During the mortgage meltdown that caused the Great Recession a decade ago, some homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure or constructed a short sale to get out from under the debt. In most of the cases, the lenders forgave all or part of the debt owed them.
Similarly, in the early 90’s after the failure of the Savings & Loans in the U.S., thousands of homeowners lost their homes in the same way but back then, the policy of the IRS was to consider the forgiven debt as income. Today, it is still considered income which means that a homeowner could lose their home because they could not afford to pay for it and to make matters worse, they would owe income tax on the debt relieved.
The good news is that in 2007, Congress passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Act and it has continued to be extended with its current expiration of 12/31/20.
The amount forgiven for income tax purposes may not be the same amount owed to the lender. Mortgage forgiveness has a limited exclusion for discharged home mortgage debt for a principal residence only; it does not include second homes or investment properties. Only the amount of mortgage debt that can be treated as acquisition indebtedness in included.
In the example below, a homeowner purchased a home and refinanced the home five years later at 80% of the market value. The new loan proceeds were used to payoff the original mortgage and make $30,000 of new capital improvements. The revised acquisition debt is the acquisition debt at the time of refinance plus the capital improvements made with the loan proceeds.
The new $400,000 loan produced $39,417 of home equity debt which is not considered acquisition debt. Home equity debt is money borrowed on a home and can be used for any purpose, but it may not be tax deductible or considered acquisition debt. Acquisition debt is money borrowed to buy, build or improve a principal residence subject to a $750,000 limit.
Assume that the borrower never made a payment on the new loan. If the new loan went through foreclosure while the Mortgage Forgiveness Relief Act is in effect, the forgiveness would be limited to the acquisition debt of $360,583 and the remaining amount of $39,417 would be considered income and subject to tax.
This article is meant to inform homeowners of liabilities associated with foreclosures and possible remedies that may be available. This example is meant to illustrate the portion of a loan that could be forgiven. Taxpayers should always consult their tax professional regarding their specific situation and the way the law would apply to their situation. For more information, see IRS Publication 4681.
Purchase Price … 5 years ago
Mortgage at time of purchase … Acquisition Debt
Fair Market Value … Today, 5 years later
Refinanced 80% – Loan to Value
Replaced unpaid balance – current acquisition debt
Capital improvements made with loan proceeds
Revised acquisition debt
Home equity debt … difference in refinanced amount and acquisition debt