Important Federal tax break for some homeowners set to expire this year
For the last five years, the federal government has given tax breaks to distressed homeowners who work out a deal with their lender to reduce or release mortgage debt. But unless members of Congress agree to an extension, starting next year any break you get on your mortgage debt will be considered taxable income.
In distressed mortgage situations like we’re seeing across the country, the lender’s financial loss is considered a financial benefit to the homeowner who gets out of paying their full debt. In a short sale for example, where your mortgage balance is $300,000 and your home sells for $240,000, the outstanding balance of $60,000 is considered forgiven debt and would ordinarily be ruled taxable income.
But since 2007, under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, forgiven debt has been tax free. That’s set to change after the end of this year.
“As it stands, mortgage debt that’s forgiven is not going to be treated as taxable income here in 2012,” said Greg McBride of Bankrate.com. “But, it remains to be seen whether that’s going to be continued into 2013 or not.”
McBride advises anyone facing a distressed mortgage situation to get things worked out before the end of the year, in case the federal tax break is not extended so you’re not caught by surprise.
What qualifies for the income tax break? Short sales, loan modifications, deed in lieu transactions — where you turn your home over to the bank — and in many cases, foreclosure. Just keep in mind the Debt Relief Act only applies to principle residences. No rental property or second homes.
And don’t even think about getting a break on canceled credit card debt or other consumer loans.
“For somebody who is currently going through some sort of program where they’re having debt that’s forgiven, if it’s not real estate debt, there’s a real good chance you’re going to get a 1099 form at the end of the year that says you now have to pay taxes on whatever debt was forgiven, because it’s treated as income,” McBride explained.
The U.S. Treasury Department is urging mortgage services to put pressure on Congress to extend the tax break. President Obama’s proposal calls for an extension into 2015, but right now, there’s no guarantee.
Think you may not make it in time? Read this post.