Just Received a 1099-C? Don’t Freak Out!

Over the past week we’ve been flooded with panicked questions from taxpayers who are freaking out after have receiving 1099-C or 1099-A forms for debts that were forgiven, never paid back or wiped out in bankruptcy. The main theme of these questions is “Do I have to pay taxes on the amount on the 1099-C (or 1099-A)?”—usually followed by “HELP!!?”

My first piece of advice: Take a deep breath! You may not have to pay taxes on the amount of the income listed on the 1099-C or 1099-A.

At the same time, doing nothing is not an option. If you got a 1099-C or 1099-A, so did the IRS. That means you must explain to the IRS why that amount should not be included in your income. If you don’t, the IRS will assume that money counts toward your income and you may either get a smaller tax refund than you expected or, worse: A bill from the IRS.

How can you avoid including that amount in your taxable income? By showing that you qualify for an exclusion or exception. I described these in my previous article, How to Avoid Taxes on Cancelled Debt, and more details are also available on the IRS website.  You may be able to simply fill out Form 982, claim an exclusion or exception, and be done with it. Sometimes it’s more complicated than that, though, and you need to work with a tax professional.


Here are a couple of examples of questions we received recently about 1099-Cs:

1099-C for Debt Wiped Out in Bankruptcy

I included my automobile with my bankruptcy in 2010, it was a Chapter 7. However I received a 1099 for the car that I included in the bankruptcy. What do I do now? Must I pay the taxes on this large amount even though it was included in my bankruptcy? Please help.

Debt that was discharged in bankruptcy can be excluded from your taxable income. Take a look at Form 982. At the top of the form you’ll see box 1 a. Discharge of indebtedness in a title 11 case. (Don’t be confused by the reference to “Title 11”—that’s just the part of U.S. Code that covers bankruptcy).  You can check that box. Then on Line 2, you’ll put the amount that was discharged in your bankruptcy for that debt and any others that were reported on a 1099-C. That amount will be excluded from your income. It should be simple enough.

Student Loans Cancellation

My student loans were discharged. I am on Social Security. Do I have to file the 1099-C I received for $62,000? My student loans were discharged due to total disability and I don’t file taxes because Social Security is non-taxable….HELP!!!!

First, keep in mind you don’t file the 1099-C; the lender does. A copy has already been sent to the IRS. So you must now demonstrate to them that part or all of that “income” is not taxable. How do you do that? By figuring out whether you qualify for an exclusion or an exception, and if you do, filing form 982.

You mention that your student loans were “discharged.” Do you mean discharged in bankruptcy? Or do you mean they were cancelled due to your total disability? If they were discharged in bankruptcy, then read the previous question and answer for more information on how to claim the exclusion for bankruptcy debts.

If they were cancelled, however, then it’s not quite as simple. According to the IRS, “Generally, if you are responsible for making loan payments, and the loan is cancelled (forgiven), you must include the amount that was forgiven in your gross income for tax purposes.” There is an exception for student loans that were used to attend a qualified educational institution and were cancelled because you worked for a certain period of time in certain professions. (An example would be a doctor who works in a qualified low-income area.) I didn’t find any reference to an exception or exclusion for student loan debt that was cancelled due to disability, though.

However, you may qualify to have part or all of the $62,000 excluded from your income if you are considered by the IRS to be insolvent. You’ll see a simplified example of how that works on our Infographic: What to Do If You Get a 1099-C. Review Form 982 and the instructions to see if you feel comfortable filling it out yourself. If not, your disability may qualify you for free or low-cost tax help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.

Finally, if you’re worried about how your debt or other issues could be impacting your credit, you can check your credit each month using Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card. This completely free tool will break down your credit score into sections and give you a grade for each. You’ll see, for example, how your payment history, debt and other factors affect your score, and you’ll get recommendations for steps you may want to consider to address problems. In addition, you’ll also find credit offers from lenders who may be willing to offer you credit. Checking your own credit reports and scores does not affect your credit score in any way.

For more strategies for dealing with 1099-C’s read:

Please keep in mind that I am a credit expert, not a tax expert, and the information in this post is strictly for educational purposes. See a tax professional or contact the IRS for help with your individual situation!

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