Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007
The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act was introduced in the United States Congress on September 25, 2007, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 20, 2007. This act offers relief to homeowners who would have owed taxes on forgiven mortgage debt after facing foreclosure. The act extends such relief for three years, applying to debts discharged in calendar year 2007 through 2009. With the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, this tax relief was extended another three years, covering debts discharged through calendar year 2012. Act further extended until January 1, 2014 at section 202 of American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.
This tax relief has been renewed each year since. The latest enactment on February 9, 2018 of the Bipartisan Budget Act renewed for all of tax year 2017 a wide range of individual and business tax benefits that had expired at the end of 2016 -- including the "exclusion from gross income of discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness (often, foreclosure-related debt forgiveness), claimed on Form 982." 
In the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), housing debt that is forgiven or written off is the same as income. If the law expires, forgiven mortgage debt will be taxable. The same applies to foreclosures and to loan modifications in which principal is reduced.
Once the lender writes off the debt, it will report the amount to the IRS. Homeowners should expect to receive Form 1099-C showing the canceled debt amount.
All taxpayers, including those who qualify for the exemption, will get the form in the mail if they had debt canceled. Those who qualify for the exclusion will be required to file Form 982 when they file their taxes. The exemption applies only to debt related to a primary home. Mortgages on vacation and rental properties are not exempt under the act. Homeowners who did cash-out refinances and used the money for any other purpose than fixing up their house could still be on the hook for forgiven debt.
However, after the signing of the Mortgage Forgiveness Act, amendments have been made to remove such tax liability and allow the borrower and lender to work freely together to find a common solution that is beneficial to both parties. This protection is limited to primary residences—rental properties are ineligible for relief—so consultation with a tax adviser is necessary to ensure that a borrower qualifies. The amount of forgiven mortgage debt allowed to be excluded from income tax is limited to $2 million per year.
Meaning of “Cancellation of Debt”
If you’ve borrowed money and your lender cancels/terminates or forgives the outstanding loan balance owed to you at a later stage, then you, as per the Internal Revenue Service will be liable to file an income tax return on the forgiven debt amount with respect to the corresponding situations. At the time of loan origination, the loan money that you received weren’t considered as an income because you made an agreement to pay back the borrowed sum to the lender, i.e., it was your obligation to repay the loan amount as per the signed contract’s terms and conditions. However, when your obligation to pay back the borrowed sum has been ‘cancelled’ or forgiven, then the payable debt amount becomes reportable as income. The simple reason for it is that you are no longer obligated to repay the loan to the lender. Meanwhile, it is the lender who has to report the cancelled debt to the IRS as well as to you using Form 1099-C, better known as “Cancellation of Debt”.
Tax exemptions on cancelled mortgage debt
Cancelled mortgage debts aren’t always taxed by the IRS. There are some occasions when the borrower is exempted from paying any tax on the forgiven mortgage loan amount. Some of the exceptions are as follows:
- Qualified principal residence indebtedness - This exception has been offered under the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 and it is valid on most of the mortgage borrowers.
- Insolvency - A borrower whose mortgage debt has been forgiven, but remains an insolvent, then that person may not be obligated to pay taxes on all or part of the cancelled debt. Insolvency will only be considered when the borrower’s total debt exceeds the market value of his/her assets.
- Bankruptcy - All debts discharged under a certain bankruptcy is regarded as non-taxable income.
- Non-recourse loans - In case of non-recourse loans, lenders repossess the property signed as collateral by the borrower, as a remedy to resolve the loan repayment default. However, lenders are barred from pursuing their borrowers for the repayment of the loan money, in the event of a default. Once a property has been foreclosed, the forgiven non-recourse loan will not be considered as cancelled debt. But, that may attract other taxes.
- Some farm debts - If your source of income for the past three years was through farming and you’ve incurred debt due to its direct operation, and the lender is an agency or a person who is a regular lender, then your cancelled debt will not attract any taxes.
Debt Cancellations that are not Taxable
In some situations cancelled debt cannot be taxed. For example, debt cannot be taxed when there is:
- Bankruptcy: Debts discharged under bankruptcy are not taxed.
Qualified principal residence indebtedness: Under the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007, most homeowners will not have to pay taxes on their reduced principal mortgage amount.
- Insolvency: If a person is insolvent and his/her debt is cancelled, then a certain amount or the entire cancelled debt may not be taxed. This is because that person is insolvent as his/her overall debts exceed the fair market value of his/her assets.
- Mortgage Debt Relief Act Receives Much-Needed Extension
- "Three Popular Tax Benefits Retroactively Renewed for 2017; IRS Ready to Accept Returns Claiming These Benefits; e-file for Fastest Refunds | Internal Revenue Service". www.irs.gov. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
- Fact Sheet: The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007
- Cancellation of Debt , Retrieved 02 March 2015.
- Cancellation of Debt , Retrieved 06 March 2015.
- Cancellation of Debt , Retrieved 13 July 2015.