Credit Card Settlement Can Trigger Tax

06 Sep Credit Card Settlement Can Trigger Tax

Bankrupcy may be better than debt negotiation. Credit card banks may offer settlement at a reduced amount if you get behind and fail to keep current on your payments. My colleague, Doug Jacobs, talks about Negotiating Your Credit Card Balance in an earlier series of articles on this website. However, if a bank or other finance company agrees to settle a debt for less than the balance due, IRS regulations require them to file a 1099-C reporting the cancellation of debt income you receive from the settlement.

While settling a debt for less than the balance due clearly improves your financial position and may allow you to avoid filing bankruptcy, this benefit comes at a price. The price you pay for settling the debt may be greater than justthe settlement payment sent to your credit card bank.

Unexpected taxable income is never a welcome event and that is particularly true when it doesn’t come in the form of a check you can use to pay the tax. That is just the sort of unpleasant surprise that can occur with debt settlement. The difference between the debt that is due and the amount you pay will be included in your income for tax purposes by the Internal Revenue Service in the year when the debt was cancelled. If you do not report the income on your tax return, the IRS will send you a notice from the under-reporter unit and then assess more tax (and a penalty) if you can not show there is some reason to exclude the amount.

There are several exceptions to the rule that can avoid tax on the cancelled debt. If the debt is discharged in bankruptcy, it is not considered to be income to you. Despite the credit counseling requirement of the bankruptcy law, you may be better off with a bankruptcy discharge than a settlement of your debt at a discount.

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I was admitted to practice in 1978. I am certified as a Consumer Bankruptcy Specialist by the American Board of Certification. I regularly speak on tax and bankruptcy issues at state, regional and national conferences. Years of experience in practice before the Internal Revenue Service and Oregon Department of Revenue have given me the background to resolve a large variety of consumer tax issues.
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