TurboTax / Tax Calculators & Tips / All Tax Guides / Home Ownership / How to Avoid Taxes on Canceled Mortgage Debt

How to Avoid Taxes on Canceled Mortgage Debt

Updated for Tax Year 2016


OVERVIEW

"The Internal Revenue Service considers most cancelled debts as income for the recipient. The amount of a loan or mortgage forgiven by a lender is taxed as though the borrower earned that amount as income," says Cappy Pearson, tax preparation specialist. "However, the Mortgage Debt Relief Act does allow an exemption for certain mortgage or foreclosure situations."


Adding forgiven debts to income

If your forgiven debt is subject to taxation, you will usually receive a form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, from the lender, showing the amount of canceled debt. You’ll file the 1099-C with your federal tax return, and the amount of canceled debt is added to your gross income.

There are, however, exceptions and exclusions that may save you from the requirement to report canceled debt as part of your income.

Exceptions and exclusions

Not all canceled debt is subject to income tax. The IRS recognizes both exceptions to canceled debt rules as well as amounts that are excluded from gross income due to their origin.
Exceptions include:

  • Gifts, bequests or inheritances
  • Some qualified student loans
  • Any debt that, had it been paid, would have been a deductible item for the borrower
  • A qualified reduction in price offered by a seller
  • Certain payments on the balance of a mortgage under the Home Affordable Modification Program

When a loan is secured by property, such as a mortgage where the home and land stand as collateral, and the lender takes the property as full or partial settlement of the debt, it is considered a sale for tax purposes, not a forgiven debt. In that case, you may need to report capital gains or losses on the “sale” of the property, but you will not need to add forgiven debt to your income.
Exclusions include:

  • Debt canceled in a Title 11 bankruptcy or during insolvency
  • Canceled qualified farm debt
  • Canceled qualified real property business debt
  • Principal residence indebtedness under terms of the Mortgage Debt Relief Act (2007 through 2016). This can also apply to debt that is discharged in 2017 provided that there was a written agreement entered into in 2016.

If you claim an exclusion, you can’t claim tax credits or capital losses or otherwise improve your tax situation using the excluded property.

The Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007

Applying only to your principal residence, the Mortgage Debt Relief Act excluded as income any debt discharge up to $2 million. Provisions of the Act applied to most homeowners, and it included partial debt relief gained through mortgage restructuring as well as full foreclosure. Refinancing was also allowed, but only up to the amount of principal balance of the original mortgage.

The Act also covered loans and subsequent debt forgiveness for amounts borrowed to substantially improve a principal residence. You cannot use provisions of the Act for other canceled debts, and the relieved debt must be secured by the principal residence property. The Act covered debt forgiven within the calendar years of 2007 to 2016. This can also apply to debt that is discharged in 2017 provided that there was a written agreement entered into in 2016.

Extension of the Mortgage Debt Relief Act

The Act initially covered a three-year period between 2007 and 2010, but was extended four times, to 2012, 2013, 2014 and then to 2016. This can also apply to debt that is discharged in 2017 provided that there was a written agreement entered into in 2016.

Another way around the tax bite

If you’re not covered by the special tax break for principal residences described above, there are two very important exceptions to the “cancelled debt = taxable income” rule.

The cancelled debt is not income, even if you receive a Form 1099-C, if

  1. You received the cancelled debt due to bankruptcy filing, or
  2. To the extent you are insolvent immediately before the cancellation of the debt.

Insolvency means your debts exceed the value of all your assets. You can exclude cancelled debt from income up to the amount that you are insolvent. For example, if you had assets of $80,000 and debt of $100,000, you are considered to insolvent by $20,000. If you had $30,000 in debt cancelled at this time of insolvency, you would have to include only $10,000 ($30,000 minus $20,000) in your income.

Cancelled debt can be a challenging tax situation especially during hard financial times. TurboTax will guide you through the cancelled debt maze, including the new legislation, and help minimize the pain from in these tough situations.

