Do I have to claim credit card debt forgiveness on my tax return?

Do I have to claim credit card debt forgiveness as taxable income because I had some debts settled last year? 

One of our clients had received a letter from the IRS regarding her inquiry as to the "taxable income" status of credit card debt forgiveness.

The IRS wrote:

"Claims of insolvency must be supported by quetiona listing of assets and liabilities at the time the debt was canceled.  You may include Form 982 or a simple cover letter claiming insolvency."

When you have a debt settled (or in IRS terms, "forgiven"), if the amount forgiven is over $600, the creditor may send that information to the IRS.

If so, you will receive a 1099-C form.  At first, it looks as if you will have to include the entire amount as taxable income, but if you read closely, their are exceptions!

  • The main exception or exclusion of the forgiveness as taxable is as the IRS letter stated above, if at the time of settlement you were basically insolvent, then the amount IS NOT INCLUDED AS TAXABLE INCOME.

IRS Form 4681 explains the "exclusions", and there are several, but the main one you should be concerned with is INSOLVENCY.

The form states, "Do not include a canceled debt in income to the extent that you wee insolvent immediately before the cancellation.  You were insolvent immediately before the cancellation to the extent that the total of all of your liabilities exceeded the FMV (Fair Market Value) of all of your assets immediately before the cancellation."

Unfortunately, many tax advisers and accountants are not aware of this exclusion and tell their clients that they must pay more taxes, when they shouldn't have too!

If you have had unsecured credit card debt settled last year, then you should:

  • Provide a simple financial profile of your assets vs. liabilities.  For most people, their liabilities are much more or at least equal to their net assets.
  • If your tax preparer does not have form IRS Form 982, click here for a copy.
  • A simple letter stating your circumstances at the time of forgiveness (hand written) may also help.

If you have had settlements prior to 2010, and you think you paid taxes when now you realize you shouldn't have, then contact your tax preparer with this information or contact the IRS yourself.

You may get back all of the extra tax you paid!


Tags: debt settlement, 1099-C, tax on forgiveness of debt, IRS 4681