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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.

On January 1 both the U.S. Senate and House passed H.R. 8 legislation to avert the “fiscal cliff.” The bill was signed by President Barack Obama.

Below is a National Association of REALTORS® summary of real estate related provisions in the bill:

Real Estate Tax Extenders
• Mortgage Cancellation Relief is extended for one year to Jan. 1, 2014.

• Deduction for Mortgage Insurance Premiums for filers making below $110,000 is extended through 2013 and made retroactive to cover 2012.

• 15-year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements on commercial properties is extended through 2013 and made retroactive to cover 2012.

• 10 percent tax credit (up to $500) for homeowners for energy improvements to existing homes is extended through 2013 and made retroactive to cover 2012.

Permanent Repeal of Pease Limitations for 99% of Taxpayers
Under the agreement, so called “Pease Limitations” that reduce the value of itemized deductions are permanently repealed for most taxpayers but will be reinstituted for high income filers. These limitations will only apply to individuals earning more than $250,000 and joint filers earning above $300,000. These thresholds have been increased and are indexed for inflation and will rise over time. Under the formula, the amount of adjusted gross income above the threshold is multiplied by three percent. That amount is then used to reduce the total value of the filer’s itemized deductions. The total amount of reduction cannot exceed 80 percent of the filer’s itemized deductions.

These limits were first enacted in 1990 (named for the Ohio Congressman Don Pease who came up with the idea) and continued throughout the Clinton years. They were gradually phased out as a result of the 2001 tax cuts and were completely eliminated in 2010-2012. Had we gone over the fiscal cliff, Pease limitations would have been reinstituted on all filers starting at $174,450 of adjusted gross income.

Capital Gains
Capital Gains rate stays at 15 percent for those in the top rate of $400,000 (individual) and $450,000 (joint) return. After that, any gains above those amounts will be taxed at 20 percent. The $250,000/$500,000 exclusion for sale of principle residence remains in place.

Estate Tax
The first $5 million dollars in individual estates and $10 million for family estates are now exempted from the estate tax. After that the rate will be 40 percent, up from 35 percent. The exemption amounts are indexed for inflation.

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