From early January to mid-February, you might receive a number of tax documents in the mail. They can range from expected W-2s from your employer to forms about mortgage interest you paid. One form that many people don’t expect is the 1099-C. Discover why you would receive such a form and what the IRS expects you to do with it. Make sure to consult with your tax professional for your specific situation.
What Is a 1099-C Form?
A 1099-C is a tax form required by the IRS in certain situations where your debts have been forgiven or canceled. The IRS requires a 1099-C form for certain acts of debt forgiveness because it sees that forgiven debt as a form of income.
For example, if you borrowed $12,000 for a personal loan and only paid back $6,000, you still received the original $12,000. Not paying back the other half of the loan means you got the benefit of that money without paying for it. The IRS considers that to be income in many cases.
Why Did You Get a 1099-C Form?
Not every debt cancellation involves a 1099-C form. But if you received this form in the mail, it’s because of a debt cancellation that occurred at some point during the tax year.
Box 6 on the 1099-C form should have a code to help you determine why you received the form. You can also learn more about 1099-C cancellation of debt processes and the reasons you might receive such a form if you’re not sure whether yours is accurate.
The IRS provides instructions and information about 1099-C forms and cancellation of debt in general. That includes a list of potential codes that might be found in Box 6:
A—Bankruptcy (Title 11)
B—Other judicial debt relief
C—Statute of limitations or expiration of deficiency period
E—Debt relief from probate or similar proceeding
G—Decision or policy to discontinue collection
H—Other actual discharge before identifiable event
What Should You Do with a 1099-C Form?
You should never ignore any tax form you receive, as each might have positive or negative implications on your tax return. But you should also not panic if you receive a 1099-C form indicating a large amount of income. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will owe a lot more in taxes.
First, find out whether the type of debt cancellation on the 1099-C form is excluded from taxable income. The IRS provides a list of exclusions, which include debts that were forgiven because you were insolvent or involved in certain types of bankruptcies. It’s a good idea to double check with your bankruptcy lawyer about whether you need to claim 1099-C income relevant to your bankruptcy discharge.
Once you know whether you need to claim the income or not, you must incorporate the 1099-C into your federal tax filing. If the canceled debt doesn’t fall under an exclusion, you report it as “other income” on your tax return.
That income will be included with your other income in determining how much tax you must pay for the year. In short, you’ll have to pay taxes on the extra income. That might mean your refund is reduced or that you owe more taxes than you would otherwise.
In cases where the 1099-C canceled debt falls under an IRS exclusion—which means you don’t have to pay taxes on all or some of the income—you still may need to file a form. The creditor that sent you the 1099-C also sent a copy to the IRS. If you don’t acknowledge the form and income on your own tax filing, it could raise a red flag. Red flags could result in an audit or having to prove to the IRS later that you didn’t owe taxes on that money.
Luckily, the IRS provides a form for this purpose. It’s Form 982, the Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness.
What to Do if You Received a 1099-C Form After Filing Your Taxes
If you don’t know a 1099-C form is coming—and many people don’t realize they might receive one—you could file your taxes before it arrives. You should file an amended return if this happens. That’s true even if the 1099-C doesn’t change your tax obligation, as you might want to get the Form 982 on record for documentation purposes.
What’s the 1099-C Statute of Limitations?
There aren’t really statutes of limitations on cancellation of debt, though the IRS does have rules about when these forms should be filed. The creditor must file a 1099-C the year following the calendar year when a qualifying event occurs. That just means the creditor must file the next year if they discharge or forgive a debt.
If the creditor files a 1099-C with the IRS, then typically it must provide you with a copy by January 31 so you have it for tax filing purposes that year. This is similar to the rule for W-2s from employers.
However, there is no rule for how long a creditor can carry debt on its books before it decides it’s uncollectible. So, if your debt isn’t canceled via repossession, bankruptcy, or other processes, cancellation could happen at any time. The creditor doesn’t have to tell you about it other than sending the 1099-C.
Is a 1099-C Form Good or Bad for Your Credit?
The 1099-C form shouldn’t have any impact on your credit. However, the activity that led to the 1099-C probably does impact your credit. Typically, by the time a creditor forgives a debt, you’ve engaged in at least one of the following activities:
Failed to make payments for an extended period of time
Negotiated a settlement on the debt
Entered into a program with the creditor because you can’t pay the debt, such as a home short sale or voluntary repossession
Been sent to collections
Had a foreclosure or repossession
Gone through a bankruptcy
All of those are negative items that can impact your credit report and score for years. So, while getting a 1099-C itself doesn’t change your credit at all, you’ve probably already experienced a negative hit to your score.
Get Tax Help if You Receive a 1099-C
As with other tax topics, the 1099-C can be complicated. It’s a good idea to work with a professional when dealing with complicated tax matters or trying to reduce your tax burden legally.