Debt Relief = Income
Many times a homeowner might feel relieved being out from under the obligation of a mortgage they can’t afford even though the property was lost due to foreclosure or short sale. If a lender cancels or forgives debt, a taxpayer must include the cancelled amount in their income for tax purposes depending on the circumstances. The tax significance could be serious.
Congress enacted the Mortgage Relief Act specifically to help homeowners who might be affected in the housing crisis that started approximately in 2007. The Act expired on 12/31/12 but was temporarily extended by Congress until December 31, 2013.
This relief only applies to a taxpayers’ principal residence which does not include second homes and investment property. The maximum amount is limited to $2 million of mortgage debt forgiveness or $1 million if filing separately.
Another provision is that the debt relief is limited to acquisition indebtedness used to buy, build or improve the property. It excludes cash equity loans whether made separately or in a refinance of the original mortgage.
Due to the serious consequences involved in short sales and foreclosures, it is advised that homeowners faced with this possibility should seek expert advice from their legal and tax professionals.