If a lender cancels part or all of a debt, a taxpayer must generally consider this as income. However, the law allows an exclusion that may apply to homeowners who had their mortgage debt canceled in 2016.
Here are 10 tips about debt cancellation:
- Main Home. If the canceled debt was a loan on a taxpayer’s main home, they may be able to exclude the canceled amount from their income. They must have used the loan to buy, build or substantially improve their main home to qualify. Their main home must also secure the mortgage.
- Loan Modification. If a taxpayer’s lender canceled or reduced part of their mortgage balance through a loan modification or ‘workout,’ the taxpayer may be able to exclude that amount from their income. They may also be able to exclude debt discharged as part of the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. The exclusion may also apply to the amount of debt canceled in a foreclosure.
- Refinanced Mortgage. The exclusion may apply to amounts canceled on a refinanced mortgage. This applies only if the taxpayer used proceeds from the refinancing to buy, build or substantially improve their main home and only up to the amount of the old mortgage principal just before refinancing. Amounts used for other purposes do not qualify.
- Other Canceled Debt. Other types of canceled debt such as second homes, rental and business property, credit card debt or car loans do not qualify for this special exclusion. On the other hand, there are other rules that may allow those types of canceled debts to be nontaxable.
- Form 1099-C. If a lender reduced or canceled at least $600 of a taxpayer’s debt, the taxpayer should receive Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, by Feb. 1. This form shows the amount of canceled debt and other information.
- Form 982. If a taxpayer qualifies, report the excluded debt on Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness. They should file the form with their income tax return.
- IRS.gov Tool. Taxpayers should use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool - Do I Have Cancellation of Debt Income on My Personal Residence? - on IRS.gov to find out if their canceled mortgage debt is taxable.
- Exclusion Extended. The law that authorized the exclusion of cancelled debt from income was extended through Dec. 31, 2016.
- IRS Free File. IRS e-file is fastest, safest and easiest way to file. Taxpayers can use IRS Free File to e-file their tax return for free. If they earned $64,000 or less, they can use brand name tax software. The software does the math and completes the right forms for them. If they earned more than $64,000, they can use Free File Fillable Forms. This option uses electronic versions of IRS paper forms. It is best for those who are used to doing their own taxes. Free File is available only on IRS.gov/freefile.
- More Information. For more on this topic see Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions and Abandonments.
Taxpayers should keep a copy of their tax return. Beginning in 2017, taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount from their prior-year tax return to verify their identity. Taxpayers can learn more about how to verify their identity and electronically sign tax returns at Validating Your Electronically Filed Tax Return.
Additional IRS Resources: