California won’t tax forgiven mortgage debt

Governor Schwarzenegger on Monday signed SB 401 (Wolk) into law providing distressed homeowners with state tax exemption on debt forgiven in a short sale, foreclosure, or loan modification.  Effective immediately, this bill generally aligns California’s tax treatment of mortgage debt relief income with federal law.  For debt forgiven on a loan secured by a qualified principal residence, borrowers now will be exempt both from federal and state income tax consequences.  The tax exemptions apply, with certain restrictions, to debts discharged from 2009 through 2012.  Californians who have already filed their 2009 tax returns may claim the exemption by filing a Form 540X amendment.
 
Taxpayers who do not qualify for the above exemptions (e.g., second home or rental property) may nevertheless be exempt under other provisions.  Most notably, taxpayers who are bankrupt are exempt from debt relief income tax.  Also, taxpayers who are insolvent are exempt from debt relief income tax to the extent their current liabilities exceed current assets.

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