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Is Canceled Debt Taxable?

Tax Information Tax Planning
A smiling middle-aged couple sit at their dining table and research whether their recently canceled debt is taxable

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Updated for tax years 2023 and 2024.

If a creditor cancels your debt, that’s good news, right? Such cancellation of debt usually happens when the creditor gives up on collecting the debt or when the statute of limitations on collecting the debt runs out.

Cancellation of debt comes with a caveat, though — most of the time, canceled debt is taxable, meaning you may owe income tax on the canceled amount.

What does it mean when a debt is canceled?

A debt is considered canceled if it is forgiven or discharged for less than the full amount owed. The portion that you no longer need to pay is the canceled debt. Canceled debt can result from foreclosure, repossessions, mortgage modifications, voluntary transfer of property to the lender, or abandonment of property.

When your debt is canceled, you should receive IRS Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, from the lender, which they also send to the IRS. The amount of debt shown on your 1099-C form as canceled is taxable income on your federal tax return unless you qualify for an exception.

When banks are required to report canceled debt

If your debt is canceled by a bank, the bank must report it to the IRS. The IRS requires banks to report cancellation of debt due to certain “identifiable events.” The most common of these events are:

  1. A debt discharged in bankruptcy
  2. Other federal or state court proceedings that make a debt unenforceable
  3. Expiration of the statute of limitations for collecting a debt
  4. A negotiated settlement with the debtor
  5. Discontinuation of collection activity, whether it is based on a decision or as part of their defined policy

Examples of some of the above events are credit card debt forgiveness, mortgage debt forgiveness, or student loan forgiveness. If you receive Form 1099-C detailing forgiven debt from a creditor, you must report it on your federal income tax return and pay tax on the amount of canceled debt unless you meet an exception to the rule.

Exclusions for individuals: When debt is NOT taxable

1. Insolvency

The main exception to paying tax on discharged debt is if you can show that you were insolvent when the debt was canceled. To be insolvent means that you have more debts than assets. If you couldn’t pay your bills and the bank canceled your debt, you probably qualify.

As a borrower, you must have been insolvent immediately before the debt was canceled. It’s not enough to tell the IRS you were insolvent — you must fill out an IRS insolvency worksheet (page 7) to prove your debts were greater than your assets. If you weren’t insolvent, you generally must pay tax on the canceled debt.

2. Bankruptcy

If these debts were discharged because you filed for Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy, it means you were insolvent and do not have to pay tax on the cancellation of debt. In this instance, you can exclude the canceled debt from your gross income.

3. Qualified principal residence indebtedness

If you incurred debt in order to purchase, build, or substantially improve your primary residence and it was forgiven before Jan. 1, 2026, you can exclude it from your gross income. For tax purposes, your primary residence is simply your main residence where you live most of the time.

How much tax do you have to pay on cancellation of debt income?

Paying tax on canceled debt is still better than paying the entire balance! Canceled debt is taxed at the same rate as ordinary income. As a taxpayer, your tax rate depends on your tax bracket and can range from 10% to 37% depending on your taxable income. For example, if you’re in the 15% tax bracket and had $10,000 of debt discharged, you may owe income taxes up to $1,500.

Not sure what tax bracket you’re in? Give our Tax Bracket Calculator a try.

Does student loan forgiveness count as canceled debt?

Most of the time canceled student loan debt is considered taxable income. However, the American Rescue Plan temporarily made student loan forgiveness tax-free for a short time. To qualify for tax-free cancellation of debt, the loan forgiveness must have happened between Jan. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2025. Canceled student debt will be taxable again starting in 2026 unless changes are made.

This article is for informational purposes only and not legal or financial advice.
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