Debt: Gone But Not Forgotten by the IRS

With the ups and downs of our economy over the last 2 years, you may have had a loan or credit card balance forgiven or cancelled by a financial institution. You would think that the cancellation of debt by a credit card company or mortgage company would be a good thing for you and your family. And it can be, but it can also be considered taxable income by the IRS. Here is a quick review of various debt cancellation situations.

  • Consumer debt. If you have gone through some type of credit workout program on consumer debt, it’s likely that some of your debt has been cancelled. If that is the case, be prepared to receive IRS Form 1099-C representing the amount of debt cancelled. The IRS considers that amount taxable income to you, and they expect to see it reported on your tax return. The exception is if you file for bankruptcy. With bankruptcy, generally the debt cancelled is not taxable.Even if you are not legally bankrupt, you might be technically insolvent where your liabilities exceed your assets. If this is the case, you can exclude your debt cancellation income by reporting your financial condition and filing IRS Form 982 with your tax return.
  • Primary home. If your home is short sold or foreclosed and the lender receives less than the total amount of the outstanding loan, expect that amount of debt cancellation to be reported to you and the IRS. But special rules allow you to exclude up to $2 million in cancellation income in many circumstances. You will again need to complete IRS Form 982, but the exclusion from taxable income brought about by the debt cancellation on your primary residence is incredibly liberal. So make sure to take advantage of these rules should they apply to you.
  • Student loans. If your school closes while enrolled or soon after you withdraw, you may be eligible to discharge your federal student loan and not include the forgiven amount as taxable income. You also may be eligible to exclude from taxable income any student loans discharged due to your school misleading you or engaging in other misconduct in violation of certain state laws.
  • Second home, rental property, investment property, business property. The rules for debt cancellation on second homes, rental property, and investment or business property can be extremely complicated. Given your cost of these properties, your financial condition, and the amount of debt cancelled, it’s still possible to have this debt cancellation income taxed at a preferred capital gains rate, or even considered not taxable at all.

Please call if you have questions about how a cancellation of debt situation applies to you.

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