1.   Canceled Debts

This chapter discusses the tax treatment of canceled debts.

General Rules

Generally, if a debt for which you are personally liable is forgiven or discharged for less than the full amount owed, the debt is considered canceled in whatever amount it remained unpaid. There are exceptions to this rule, discussed under Exceptions , later. Generally, you must include the canceled debt in your income. However, you may be able to exclude the canceled debt. See Exclusions , later.

Example.

John owed $1,000 to Mary. Mary agreed to accept and John paid $400 in satisfaction of the entire debt. John has canceled debt of $600.

Example.

Margaret owed $1,000 to Henry. Henry and Margaret agreed that Margaret would provide Henry with services (instead of money) in full satisfaction of the debt. Margaret does not have canceled debt. Instead, she has income from services.

A debt includes any indebtedness:

  • For which you are liable, or

  • Subject to which you hold property.

Debt for which you are personally liable is recourse debt. All other debt is nonrecourse debt.

If you are not personally liable for the debt, you do not have ordinary income from the cancellation of debt unless you retain the collateral and either:

  • The lender offers a discount for the early payment of the debt, or

  • The lender agrees to a loan modification that results in the reduction of the principal balance of the debt.

See Discounts and loan modifications , later. However, upon the disposition of the property securing a nonrecourse debt, the amount realized includes the entire unpaid amount of the debt, not just the FMV of the property. As a result, you may realize a gain or loss if the outstanding debt immediately before the disposition is more or less than your adjusted basis in the property. For more details on figuring your gain or loss, see chapter 2 of this publication or see Publication 544.

There are several exceptions and exclusions that may result in part or all of a canceled debt being nontaxable. See Exceptions and Exclusions, later. You must report any taxable canceled debt as ordinary income on:

  • Form 1040 or Form 1040NR, line 21, if the debt is a nonbusiness debt;

  • Schedule C (Form 1040), line 6 (or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040), line 1), if the debt is related to a nonfarm sole proprietorship;

  • Schedule E (Form 1040), line 3, if the debt is related to nonfarm rental of real property;

  • Form 4835, line 6, 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), line 8, if the debt is farm debt and you are a farmer.

Form 1099-C

If you receive a Form 1099-C, that means an applicable entity has reported an identifiable event to the IRS regarding a debt you owe. The identifiable event may be an actual cancellation of the debt or it may be an event the applicable entity is required, solely for purposes of reporting to the IRS, to treat as a cancellation of debt. For information on the reasons an applicable entity files Form 1099-C, see Identifiable event codes, later. Unless you meet one of the exceptions or exclusions discussed later, this canceled debt is ordinary income and must be reported on the appropriate form discussed above.

An applicable entity includes:

  • A federal government agency,

  • A financial institution,

  • A credit union, and

  • Any organization a significant trade or business of which is lending money.

Identifiable event codes.    Box 6 of Form 1099-C should indicate the reason the creditor filed this form. The codes shown in box 6 are explained below. Also see the chart after the explanation for a quick reference guide for the codes used in Box 6.

Note.

Codes A through G and I identify specific occurrences resulting from an actual discharge of indebtedness. However, Code H, Expiration of nonpayment testing period, does not necessarily identify an actual discharge of indebtedness.

Code A — Bankruptcy. Code A is used to identify cancellation of debt as a result of a title 11 bankruptcy case. See Bankruptcy , later.

Code B — Other judicial debt relief. Code B is used to identify cancellation of debt as a result of a receivership, foreclosure, or similar federal or state court proceeding other than bankruptcy.

Code C — Statute of limitations or expiration of deficiency period. Code C is used to identify cancellation of debt either when the statute of limitations for collecting the debt expires or when the statutory period for filing a claim or beginning a deficiency judgment proceeding expires. In the case of the expiration of a statute of limitations, an identifiable event occurs only if and when your affirmative defense of the statute of limitations is upheld in a final judgment or decision in a judicial proceeding, and the period for appealing the judgment or decision has expired.

Code D — Foreclosure election. Code D is used to identify cancellation of debt when the creditor elects foreclosure remedies that statutorily end or bar the creditor's right to pursue collection of the debt. This event applies to a mortgage lender or holder who is barred from pursuing debt collection after a power of sale in the mortgage or deed of trust is exercised.

Code E — Debt relief from probate or similar proceeding. Code E is used to identify cancellation of debt as a result of a probate court or similar legal proceeding.

Code F — By agreement. Code F is used to identify cancellation of debt as a result of an agreement between the creditor and the debtor to cancel the debt at less than full consideration.

Code G — Decision or policy to discontinue collection. Code G is used to identify cancellation of debt as a result of a decision or a defined policy of the creditor to discontinue collection activity and cancel the debt. For purposes of this identifiable event, a defined policy includes both a written policy and the creditor's established business practice.

