Topic 431 - Canceled Debt – Is It Taxable or Not?

If you borrow money and are legally obligated to repay a fixed or determinable amount at a future date, you have a debt. You may be personally liable for a debt or may own a property that is subject to a debt.

If your debt is forgiven or discharged for less than the full amount you owe, the debt is considered canceled in the amount that you do not have to pay. The law provides several exceptions, however, in which the amount you do not have to pay is not canceled debt. These exceptions will be discussed later. Cancellation of a debt may occur if the creditor cannot collect, or gives up on collecting, the amount you are obligated to pay. If you own property subject to a debt, cancellation of the debt also may occur because of a foreclosure, a repossession, a voluntary transfer of the property to the lender, abandonment of the property, or a mortgage modification.

In general, if you have cancellation of debt income because your debt is canceled, forgiven, or discharged for less than the amount you must pay, the amount of the canceled debt is taxable and you must report the canceled debt on your tax return for the year the cancellation occurs. The canceled debt is not taxable, however, if the law specifically allows you to exclude it from gross income. These specific exclusions will be discussed later.

After a debt is canceled, the creditor may send you a Form 1099-C (PDF), Cancellation of Debt, showing the amount of cancellation of debt and the date of cancellation, among other things. If you received a Form 1099-C showing incorrect information, contact the creditor to make corrections. For example, if the creditor is continuing to try to collect the debt after sending you a Form 1099-C, the creditor may not have canceled the debt and, as a result, you may not have income from a canceled debt. You should verify with the creditor your specific situation. Your responsibility to report the taxable amount of canceled debt as income on your tax return for the year when the cancellation occurs does not change whether or not you receive a correct Form 1099-C.

In general, you must report any taxable amount of a canceled debt as ordinary income from the cancellation of debt on Form 1040 (PDF), U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1040NR (PDF), U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return, if the debt is a nonbusiness debt, or an applicable schedule if the debt is a business debt, as explained in Publication 4681 (PDF), Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments (for Individuals).

Caution: If property secured your debt and the creditor takes that property in full or partial satisfaction of your debt, you are treated as having sold that property for the amount of the canceled debt and may have a taxable gain or loss. The gain or loss on a deemed sale of your property is an issue separate from whether any cancellation of debt income associated with that same property is includable in gross income. See Publication 544, Sales and Other Dispositions of Assets, and Publication 523, Selling Your Home, for detailed information on reporting gain or loss from repossession, foreclosure, or abandonment of property.

Amounts that meet the requirements for any of the following exceptions are not cancellation of debt income.

EXCEPTIONS to Cancellation of Debt Income:

  1. Amounts canceled as gifts, bequests, devises, or inheritances
  2. Certain qualified student loans canceled under the loan provisions that the loans would be canceled if you work for a certain period of time in certain professions for a broad class of employers
  3. Amounts of canceled debt that would be deductible if you, as a cash basis taxpayer, paid it
  4. A qualified purchase price reduction given by the seller of property to the buyer
  5. Any Pay-for-Performance Success Payments that reduce the principal balance of your home mortgage under the Home Affordable Modification Program

Amounts that meet the requirements for any of the following exclusions are not included in income, even though they are cancellation of debt income.

EXCLUSIONS from Gross Income:

  1. Debt canceled in a Title 11 bankruptcy case
  2. Debt canceled during insolvency
  3. Cancellation of qualified farm indebtedness
  4. Cancellation of qualified real property business indebtedness
  5. Cancellation of qualified principal residence indebtedness

Generally, if you exclude canceled debt from income under one of the exclusions listed above, you must reduce certain tax attributes (certain credits and carryovers, losses and carryovers, basis of assets, etc.) (but not below zero) by the amount excluded. You must attach to your tax return a Form 982 (PDF), 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. For cancellation of qualified principal residence indebtedness that you exclude from income, you must only reduce your basis in your principal residence.

Refer to Publication 4681 (PDF), Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments (for Individuals), for more detailed information regarding taxability of canceled debt, how to report it, and related exceptions and exclusions. Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income, contains additional information. If you received a Form 1099-A (PDF), Acquisition or Abandonment of Secured Property, review Topic 432 for more information.

More Tax Topic Categories

Page Last Reviewed or Updated: July 25, 2016