It’s no secret that millions of Americans are in debt. If you borrow money from a lender and sign the dotted line on a legal document obliging you to pay it back, you have debt. The total amount of credit card debt alone is about $764 billion, while student loans have reached a total of $1.34 trillion. If you’re burdened under a pile of debt, whether it be from car loans, mortgages, credit cards, or student loans, there are many just like you trying to reach financial freedom. Thousands who face debt may find it difficult to make ends meet, but our tax professionals at Community Tax have worked with many to help ease their debt concerns.
Debt among Americans is growing for a number of reasons. Unlike the generations before us, the cost of living is increasing at a staggering rate faster than the growth of the median income. Medical, housing, and education costs are just a few of the expenses that take a big bite out of our bank accounts. For many, it becomes difficult to make it through without relying on more credit.
It may seem like a vicious cycle, and it certainly can be. Without the expert advice of financial advisors and tax professionals, getting out of debt and reaching financial freedom may feel like an impossible task. This is how many people get their debt cancelled.
What is a Cancellation of Debt?
For some people, their debt is so large compared to their income that they can’t pay it off without undergoing extreme financial hardship. In this case, it may be in the borrower’s best interest to negotiate a debt cancellation with their lender—but this doesn’t come without a tax bill. If your lender forgives or gives up your debt cancellation, you will likely have to include the cancelled debt amount in your income for tax purposes, depending on your circumstance. This is because when you took out the private loan you didn’t have to include the loan proceeds in your income because your responsibility was to the lender. When your lender forgives this responsibility, you’re then obliged to pay back the loan proceeds. Your lender will usually report the amount of your remaining canceled debt to both you and the IRS on what’s called a form 1099-C, or Cancellation of Debt.
What is a 1099-C?
There are different kinds of 1099s depending on what kind of debt is being addressed. The 1099-B is for broker transactions and barter exchanges; the 1099-DIV is for dividends; the 1099-S is for real estate transactions; the 1099-G is for state and local tax refunds and unemployment benefits; the 1099-INT is for interest; the 1099-R is for pensions and payouts from retirement accounts, and the 1099-MISC is for miscellaneous.
But it’s the 1099-C Cancellation of Debt that plagues people the most. It can be applied to debt that was wiped out in almost any circumstance, but most often with loans. If you own property subject to a debt, then you may undergo foreclosure, repossession, a voluntary transfer of the property to the lender, abandonment, or a mortgage modification.
As a general rule, if you have canceled, forgiven, or discharged debt for less than the amount you pay, the amount of the canceled debt is taxable. If this is the case, you need to report your canceled debt on your tax return documents for the year the cancellation is set into place. The only time this tax doesn’t apply is if the law specifically states that it allows you to exclude the debt from your gross income.
When a debt is cancelled, your lender is supposed to send you a Form 1099-C, or Cancellation of Debt. This form will give you details regarding your debt, including the total amount lent to you, how much you paid, and other details regarding your loan. Sometimes you won’t receive a Form 1099-C from your creditor, in which case you can request another or just keep a personal record.
The IRS also Receives a 1099
Don’t assume that just because you didn’t receive a 1099 you’re in the clear. Whether or not you receive a 1099 document, count on the IRS having a copy. The usual deadline for mailing 1099s to taxpayers is January 31, the last day of the taxable year, but the taxpayer has until the end of February to send all its 1099s to the IRS. Some payers will send 1099s both to the taxpayer and IRS at the same time. However, many payers will mail taxpayers their copy by the last day of the tax year and wait several weeks to transmit copies to the IRS. Sometimes creditors fail to send out their 1099s until after tax season, and in this case you won’t be penalized. If this happens, the IRS will usually not mandate that you amend your tax return as long as you reported your cancellation of debt on your own. This is why you should always report it to the IRS during tax season, unless yours is untaxable. Untaxable income will be discussed later.
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How does the IRS classify cancelled debt?
Unfortunately, you’re not in the clear just because your creditor cancels your debt. When your debt is cancelled, the IRS sees the leftover amount as income you didn’t return. Why? Because you’ve already spent it, whether it be for a car, a home, or your education. Initially, you don’t pay taxes on the loan you receive because you’re under a contractual agreement to repay it to your lender. When the debt is cancelled—that is, you’re free of your contract—you’ve essentially earned income for free. Just like your regular income, this income too gets taxed.
What if my debt is cancelled by a private lender?
When it comes to debt, figuring out what is and what isn’t taxable can be confusing. If a friend or family member loans you’re a few thousand dollars to help pay the rent, it doesn’t count as taxable income. Bank loans also aren’t taxable income. But what is taxable? Loans that are forgiven, also known as the cancelled debt we discuss here.
But personal loans aren’t generally taxable so long as it’s a loan under contract to be paid off–that is unless the loan didn’t charge enough interest. In this case, the IRS can impose an Applicable Federal Rate for any personal loan. In the event of cancellation, it’s considered taxable income.
Are there exceptions to cancellation of debt income?
Yes, there are some exceptions that don’t count as taxable income, even though they’re technically part of the cancellation of debt. If you’re wondering whether your cancelled debt is untaxable, contact your creditor or read the terms of your loan.
An example of this would be student loans. Certain types of student loans have provisions that allow your loans to be forgiven after a certain period of time. These loans usually stipulate that you work a government or public service position (like teaching) for a period of ten years. After the ten-year mark, all remaining debt is forgiven. If you are like many college graduates who suffer from debt, you should seriously consider looking into the stipulations of your student loans.
Any endowments, real estate given to you by means of a will, gifts, or other inheritances are also an exception to the rule. However, these items aren’t exempt from other forms of taxation. Bequests that are inherited from another are still subject to pay estate or capital gains tax. States differ on the taxes they require from inheritances, so let a financial advisor help you through it.
