Under U.S. law, a homeowner with an underwater mortgage who goes through a short sale has part of his or her debt forgiven by a bank. The amount forgiven is legally considered income, as if the lender gave the owner a monetary gift by saying, “You no longer have to pay this.”
As a gift, that money is income and taxable by the IRS when the homeowner fills out his yearly income taxes. However, a temporary law effective through Dec. 31, 2012, nixes that amount as homeowner income, making the debt forgiveness tax-free. A short sale in 2012, then, allows a homeowner to walk away free of debt.
As it stands now, that rule expires next year, and underwater homeowners who go through a short sale could be taxed on the amount forgiven.
However, a bipartisan bill introduced late last week by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) – the Mortgage Relief Act – would extend that rule past Dec. 31 if approved by both the House and Senate and signed by President Obama. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) cosponsored the legislation.
“It is bad enough that so many families are faced with mortgages that now exceed the value of their home,” says Stabenow. “But to add insult to injury, without this bill, the IRS would once again require these families to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in additional income tax when they sell or refinance their home. That’s just wrong.”
Stabenow championed the original Mortgage Relief Act of 2007 designed to fix the problem that now expires at the end of 2012. Stabenow and Heller’s new bill will extend this tax protection for underwater homeowners through 2015.
Approximately, 20 to 25 percent of American homeowners are currently underwater on their mortgages.