On Dec. 31, 2013 the extension of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act will expire. Without an extension, homeowners who negotiate a short sale, loan modification (including any principal reduction) or foreclosure will be subject to federal income tax liability on debt written off by lenders as a result of these distressed transactions. REALTORS® say at a time when the housing market is on the mend, now is not a good time to let this important tax relief measure expire.

One of the major successes Congress reached in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations at the end of 2012 was the extension of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 for another year. Without an extension, homeowners will now be subject to federal income tax liability on debt written off by lenders as a result of these distressed transactions.

“Not having the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Act extended causes uncertainty for homeowners. Homeowners shouldn’t be forced to pay tax on money they’ve lost with cash they never received,” says Carolyn Miller, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®.

Since early this year the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has been working with Congress to extend this important real estate tax provision. NAR has aggressively sought co-sponsors for both Senate and House bills, S. 1187 the “Mortgage Forgiveness Tax Relief Act” and H.R.2994 “Mortgage Forgiveness Tax Relief Act of 2013.” With the U.S. House of Representatives now adjourned, it is unlikely Congress will act before December 31 to extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. However NAR is confident Congress will most likely address individual tax provisions retroactively in 2014.

As was the case with the previous extension, Congress is expected to retroactively apply mortgage cancellation relief to include transactions between January 1, 2014 and the enactment of the extension. In the meantime, NAR is asking REALTORS® and homeowners to continue to express the importance of this issue to their legislators.

California’s troubled homeowners who sell their homes in a short sale may not have to worry. Both the Internal Revenue Service and California Franchise Tax Board recently clarified that underwater home sellers are not subject to state income tax liability for debt written off by lenders in short sales.

In any issue involving taxes, Miller advises homeowners involved in a distressed transaction, such as short sale, to seek the advice of a tax professional on their particular situation.

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