You finally did it. You filed your taxes and now need only await your return, to be spent on a new TV or stocked away in an IRA or whatever you want — it’s your money again, and not Uncle Sam’s.
Unfortunately, it’s possible for this state of reverie to be interrupted by something called the 1099-C — a form taxpayers receive when a creditor cancels a debt worth more than $600.
So if, for example, you have a student loan forgiven and the forgiven amount is more than $600, that counts as additional taxable income and you should expect a 1099-C in the mail. Or, if you renegotiate with a credit card company to pay less than you owe, and the difference is more than $600, expect a 1099-C. The form itself will give the specific reason in Box 6 via a code that you can look up on the IRS website.
No matter the exact reason, just know that, while it’s great to get rid of debt, it can still have consequences come tax time. Canceling a debt may also affect your credit score. Keep up with yours using Credit.com’s free credit report summary, which provides your two free credit scores, updated every two weeks.
Once you know why the 1099-C is in your mailbox, what do you do with it? The 1099-C might seem like just another form to plug into your tax software or give to your accountant. The problem is, the time the 1099-C arrives can vary, and the form may arrive after you’ve already filed your taxes, said Lisa Greene-Lewis, a CPA and tax expert for TurboTax.
Regardless of when the 1099-C arrives, if the debt was canceled in 2016, you have to include it with that year’s return, Greene-Lewis said. Here’s what you can do if you’ve already filed.
Amending Your Return
In some cases, you may not have to do anything. Your creditor should have filled out a 1099-C and sent it to the IRS when they forgave the debt.
The IRS may do an adjustment on your return automatically and send a notice asking if you agree. If not, you’ll have to amend your return, Greene-Lewis said.
Tax software like TurboTax can guide you through the process; otherwise, you’d file a form called a 1040X and include the information in the 1099-C.
You don’t have to report forgiven debt as income in a few cases. If a debt was discharged because of bankruptcy, you don’t have to pay tax on it. Same if you’re considered insolvent, Greene-Lewis said.
Also, if you had debt on a mortgage discharged in 2016, you don’t have to include it in your taxable income, thanks to the Mortgage Debt Relief Act’s extension through last year, Greene-Lewis said.
Will This Hurt My Return?
It depends on how much debt was discharged. If it was enough to bump you up to a higher tax bracket, then yes, a 1099-C could shrink your return, Greene-Lewis said.
In addition, you’ll likely pay a penalty if you file the amendment after April 15, even if the 1099-C showed up after the deadline.
It’s rare, but Greene-Lewis said she’s heard of 1099-C forms showing up after the filing deadline. You can include an explanation as to why you’re filing late on the amendment, but it’s not always enough to avoid the wrath of the Internal Revenue Service.