California state income tax on forgiven debt resulting from a short sale, foreclosure, or loan modification will no longer be imposed on homeowners in California. Senate Bill 401 makes California’s tax treatment of mortgage debt relief income the same as federal law. Be advised, however, that only the debt stemming from the loan secured by a "qualified principal residence," will be exempt from both federal and state income tax consequences. While the federal exemption amount is up to $2 million, the California exemption is up to $800,000 and forgiven debt up to $500,000. Now, I know you’re thinking … what is a "Qualified principal residence." This means that only the debt incurred in connection with acquiring, constructing, or substantially improving a principal residence is the subject of this legislation. Principal residences are where you actually reside, receive mail and inhabit for all intents and purposes. This new debt forgiveness exemption will include first and second trust deeds, as well as debt incurred in connection with a refinance loan to the extent that that fund from said loan were used to payoff a previous loan that would have also qualified under Senate Bill 401’s guidelines. These "tax breaks" are applicable to debts that are discharged from 2009 through 2012. Californians who have already filed their 2009 tax returns may claim the exemption by filing a Form 540X amendment. Taxpayers who do not qualify for the exemptions (for example, those homeowners with second or third homes and/or rental property or properties) may potentially also claim an exemption, through other provisions in the law, however. A very important thing to note is that taxpayers who are bankrupt are exempt from debt relief income tax. This means, that they have no liability. Also, taxpayers who are insolvent and have no assets may also claim exemption from debt relief income tax to the extent their current liabilities exceed current assets. For more information about mortgage forgiveness tax consequences, go to California Franchise Tax Board’s Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Extended webpage and the Internal Revenue Service’s Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and Debt Cancellation webpage. The full text of Senate Bill 401 is available at www.leginfo.ca.gov. Also, remember to consult with an attorney before taking any steps that may impact your tax and/or legal liability.
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