Generally, debt that is forgiven or canceled by a lender is considered taxable income by the IRS and must be included as income on your tax return. When that debt is forgiven, negotiated down (when you pay less than you owe), or canceled you will receive a Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, from your financial institution or credit union. Form 1099-C shows the amount of canceled or forgiven debt that was reported to the IRS. Creditors who forgive $600 or more of debt are required to issue this form.
If you receive a Form 1099-C and the information is incorrect, contact the lender to make corrections. If you and another person were jointly and severally liable for a canceled debt, each of you may get a Form 1099-C showing the entire amount of the canceled debt. Please call if you have questions regarding joint liability of canceled debt.
Exceptions and Exclusions
If you have debt forgiven or canceled and receive a Form 1099-C, you might qualify for an exception or exclusion. If your canceled debt meets the requirements for an exception or exclusion, then you don't need to report your canceled debt on your tax return. Under the federal tax code, there are seven exceptions and five exclusions. Here are the five most commonly used:
1. Amounts specifically excluded from income by law such as gifts, bequests, devises or inheritances
In most cases, you do not have income from canceled debt if the debt is canceled as a gift, bequest, devise, or inheritance. For example, if an acquaintance or family member loaned you money (and for whom you signed a promissory note) died and relieved you of the obligation to pay back the loan in his or her will, this exception would apply.
2. Cancellation of certain qualified student loans
Certain student loans provide that all or part of the debt incurred to attend a qualified educational institution will be canceled if the person who received the loan works for a certain period of time in certain professions for any of a broad class of employers. If your student loan is canceled as a result of this type of provision, the cancellation of this debt is not included in your gross income. You may also qualify for this exception if you receive student loan repayment assistance or you become permanently and totally disabled.
3. Canceled debt paid by a cash basis taxpayer (most taxpayers) would be deductible
If you use the cash method of accounting, then you do not realize income from the cancellation of debt if the payment of the debt would have been a deductible expense.
For example, in 2018, you own a farm and hire an accounting firm, paying for their services with credit. In 2019, due to financial troubles, you are not able to pay off your farm debts and your accountant forgives a portion of the amount you owe for their services. If you use the cash method of accounting you do not include the canceled debt as income on your tax return because payment of the debt would have been deductible as a business expense.
4. Debt canceled in a Title 11 bankruptcy case
Debt canceled in a Title 11 bankruptcy case is not included in your income.
5. Debt canceled during insolvency
Do not include a canceled debt as income if you were insolvent immediately before the cancellation. In the eyes of the IRS, you would be considered insolvent if the total of all of your liabilities was more than the Fair Market Value (FMV) of all of your assets immediately before the cancellation.
For purposes of determining insolvency, assets include the value of everything you own (including assets that serve as collateral for debt and exempt assets which are beyond the reach of your creditors under the law, such as your interest in a pension plan and the value of your retirement account).
Here's an example: Let's say you owe $25,000 in credit card debt, which you are able to negotiate down to $5,000. You have no other debts and your assets are worth $15,000. Your canceled debt is $20,000. Your insolvency amount is $10,000. Because you are insolvent at the time of cancellation, you are only required to report the $10,000 on your tax return.
Reporting Canceled Debt
If you receive a Form 1099-C, don't ignore it. Although you may not have to report the entire amount shown on Form 1099-C as income unless you meet one of the exceptions or exclusions discussed above, you must report any taxable canceled debt reported on Form 1099-C as ordinary income on one of the following:
- Schedule 1 (Form 1040 or Form 1040NR), if the debt is a nonbusiness debt;
- Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040), if the debt is related to a nonfarm sole proprietorship;
- Schedule E (Form 1040), if the debt is related to non-farm rental of real property;
- Form 4835, if the debt is related to a farm rental activity for which you use Form 4835 to report farm rental income based on crops or livestock produced by a tenant; or
- Schedule F (Form 1040), if the debt is farm debt and you are a farmer.
If you exclude canceled debt from income under one of the form 1099-C exclusions listed above, you must reduce certain tax attributes (certain credits, losses, basis of assets, etc.), within limits, by the amount excluded. If this is the case, then you must file Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness (and Section 1082 Basis Adjustment), to report the amount qualifying for exclusion and any corresponding reduction of those tax attributes.
Please call if you have any questions about whether you qualify for debt cancellation relief.