have qualifying funds available at the sale. Qualifying funds are cash or a cashiers check(s) drawn by a State or National Bank, a check(s) drawn by a State or Federal Credit Union or check drawn by a State or Federal Savings and Loan Association, savings association or savings bank specified in section 5102 or the Financial Code and authorized to do business in the State of Florida.

REO

Short for Real Estate Owned. When a mortgage lender acquires a property, typically through foreclosure, it becomes real estate owned – or REO.

Reinstatement

To bring the loan current. Borrower may reinstate up to five (5) business days before foreclosure sale.

Short Sale

The sale of a home which is completed through negotiation with the existing lender(s) in which the lender(s) agrees to accept less than the full amount owed to satisfy the debt allowing the debt to be ‘paid off’, (short).

1099-C

IRS Form 1099-c is issued by those canceling all of part of a debt to the person receiving debt relief.

Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) Program

If you can't afford your mortgage payment and it's time for you to transition to more affordable housing, the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program is designed for you. HAFA provides two options for transitioning out of your mortgage: a short sale or a Deed-in-Lieu (DIL) of foreclosure. In a short sale, the mortgage company lets you sell your house for an amount that falls "short" of the amount you still owe. In a DIL, the mortgage company lets you give the title back, transferring ownership back to them.

In either case, HAFA offers benefits that make the transition as favorable as possible:

  • You can get free advice from HUD-approved housing counselors and licensed real estate professionals.
  • Unlike conventional short sales, a HAFA short sale completely releases you from your mortgage debt after selling the property. This means you will no longer be responsible for the amount that falls "short" of the amount you still owe. The deficiency is guaranteed to be waived by the servicer.
  • In a HAFA short sale, your mortgage company works with you to determine an acceptable sale price.
  • HAFA has a less negative effect on your credit score than foreclosure or conventional short sales.
  • When you close, HAFA provides $3,000 in relocation assistance.

You may be eligible for HAFA if you meet all of the following criteria:

  • You live in the home or have lived there within the last 12 months.
  • You have a documented financial hardship.
  • You have not purchased a new house within the last 12 months.
  • Your first mortgage is less than $729,750.
  • You obtained your mortgage on or before January 1, 2009.
  • You must not have been convicted within the last 10 years of felony larceny, theft, fraud, forgery, money laundering or tax evasion in connection with a mortgage or real estate transaction.

*HAFASM is available for mortgages that are owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (see Look Up Tools) or serviced by over 100 HAMPSMparticipating mortgage servicers.

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