President Bush signed into law today a new measure giving tax breaks to homeowners who have mortgage debt forgiven. Under preexisting law, the debt forgiven by a lender, such as for short sales and refinances, was generally taxable to the borrower as debt discharge income. With the passage of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, a taxpayer does not have to pay federal income tax on debt forgiven for a loan secured by a qualified principal residence.
This tax break applies to debts discharged from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2009. Qualified principal residence indebtedness is debt incurred in acquiring, constructing, or substantially improving the residence (up to $2 million for refinances).
For purposes of calculating capital gains, any debts discharged excluded from income under the new law must be subtracted from the basis of the taxpayer’s principal residence (but not below zero). However, taxpayers may generally exclude from capital gains income up to $250,000 (or $500,000 for married couples filing jointly) for properties owned and used as their principal residence for at least two of the last five years.
This is great news for homeowners who have gone through either a short sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. Prior to this act, it was a double-whammy — not only did the homeowner not have enough equity to sell their home and took a big hit on their credit score, but they were taxed on the differential between what they owed on the house and what it sold for (because it was treated as income). Now they can at least know that Uncle Sam will not come after them to pay taxes on that differential.
For a copy of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, go to http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-3648.
Also, keep an eye out for my upcoming article that will explain “What is a short sale?”, in the coming days.
Tags: capital gains, forgiven mortgage debt, income taxes, Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, refinancing, short sales