Code H — Expiration of nonpayment testing period. Code H is used to indicate that the creditor has not received a payment on the debt during a testing period ending on December 31, 2013. The testing period is a 36-month period increased by the number of months the creditor was prevented from engaging in collection activity by a stay in bankruptcy or similar bar under state or local law. This identifiable event applies only for a creditor that is a financial institution or credit union (and certain of their subsidiaries), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), and other Federal executive agencies.

Expiration of the nonpayment testing period does not necessarily result from an actual discharge of indebtedness.

Code I — Other actual discharge before identifiable event. Code I is used to identify an actual cancellation of debt that occurs before any of the identifiable events described in codes A through H.

Form 1099-C Reference Guide for Box 6 Identifiable Event Codes

A Bankruptcy
B Other judicial debt relief
C Statute of limitations or expiration of deficiency period
D Foreclosure election
E Debt relief from probate or similar proceeding
F By agreement
G Decision or policy to discontinue collection
H Expiration of nonpayment testing period
I Other actual discharge before identifiable event

Even if you did not receive a Form 1099-C, you must report canceled debt as gross income on your tax return unless one of the exceptions or exclusions described later applies.

Amount of canceled debt.    The amount in box 2 of Form 1099-C may represent some or all of the debt that has been canceled or treated as canceled. The amount in box 2 will include principal and may include interest and other nonprincipal amounts (such as fees or penalties). Unless you meet one of the exceptions or exclusions discussed later, the amount of the debt that has been canceled is ordinary income and must be reported on the appropriate form as discussed earlier.

Interest included in canceled debt.    If any interest is included in the amount of canceled debt in box 2, it will be shown in box 3. Whether the interest portion of the canceled debt must be included in your income depends on whether the interest would be deductible if you paid it. See Deductible Debt under Exceptions, later.

Persons who each receive a Form 1099-C showing the full amount of debt.    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. However, you may not have to report that entire amount as income. The amount, if any, you must report depends on all the facts and circumstances, including:
  • State law,

  • The amount of debt proceeds each person received,

  • How much of any interest deduction from the debt was claimed by each person,

  • How much of the basis of any co-owned property bought with the debt proceeds was allocated to each co-owner, and

  • Whether the canceled debt qualifies for any of the exceptions or exclusions described in this publication.

See Example 3 under Insolvency, later.

Discounts and loan modifications

If a lender discounts (reduces) the principal balance of a loan because you pay it off early, or agrees to a loan modification (a “workout”) that includes a reduction in the principal balance of a loan, the amount of the discount or the amount of principal reduction is canceled debt. However, if the debt is nonrecourse and you did not retain the collateral, you do not have cancellation of the debt income. The amount of the canceled debt must be included in income unless one of the exceptions or exclusions described later applies. For more details, see Exceptions and Exclusions, later.

Sales or other dispositions (such as foreclosures and repossessions)

Recourse debt.   If you owned property that was subject to a recourse debt in excess of the FMV of the property, the lender's foreclosure or repossession of the property is treated as a sale or disposition of the property by you and may result in your realization of gain or loss. The gain or loss on the disposition of the property is measured by the difference between the FMV of the property at the time of the disposition and your adjusted basis (usually your cost) in the property. The character of the gain or loss (such as ordinary or capital) is determined by the character of the property. If the lender forgives all or part of the amount of the debt in excess of the FMV of the property, the cancellation of the excess debt may result in ordinary income. The ordinary income from the cancellation of debt (the excess of the canceled debt over the FMV of the property) must be included in your gross income reported on your tax return unless one of the exceptions or exclusions described later applies. For more details, see Exceptions and Exclusions, later.

Nonrecourse debt.   If you owned property that was subject to a nonrecourse debt in excess of the FMV of the property, the lender's foreclosure on the property does not result in ordinary income from the cancellation of debt. The entire amount of the nonrecourse debt is treated as an amount realized on the disposition of the property. The gain or loss on the disposition of the property is measured by the difference between the total amount realized (the entire amount of the nonrecourse debt plus the amount of cash and the FMV of any property received) and your adjusted basis in the property. The character of the gain or loss is determined by the character of the property.

More information.    See Publications 523, 544, and 551, and chapter 2 of this publication for more details.

Abandonments

Recourse debt.   If you abandon property that secures a debt for which you are personally liable (recourse debt) and the debt is canceled, you will realize ordinary income equal to the canceled debt. You must report this income on your tax return unless one of the exceptions or exclusions described later applies. For more details, see Exceptions and Exclusions, later. This income is separate from any amount realized from the abandonment of the property. For more details, see chapter 3.

Nonrecourse debt.   If you abandon property that secures a debt for which you are not personally liable (nonrecourse debt), you may realize gain or loss but will not have cancellation of indebtedness income.

Stockholder debt

If you are a stockholder in a corporation and the corporation cancels or forgives your debt to it, the canceled debt is a constructive distribution. For more information, see Publication 542, Corporations.


More Online Publications