Get every deduction you deserve

TurboTax Deluxe searches more than 350 tax deductions and credits so you get your maximum refund, guaranteed.

For only $54.99$34.99*
Start for Free

Looking for more information?

The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.


Security is built into everything we do
Here's how
* Important Offer Details and Disclosures
  • TURBOTAX ONLINE/MOBILE

  • Try for Free/Pay When You File: TurboTax online and mobile pricing is based on your tax situation and varies by product. Free 1040EZ/1040A + Free State offer only available with TurboTax Federal Free Edition; Offer may change or end at any time without notice. Actual prices are determined at the time of print or e-file and are subject to change without notice. Savings and price comparisons based on anticipated price increase expected in March. Special discount offers may not be valid for mobile in-app purchases.
  • TurboTax Self-Employed ExpenseFinder: ExpenseFinder™ is available year round as a feature of QuickBooks Self-Employed (available with TurboTax Self-Employed, see the “QuickBooks Self-Employed Offer with TurboTax Self-Employed” details below.) ExpenseFinder™ expected late January (late February for mobile app). ExpenseFinder™ not available from within TurboTax Self-Employed for people with certain types of expenses and tax situations including paying contractors or employees, home office or vehicle actuals, inventory, self employed health insurance or retirement, asset depreciation, sale of property or vehicles, and farm income. Availability of historical transactions for import may vary by financial institution. Not available for all financial institutions or all credit cards.
  • QuickBooks Self-Employed Offer: File your 2016 TurboTax Self-Employed return by 4/18/17 and receive your complimentary subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed until 4/30/18. Activation required. Log in to QuickBooks Self-Employed by 7/15/17 via mobile app or at https://selfemployed.intuit.com/turbotax; e-mail address used for activation and log-in. Offer valid only for new QuickBooks Self-Employed customers. See QuickBooks.com for price comparison.
    • When you use TurboTax Self-Employed to file your 2017 taxes, you will have the option to renew your QuickBooks Self-Employed subscription. If you do not file with TurboTax Self-Employed by 4/18/18, you will have the option of renewing your QuickBooks Self-Employed subscription by 4/30/18 for another year at the then-current annual subscription rate. You may cancel your subscription at any time from within the QuickBooks Self-Employed billing section.
  • Pays for itself: In order to pay for the price of TurboTax Self-Employed, you will need at least $600 in deductible business expenses. This calculation is based on the self-employment tax income rate for tax year 2016.
  • Anytime, anywhere: Internet access required; standard message and data rates apply to download and use mobile app.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.
  • TurboTax Expert Help, Tax Advice and SmartLook: Included with Deluxe, Premier and Self-Employed (via phone or SmartLook); not included with Federal Free Edition. Feature availability varies by device. State tax advice is free. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2015 TurboTax products.
  • Most Popular: TurboTax Deluxe is our most popular product among TurboTax Online users with more complex tax situations.
  • CompleteCheck: Covered under the TurboTax accurate calculations and maximum refund guarantees.
  • TURBOTAX CD/DOWNLOAD SOFTWARE

  • TurboTax CD/Download products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal e-file of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees apply for e-filing state returns. E-file fees do not apply to New York state returns. Savings and price comparison based on anticipated price increase expected in March. Prices subject to change without notice.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice. This benefit is available with TurboTax Federal products except TurboTax Business.
  • About our TurboTax Product Experts: Customer service and product support vary by time of year.
  • About our credentialed tax experts: Live tax advice via phone is included with Premier and Home & Business; fees apply for Basic and Deluxe customers. State tax advice is free. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice. Not available for TurboTax Business customers.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2015 TurboTax products.
  • Data Import: Imports financial data from participating companies. Quicken and QuickBooks import not available with TurboTax installed on a Mac. Imports from Quicken (2015 and higher) and QuickBooks Desktop (2011 and higher); both Windows only. Quicken import not available for TurboTax Business. Quicken products provided by Quicken Inc., Quicken import subject to change.