Bankruptcy Discharge v. Debt Canceled: Taxing Matter

27 Mar Bankruptcy Discharge v. Debt Canceled: Taxing Matter

Under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, if a debt is discharged in a bankruptcy case, it does NOT count as taxable income. Bankruptcy-discharged debt is, therefore, much more powerful than merely canceled debt. While canceled debt may create an income tax liability, discharged debt does not. See What is a 1099c and what do I do about it?


We all know that wage income is taxable. Take a look at your latest pay stuband remind yourself just how much the government actually takes.

But what are the tax ramifications of canceled debt? Is canceled debt treated the same way as regular income? Will you end up owing the IRS because of a debt settled or canceled by a creditor?

By “canceled debt” I mean that portion of a debt that a creditor is unable to collect from you and is later”written off.” Its that pile of bills you have no ability to repay and is basically not collectible.

First, lets consider some examples. What if you borrow $ 100,000 from a bank and then default after only repaying $ 20,000? How should the $ 80,000 unpaid portion be treated by the Internal Revenue Service? Here is another example.If you owe $ 8,000 on a Visa credit card and stop making payments, how should the creditor’s loss be treated on your tax return?

Generally, a creditor’s loss isyour income gain. When a creditorloses hope of collecting a debt, they may cancel the debt and report the amount canceled to the IRS using form 1099-C (Cancellation of Debt). Then, when tax season arrives, you receive your 1099-C and report the canceled debt as additional income subject to the tax ax.

This is why many debt management, or debt consolidation programs are dangerous. While they may be marginally successful in getting your phone to stop ringing from debt collectors, they cannot prevent the IRS from knocking on your door wanting to tax you on the canceled debt.


This is not to say that a creditor won’t still attempt to send a debtor with a bankruptcy discharge a Form 1099-C. The solution for one who has filed bankruptcy, however, is to file IRS Form 982. This can exclude the amount of discharged indebtedness from your gross income.

In a future post, we will consider the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007. While the act will not prevent a mortgage company from suing you, it may remove the tax liability of canceled debt for a homeowner on his principal residence.


Don’t confuse “canceled” debt with “charged off” or “written off” debt. A “charge off” means the creditor has removed the account from its active books and likely sent the account for collection or sold the account to a debt buyer. You may see “charge off” on your credit report, but that does not mean you don’t owe the debt. You still owe the money unless the debt was canceled with a 1099-C or the debt was discharged in bankruptcy.

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