Foreclosure and Short Sales

Definitions

FORECLOSURE: Procedure whereby property pledged as security for a debt is sold to pay the debt in event of default in payments or terms.

SHORT SALE: A short sale is a sale of real estate in which the sale proceeds fall short of the balance owed on the property’s loan. It often occurs when a borrower cannot pay the mortgage loan on their property, but the lender decides that selling the property at a moderate loss is better than pressing the borrower. Both parties consent to the short sale process, because it allows them to avoid foreclosure. (Source: Wikipedia)

Avoiding Foreclosure

    1. Don’t ignore the problem.

      The further behind you become, the harder it will be to reinstate your loan and the more likely that you will lose your house.

 

    1. Contact your lender as soon as you realize that you have a problem.

      Lenders do not want your house. They have options to help borrowers through difficult financial times.

 

    1. Open and respond to all mail from your lender.

      The first notices you receive will offer good information about foreclosure prevention options that can help you weather financial problems. Later mail may include important notices of pending legal action.  Your failure to open the mail will not be an excuse in foreclosure court.

 

    1. Know your mortgage rights.

      Find your loan documents and read them so you know what your lender may do if you can’t make your payments.  Learn about the foreclosure laws and timeframes in your state (as every state is different) by contacting the State Government Housing Office.  

 

    1. Understand foreclosure prevention options.

      Valuable information about foreclosure prevention (also called loss mitigation) options can be found online

 

    1. Contact a HUD-approved housing counselor.

      The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds free or very low-cost housing counseling nationwide. Housing counselors can help you understand the law and your options, organize your finances and represent you in negotiations with your lender, if you need this assistance. Call (800) 569-4287 or TTY (800) 877-8339.

 

    1. Prioritize your spending.

      After healthcare, keeping your house should be your first priority.  Review your finances and see where you can cut spending in order to make your mortgage payment.  Look for optional expenses–cable TV, memberships, entertainment–that you can eliminate. Delay payments on credit cards and other “unsecured” debt until you have paid your mortgage.

 

    1. Use your assets.

      Do you have assets–a second car, jewelry, a whole life insurance policy–that you can sell for cash to help reinstate your loan? Can anyone in your household get an extra job to bring in additional income?  Even if these efforts don’t significantly increase your available cash or your income, they demonstrate to your lender that you are willing to make sacrifices to keep your home.

    2.  

 

    1. Avoid foreclosure prevention companies.

      You don’t need to pay fees for foreclosure prevention help–use that money to pay the mortgage instead. Many for-profit companies will contact you promising to negotiate with your lender. While these may be legitimate businesses, they will charge you a hefty fee (often two or three month’s mortgage payment) for information and services your lender or a HUD-approved housing counselor will provide free if you contact them.

 

    1. Don’t lose your house to foreclosure recovery scams!

      If any firm claims they can stop your foreclosure immediately and if you sign a document appointing them to act on your behalf, you may well be signing over the title to your property and becoming a renter in your own home! Never sign a legal document without reading and understanding all the terms and getting professional advice from an attorney, a trusted real estate professional, or a HUD-approved housing counselor

 

Tax Ramifications

If a lender forecloses on my principal residence or agrees to a short sale, will I owe tax on the deficiency?

Generally, when there is either a foreclosure or a short sale a taxpayer will receive either (in some cases the lender may issue both) a federal Form 1099-A, Acquisition or Abandonment of Secured Property, or Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, that provide the amount of debt cancelled, information to compute gain or loss, and whether the taxpayer is personally liable for the debt.

If you borrow money from a commercial or private lender and the lender later cancels or forgives the debt, you may have to include the canceled amount in income for tax purposes, depending on the circumstances. In a short sale, the lender agrees to accept less than full payment, and cancels the unpaid amount.

The most common situations when a foreclosure or a short sale does not result in cancellation of debt (COD) income involve a non-recourse loan. A non-recourse loan means the lender’s only remedy in case of default is to repossess the property the lender cannot pursue you personally in case of default. A purchase money loan (that is, a loan taken to “purchase” your home) is generally considered to be a non-recourse loan in California. Refinances, second mortgages, and “cash out” loans are generally recourse loans.

Although forgiveness of a non-recourse loan resulting from either a foreclosure or a short sale does not result in COD income, it may result in other tax consequences, like a reportable gain from the disposition. Even if the debt discharged is non-recourse, a taxpayer may have a gain to the extent the balance of the mortgage forgiven exceeds their adjusted basis of the property.

The gain, if any, from the foreclosure or short sale may or may not be taxable, depending on whether IRC section 121 applies and the amount of the gain. IRC section 121 only applies to principal residences, and limits the amount of gain that can be excluded from income.

If the loan is a recourse loan, then depending on the facts, you may have COD income, and potentially a reportable gain, in which case you would want to determine if one of the provisions in IRC section 108 would apply, allowing the COD income from the discharge of indebtedness to be excluded.

What is Cancellation of Debt?

If you borrow money from a commercial lender and the lender later cancels or forgives the debt, you may have to include the cancelled amount in income for tax purposes, depending on the circumstances. When you borrowed the money you were not required to include the loan proceeds in income because you had an obligation to repay the lender. When that obligation is subsequently forgiven, the amount you received as loan proceeds is reportable as income because you no longer have an obligation to repay the lender. The lender is usually required to report the amount of the canceled debt to you and the IRS on a Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt.

Here’s a very simplified example. You borrow $10,000 and default on the loan after paying back $2,000. If the lender is unable to collect the remaining debt from you, there is a cancellation of debt of $8,000, which generally is taxable income to you.

Is Cancellation of Debt income always taxable?

Not always. There are some exceptions. The most common situations when cancellation of debt income is not taxable involve:

  • Bankruptcy: Debts discharged through bankruptcy are not considered taxable income.
  • Insolvency: If you are insolvent when the debt is cancelled, some or all of the cancelled debt may not be taxable to you.You are insolvent when your total debts are more than the fair market value of your total assets.Insolvency can be fairly complex to determine and the assistance of a tax professional is recommended if you believe you qualify for this exception.
  • Certain farm debts:If you incurred the debt directly in operation of a farm, more than half your income from the prior three years was from farming, and the loan was owed to a person or agency regularly engaged in lending, your cancelled debt is generally not considered taxable income.The rules applicable to farmers are complex and the assistance of a tax professional is recommended if you believe you qualify for this exception.
  • Non-recourse loans:A non-recourse loan is a loan for which the lender’s only remedy in case of default is to repossess the property being financed or used as collateral.That is, the lender cannot pursue you personally in case of default.Forgiveness of a non-recourse loan resulting from a foreclosure does not result in cancellation of debt income.However, it may result in other tax consequences, as discussed in Question 3 below.

I lost my home through foreclosure.  Are there tax consequences?  

There are two possible consequences you must consider: 

  • Taxable cancellation of debt income.(Note: As stated above, cancellation of debt income is not taxable in the case of non-recourse loans.)
  • A reportable gain from the disposition of the home (because foreclosures are treated like sales for tax purposes).(Note: Often some or all of the gain from the sale of a personal residence qualifies for exclusion from income.