The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act — under which a reduction on mortgage principal as a result of a loan modification, short sale or foreclosure is not subject to federal income tax — will expire December 31, 2012, and there are early indications that Congress might not renew it by then.
Here’s what’s involved, and how it might affect you or someone you know contemplating a short sale or loan modification that involves debt forgiveness. Before 2007, all cancellations of debt by creditors — whether on auto loans, personal loans or mortgages — were treated as taxable events under the federal tax code. If you owed $200,000, but paid off only $150,000 through an agreement with the lender, the $50,000 difference would be ordinary income, taxable at regular rates.
Under the debt-relief law for qualified homeowners, you can avoid taxation on forgiven mortgage amounts up to $2 million if married filing jointly, or $1 million for single filers. To be eligible, the debt must be canceled by a lender in connection with a mortgage restructuring, short sale, deed-in-lieu of foreclosure or foreclosure. The transaction must be completed no later than Dec. 31.
Picture this scenario: You negotiate for months with your lender, realty agents and potential buyers. Finally you pull together a short-sale package calling for the bank to forgive $100,000. But the deal runs into hitches and doesn’t go to closing until after the Dec. 31 expiration date. Now your house is gone, your credit is shot, you’re looking for a place to rent, and the IRS demands taxes on your phantom “gain” of $100,000 on the sale.