Monday, June 11, 2012
To Be or Not to Be: The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act Extension Beyond December 31, 2012
Under the debt relief law for qualified home owners, taxation can be avoided on forgiven mortgage amounts up to $2 million (married filing jointly) and $1 million for single filers. To be eligible, the debt must be canceled by a lender in connection with a mortgage restructuring, short sale, deed-in-lieu of foreclosure or foreclosure. The transaction must be completed no later than December 31, 2012.
Having a foreclosure on one’s credit report will impact a credit score much more than will a short sale. If one is successful in completing a short sale, in many cases, he or she may qualify for a mortgage much sooner than with a foreclosure. Not surprisingly, short sales have thrived under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. There have been 1.6 million short sales reported by the National Association of Realtors since late 2008, accounting for between 10 percent and 14 percent of home sales activity each month during that time. If the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act is not going to be extended beyond 2012, we can expect short sales to plummet in 2013, with real estate sales in general, taking a dive. So if you’re a home owner contemplating a short sale, should you act now or hold off?
Given the huge public and private resources now being devoted to helping financially distressed home owners — including the recently announced $25 billion national mortgage settlement with five major banks — you might assume that a key federal tax law benefit underpinning these efforts would be a shoo-in for renewal.
Election-year politics and a contentious lame-duck, year-end congressional session loaded down with tax and budget issues could doom renewal of the debt relief tax legislation and put large numbers of loan modification participants deeply in the hole. Republican strategists say the cost of continuing the program — $2.7 billion for two years — is substantial enough to catch the eyes of budget-deficit hawks. Beyond that, they add, some members of Congress may be opposed to what they see as still another targeted federal benefit for people who didn’t pay their mortgages — subsidized by taxpayers and stayed current on their loans, even while underwater or facing severe financial distress. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the center-right American Action Forum, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and economic adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said in an interview that there is “a powerful sentiment,” especially among conservative freshman House members supported by the Tea Party, that tax code “bailouts” to delinquent and underwater home owners are fundamentally unfair.
On the one hand, only 27 Republicans voted against the original 2007 bill, which was written by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and handily passed the House before sweeping through the Senate with unanimous consent. On the other hand, that all happened before the Tea Party picked up steam. A look at the 2007 roll call for the original 2007 bill shows that two of the "no" votes came from GOP members who are now heavyweights on the Ways and Means Committee-through which the original bill traversed -- Rep. David Camp of Michigan, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, and Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the GOP deputy whip. Both Camp and Brady are on record having signed an opposition statement attached to the original legislation highlighting concerns that the temporary measure could morph into a permanent entitlement, creating "an environment where the American tax system is complicit in promoting 'risk-free' mortgages." Camp has since been unsympathetic to many home owner relief measures proposed from across the partisan divide. He voted to kill the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and to deny federal bankruptcy judges "cramdown" powers, in which they could mark down the amount owed on a mortgage to the current market value of the property.
The extension of the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act beyond December 31, 2012, therefore, is hardly a slam dunk. That being said, home owners contemplating whether to do a short sale now or wait until next year might be best served to take the “I’d rather be safe than sorry” stance and do their short sale before year end..