Some debt expenses are also tax deductible. Personal loans aren’t tax deductible, but some other loans are. Any interest paid student loans, business loans, mortgages, and business loans are deductible and won’t be taxed through a debt cancellation. Keep in mind that there are certain prerequisites that determine your eligibility. Mortgage interest is only deductible if the loan went to a primary or secondary residence.
Finally, any Pay-for-Performance Success Payments under the Home Affordable Modification Program that decreases the principal balance of your home mortgage is excluded as well, because this ruling was meant to reward those who make housing payments on time.
If you’re wondering whether your cancelled debt is taxable, contact your creditor or research the terms of your loan to know more. When in doubt, contact Community Tax and we’ll pair you with one of our tax professionals to deduct what you can from your debt cancellation income tax.
What is excluded from gross income?
Some portions of your cancelled debt may not be considered part of your gross income. Unlike debt exceptions, these provisions don’t count as part of your cancelled debt at all. You have to reduce certain tax attributes if you exclude canceled debt from income under one of the exclusions below. These attributes include basis of assets, some credits and carryovers, and losses so long as none of them are below zero. In this case, you have to attach your tax return to a Form 982, called Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness. Gross income exclusions include debt cancelled in a Title 11 bankruptcy case, cancellations during insolvency, cancellation of farm indebtedness, real property business indebtedness, or qualified principal residence indebtedness.
Note that state laws don’t always square with federal laws regarding gross income exclusions. Get professional advice from a tax expert at Community Tax for the best advice on what you can can’t deduct from your taxes.
Is there an exception for a mortgage?
When it comes to mortgages, the answer is “it depends.” Mortgages taken out within certain years are subject to what’s called the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007. This Act has helped thousands of people avoid a big bite out of their taxes from the IRS. After the housing market crash, the IRS recognized that it would be impossible to tax many people based on cancelled mortgages without putting them in dire financial circumstances. The Mortgage Debt Relief Act helped relieve partial debt gained through mortgage restructuring and foreclosure. During the duration of this measure, refinancing was allowed up to the amount of principal balance of the original mortgage.
The Act covered debt forgiven within the calendar years of 2007 to 2016. That means debts that were cancelled in 2017 fall under the Mortgage Debt Relief Act if it was signed into agreement in 2016.
If your mortgage doesn’t fall between the calendar years of 2007 to 2016, there are still other ways around getting taxed for your cancelled debt. The cancelled debt isn’t considered income if you received it due to filing a bankruptcy, or if you’re insolvent. Insolvency refers to a situation in which the amount of your debt exceeds the value of your assets. In this case, you can exclude cancelled debt from income up to the amount that you’re insolvent. For example, if your assets amount to $40,000 and your debt is $50,000, you are insolvent by the amount of $20,000.
At Community Tax, we understand that our clients who cancel their mortgage need financial assistance. Let us sort through the busy work and try to keep you free of taxable income based on your cancelled debt.
Are Bankruptcy Discharges Taxable?
A debt that is discharged due to bankruptcy has no income tax consequences to an individual because it’s excluded from the taxpayer’s gross income. But you may be wondering, “Why did I still receive a Form 1099-C from the IRS?” Sometimes this does happen, and if it does, all you need to do is file an IRS Form 982 (Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness) along with your next tax return. Remember that bankruptcy can only discharge debt, not income. If your lender sends you a Form 1099-C before you file for bankruptcy, your debt can’t be discharged. If this happens, your debt is becomes taxable income. As mentioned earlier, if you’re insolvent when your debt is cancelled, your debt may not be taxable.
What if I don’t Agree with the Information on the Form 1099-C?
Mistakes can be made, and even the IRS isn’t perfect. You, your creditor, or the IRS are capable of making a minor mistake that can cause debt frustration. When you file or receive a Form 1099-C, you have the option to include the amount in your income or refute to the IRS why the amount should be partially or entirely excluded.
You should contact the issuer as soon as you receive a 1099-C form you disagree with. Some people receive them from banks they don’t have accounts with, and others get them even when they didn’t want their debt cancelled. Ask the issue to justify why they issued the 1099-C, or send them a corrected form with a zero in all appropriate sections. Document every part of the process, including copies of your documents, dates, times, and names of those you’ve interacted with.
When taxpayers have a discrepancy with a 1099-C, this can make filing taxes difficult. Sometimes, creditors are difficult to contact or get explanations from. In this case, reach out to tax professionals like ours from Community Tax to resolve the issue.
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How Community Tax can Help
Still have questions? Community Tax will help answer any question you may have. When tax issues arise, going it alone may not be the wisest choice. Choose us and we’ll designate a tax expert to help you resolve any discrepancy you may have with the IRS or your creditor. If you do have taxable income from your cancelled debt and you need help developing a strategy to pay it off, we are more than happy to help. We’ll organize your financial information, look for any possible exceptions or non-taxable exclusions, and make sure that you don’t get penalized just because your loan was cancelled. Don’t leave an issue like loan cancellation go unchecked– you could be losing thousands of dollars by not knowing the ins and outs of the process. Our dedicated team of enrolled agents, tax lawyers, and certified public accountants have years of combined experience helping our clients file their returns and maintain their finances to stay secure and reach their goals. At Community Tax, we have a passion for helping our clients through a variety of tax-related services. Reach out to us and we’ll help you through any tax situation, whether it be for a simple filing, a garnishment, a levy, a cancellation of debt issue, or something else.
Community Tax is made up of a team of experts with decades of combined experience helping clients grow into financially independent individuals. We want our clients to reach success and take control of their financial future. If this sounds like you, reach out to us today and we’ll consult with you to determine how to best handle your income tax due to cancellation of debt.