Mortgage Debt Relief Act Receives Much-Needed Extension

FILE - In this file photograph taken Feb. 23, 2009, a foreclosure sign blows in the wind in front of a home under foreclosure
FILE - In this file photograph taken Feb. 23, 2009, a foreclosure sign blows in the wind in front of a home under foreclosure in Antioch, Calif. More than 1.5 million older Americans already have lost their homes, with millions more at risk as the national housing crisis takes its toll on those who are among the worst positioned to weather the storm, a new AARP report says. Older African Americans and Hispanics are the hardest hit. "The Great Recession has been brutal for many older Americans," said Debra Whitman, AARP's policy chief. "This shows that home ownership doesn't guarantee financial security later in life." (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

Struggling homeowners can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Congress has included an extension of Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act in an eleventh hour bill to avoid a possible fiscal cliff crisis. The Act that was scheduled to expire on December 31, 2012, was extended in the American Taxpayer Relief Act until December 31, 2013. Don Faught, the president of the California Association of Realtors, credits realtors in the association for their role in advocating for this extension of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act.

This relief will benefit homeowners who received mortgage debt forgiveness as a result of a reduction in principal, foreclosure, short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure. Under the United States Federal Tax Code, any debt that is forgiven, including mortgage debt, is treated as income and, therefore, subject to income tax. As the expiration date drew near, homeowners rushed to complete short sales before the end of the year to avoid tax on the difference between their mortgage debt and the sale price. For many, this tax would have been thousands of dollars. By extending the Act, homeowners will not have to pay income tax on mortgage debt forgiven up to two million dollars. Please check with your tax professional for all applicable scenarios as not all mortgage debt is subject to the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act.

This extension is especially important to underwater homeowners, who owe more for their home than it is worth. Short sales have enabled them to avoid foreclosure; however, already struggling homeowners with no equity in their homes would have faced significant difficulties paying income tax on their forgiven debt. Homeowners who are able to avoid foreclosure by receiving a loan modification that includes a principal reduction will also benefit.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 also extends the exclusion of capital gains tax on principal residences. Single homeowners will be able to exclude up to $250,000 when they sell their home, while married couples will receive a $500,000 exclusion.

While there has been some decrease in foreclosures and home values are slowly rising, the crisis is far from over. Therefore, supporters are already advocating to extend the Act beyond 2013 in order to avoid another urgent attempt to protect homeowners and help stabilize the housing market.

Anna Cuevas, ex-bank executive turned homeowner advocate known as "America's Loan Modification Guru," has empowered and guided thousands of Americans in keeping their homes from foreclosure through loan modification self-advocacy. A popular blogger (, Cuevas has been called a "superhero of the loan modification industry" and has been nominated for CNN's Heroes. She is the #1 bestselling author of SAVE YOUR HOME Without Losing Your Mind or Money.