Mortgage Debt Forgiveness: Key Points

Under the current U.S. tax law, canceled debt is normally taxable to you, but there are exceptions. One of those exceptions is came into existence under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007.

Under this law, married homeowners whose mortgage debt is partly or entirely forgiven during tax years 2007 through 2012 may exclude up to $2 million of debt forgiven on their principal residence. The limit is $1 million for a married person filing a separate return.

The exclusion applies to both, debt reduced through mortgage restructuring and mortgage debt forgiven in a foreclosure.

Not just any type of debt is entitled to the exclusion. In order to qualify, the debt must have been used to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence and be secured by that residence. Refinanced debt proceeds used for the purpose of substantially improving your principal residence also qualify for the exclusion. If, however, the proceeds of refinanced debt were used for other purposes (for example, to pay off credit card debt), then such proceeds do not qualify for the exclusion.

Other examples of debt that does not qualify for the exclusion include debt forgiven on second homes, rental property, business property, credit cards or car loans. In some cases, however, other tax relief provisions (e.g. insolvency) may be applicable.

If your debt is reduced or eliminated you should normally receive a year-end statement, Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, from your lender. By law, this form must show the amount of debt forgiven and the fair market value of any property foreclosed. Examine the Form 1099-C carefully. Notify the lender immediately if any of the information shown is incorrect. You should pay particular attention to the amount of debt forgiven in Box 2 as well as the value listed for your home in Box 7.

In order to claim the special exclusion, you should fill out Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness and attach it to your federal income tax return for the tax year in which the qualified debt was forgiven.