Normally, debt forgiveness results in taxable income. However, under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, you may be able to exclude up to $2 million of debt forgiven on your principal residence during tax years 2007 through 2012. The limit is $1 million for a married person filing a separate return. You may exclude debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in a foreclosure.
In order to qualify for the tax relief, 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.
However, proceeds of refinanced debt used for other purposes – for example, to pay off credit card debt – do not qualify for the exclusion. Debt forgiven on second homes, rental property, business property, credit cards or car loans also does not qualify for the tax relief provision.
If your debt is reduced or eliminated you normally will 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. You should examine the Form 1099-C carefully and 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.
If you qualify for tax relief, claim the special exclusion by filling 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.
Note that other tax relief provisions – such as insolvency – may be applicable.