Homeowners who've had mortgage debt forgiven—like after a foreclosure, loan modification, short sale, or deed in lieu of foreclosure—sometimes owe federal income tax on that canceled debt. That's because, ordinarily, when $600 or more of debt is forgiven or canceled by a creditor, the amount forgiven is considered income for federal tax purposes. When it's clear you won't be repaying the money you received, tax law recognizes the money as income.
The amount of the forgiven debt is considered income only once it's canceled, not when you first borrowed the money. So, you must report the forgiven amount on your tax return and pay taxes on it, just like any other kind of income, unless you qualify for an exception or exclusion.
To keep financially strapped homeowners from taking a second hit at tax time, Congress passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act in 2007, and I.R.C. § 108(a)(1)(E) was added to the Internal Revenue Code, creating the Qualified Principal Residence Indebtedness (QPRI) exclusion. Under this exclusion, if part or all of your mortgage debt on your principal residence is forgiven, you might be able to exclude the forgiven debt from your taxable income.
The QPRI exclusion expires on January 1, 2026. But the exclusion can also apply to debts forgiven as the result of a written agreement entered into before January 1, 2026, even if the actual discharge happens later. (I.R.C. § 108(a)(1)(E)).
If your lender has forgiven some or all of your mortgage debt, can you get out of paying income tax on that debt using the QPRI exclusion? Here are the key factors to remember.
The IRS has more information about forgiven mortgage debt and instructions for taxpayers at www.irs.gov. Be sure to review IRS Publication 4681 on Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments, as well as Topic No. 431 Canceled Debt – Is It Taxable or Not?
If you don't qualify for tax relief under the QPRI exclusion, you might qualify for another kind of exception or exclusion. For instance, cancellation of debt income generally isn't taxable if the debt has been discharged in bankruptcy (before it's forgiven), you're insolvent when the debt is forgiven, the debt is a certain kind of farm debt, or if the property was subject to a nonrecourse debt. (A "recourse debt" is a loan the borrower is personally liable to repay.)
Tax laws are complicated. If you received a 1099-C form indicating your lender forgave all or part of your mortgage debt, or if you're considering completing a loan modification, short sale, or deed in lieu of foreclosure that has tax implications, talk to a tax attorney or tax accountant to get advice specific to your circumstances.
If you have questions about how foreclosure works, need help applying for a loan modification, or want to learn the pros and cons of completing a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure, talk to a foreclosure lawyer. A HUD-approved housing counselor can also provide you with loss mitigation information.