Deciding to walk away from a family home is a gut-wrenching decision. Before walking away the prudent person will investigate all of the options, including returning the property to the lender (i.e. a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure), a short sale, or renting the property. Unfortunately, for some walking away is unavoidable, so it is important to know the repercussions.
The first concern is safeguarding the property. Maintaining insurance and basic utility service is important until possession (and in some cases ownership) of the house is transferred. Should you fail to safeguard the property, you may be liable to the lender for damages.
Next, once transfer of title is accomplished (usually through a foreclosure proceeding), the bank may sue you for breach of contract and damages. Sometimes the bank will wait until after it fully realizes all of its damages upon sale of the house, then it will sue for the difference between the amount it recovers and the amount you owed. This is called a deficiency balance and it is recoverable by the lender in most states.
The bank may also forgive the debt difference and issue you an IRS Form 1099C. When this happens the bank is telling the IRS that it has given you a “gift” in the amount of its loss (because you don’t have to pay it back) and you owe income tax on the “gift” amount. You have two options to avoid paying the tax debt: bankruptcy, or the insolvency exclusion in the tax code. The insolvency exclusion requires that you prove that your liabilities exceeded the value of your assets. By filing bankruptcy this type of tax debt will be discharged.
Congress has granted a reprieve from tax debts stemming from the sale of your primary residence. The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 (H.R. 3648) provides that taxpayers do not owe taxes on mortgage debt that was forgiven by the lender. The law only applies to deficiencies during the 2007, 2008, and 2009 tax years.
Finally, walking away from your home will have negative consequences to your credit report. The possible negative items include 120 day late entries, foreclosure, and debt write-off. All of these items have a devastating impact on your credit report and, consequently, your credit score.
If you are contemplating walking away from your home, get the facts! Investigate your options from a qualified bankruptcy attorney. Only a bankruptcy attorney will be able to explain your options including those available under the bankruptcy laws.
Contact Haines and Krieger today for a free consultation at 702-880-5554.