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 2014


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."


Get every deduction you deserve

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

Start for Free

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 2014).

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 2014.

Extension of the Mortgage Debt Relief Act

At the time of publication, provisions for principal residence exclusions under the Mortgage Debt Relief Act expired with the 2014 tax year. The Act initially covered a three-year period between 2007 and 2010, but was extended three time, to 2012, 2013, and then to 2014.

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.

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.

* Important Offer Details and Disclosures
  • Try for Free/Pay When You File: TurboTax Online pricing is based on your tax situation and varies by product. Actual prices are determined at the time of print or e-file and are subject to change without notice.
  • TurboTax CD/Download products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal efile of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees apply for efiling state returns. E-file fees do not apply to New York state returns. Prices subject to change without notice.
  • TurboTax Mobile: Actual prices are determined at the time of print or efile and are subject to change without notice. Come back here before you file to confirm that the price has not changed, especially if it's been a while since you downloaded this app.
  • Anytime, anywhere: Internet access required; standard message and data rates apply to download and use mobile app features and content. TurboTax mobile app devices supported include Android 4.1 and above, iOS 8 on iPhone 4s and above, and iPad 2.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with efile and direct deposit; tax refund timeframes will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: A $34.99 Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.
  • About our TurboTax Product Experts: Customer service and product support (phone or chat) vary by time of year. Phone support not included with Free Edition.
  • About our credentialed tax experts: Live tax advice service is available for your toughest tax questions; fees may apply. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice. Click here for full terms and conditions. Not available for TurboTax Business customers.
  • Get up to 10% on top of your federal refund: Amazon.com Gift Card offer is for federal refunds only. Limits apply ($2000 per e-card, maximum $10,000 per customer). Offer available only for TurboTax Online (except Federal Free Edition) or CD/download versions sold and shipped, or downloaded directly from Intuit or Amazon. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards cannot be canceled, transferred for value or redeemed for cash.

    Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ('GCs') cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2013 TurboTax products.
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars: Average based on customer ratings on TurboTax.com for TurboTax Online and CD/download products tax year 2014, as of January 2015.
  • Most Popular: TurboTax Deluxe is our most popular product among TurboTax Online users with more complex tax situations.
  • TurboTax CD/Download priority phone support: Priority phone support for TurboTax CD/Download Premier and Home & Business is accessible exclusively via the TurboTax.com Help Center.
  • Benefit Assist: After you file, TurboTax automatically shows you a full list of government benefits you may qualify for, like Food Stamps or reduced phone & utilities. Plus, we help you apply, saving you time and making it easier than ever to get more money! Estimate based on calculation of Benefit Assist users from tax year 2013 and published reports of average benefit and savings amounts from federal and state programs. Actual amounts and qualifications based on your individual situation; some individuals will not qualify. Feature may not be available for all customers.
  • Simplified State Experience: New, simplified state tax preparation available for most filers.
  • Eligibility for $25 cash back for returning Deluxe customers: Customers who have completed their 2013 taxes in TurboTax Deluxe (CD or download), and have completed their 2014 taxes in either TurboTax Premier or TurboTax Home & Business (CD or download), and apply here before 11:59PM PDT April 20, 2015, are eligible for $25 back. 2014 TurboTax Advantage users are ineligible for this offer. Terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.
  • $0 Upgrade Offer: Valid for customers who filed their 2013 taxes with TurboTax Deluxe (CD or download), completed prior year data transfer this year, and encounter an upgrade to either 2014 TurboTax Premier or 2014 TurboTax Home & Business (CD or download). Valid February 6, 2015 through April 20, 2015. TurboTax Advantage users are ineligible for this offer. This offer may not be combined with our $25 cash back offer. Terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.