Saturday, November 16, 2013
Wall Street Journal, Why Homeowners Could Avoid a Tax Hit:
Troubled homeowners who get a break from their mortgage lenders could face a hefty tax bill next year if a key provision expires at the end of the year, though state laws could determine which borrowers will have to write a check to Uncle Sam.
Homeowners who live in states where mortgages are non-recourse—that is, where they aren’t personally liable for the unpaid balance—may avoid the potential tax hit even if Congress doesn’t act, according to a letter sent by the IRS released by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) on Friday.
The tax provision currently allows some homeowners—mostly those facing foreclosure—to avoid paying taxes on certain relief that they receive on their mortgages. The IRS considers debt forgiveness to be a form of taxable income. That means homeowners who sell their homes for less than the amount they owe in a short sale could face a tax bill.
In 2007, as the foreclosure crisis spread, Congress exempted some homeowners from counting certain kinds of forgiven mortgage debt as taxable income in order to encourage banks and borrowers to seek foreclosure alternatives. Congress retroactively extended the provision earlier this year, after it expired on Dec. 31, 2012. The provision is set to expire this coming Dec. 31 and there appears to be less urgency in Congress right now to pass an extension.
In the letter to Sen. Boxer, the IRS clarified that certain non-recourse debt forgiven by lenders wouldn’t typically be considered taxable income by the IRS. This means that for most California borrowers, the expiration of the tax provision may not have a meaningful effect.