With a stroke of the pen, President Bush signed into law H.R. 3648, The Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007, and dramatically changed the lives of homeowners across the country who are facing foreclosure, considering a short sale, negotiating a loan workout, or have done any of these since January 1, 2007.
While this bill has been long awaited by homeowners who would be penalized by the potential phantom tax, and real estate agents praying that it will open the flood gates to more business via short sale listings, the goal of the Administration and legislators is to reduce the number of foreclosures and the need for short sales by allowing homeowners to renegotiate their loans without tax consequences.
The President welcomed those in attendance, saying,
"Thank you all for coming. Welcome to the White House. I'm pleased to sign a bill that will help homeowners who are struggling with rising mortgage payments. The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 will protect families from higher taxes when they refinance their homes. It will help hardworking Americans take steps to avoid foreclosure during a period of uncertainty in the housing market."
After thanking House and Senate members, staff, HUD and the Treasury Department, Bush continued.
"In recent months, our nation's housing market has faced serious strains. Home values have fallen in many parts of our country. At the same time, many homeowners with adjustable rate mortgages have seen their monthly payments increase faster than their ability to pay. And now some homeowners face the prospect of foreclosure.
"My administration has taken strong steps to help homeowners avoid foreclosure by making it easier to refinance loans. We gave the Federal Housing Administration greater flexibility to refinance loans for struggling homeowners. We helped assemble a private sector group of lenders, loan servicers, investors, and mortgage counselors called the HOPE NOW Alliance. This group has agreed on a set of industry-wide standards to help those with subprime loans refinance or modify their mortgages, so more families can stay in their homes.
"The bill I sign today will help this effort by ensuring that refinancing a mortgage does not result in a higher tax bill. Under current law, if the value of your house declines and your bank or lender forgives a portion of your mortgage, the tax code treats the amount forgiven as money that can be taxed. And of course, this makes a difficult situation even worse. When you're worried about making your payments, higher taxes are the last thing you need to worry about. So this bill will create a three-year window for homeowners to refinance their mortgage and pay no taxes on any debt forgiveness that they receive. And it's a really good piece of legislation. The provision will increase the incentive for borrowers and lenders to work together to refinance loans -- and it will allow American families to secure lower mortgage payments without facing higher taxes."
Earlier in the week, the Treasury Department released a statement from Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. regarding the Congressional passage of the legislation.
"I thank both the Senate and the House for their quick passage of this important piece of legislation. Homeowners who restructure their mortgages to avoid foreclosure should not be hit with a tax bill as a result. This legislation will temporarily exclude homeowners who have restructured their mortgage loans from having to paying taxes on the mortgage debt forgiven.
"Today's legislation is one piece of a larger plan the President has put forward to help able homeowners avoid foreclosure. I'm also eager to see final Congressional action on the other pieces, including GSE and FHA reform and allowing state and local authorities more tax-exempt bond authority to help homeowners refinance their existing loans.
"Preventing avoidable foreclosures will reduce the impact of the housing slowdown on homeowners, our communities, and our economy."
Also notable was the National Association of Realtors response:
WASHINGTON, December 20, 2007 - “On behalf of the many individuals and families who would have been burdened by a tax after losing their home, the National Assn. of REALTORS® thanks President George W. Bush for signing the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act into law. Today the president offered a Christmas present to many people who have suffered the agony and humiliation of losing their home due to a short sale, foreclosure, deed in lieu of foreclosure or any similar arrangement that relieves the borrower of the obligation to pay some portion of their debt.
“NAR has been advocating for such a change to the IRS tax code for nearly 10 years. We have always believed that it is clearly an issue of fairness and of not kicking people when they are down. By making the forgiven debt taxable income, individuals in already unfortunate situations most likely faced IRS actions because they did not have the money to pay the additional taxes. This legislation will relieve that additional burden and may also encourage families to work with their lender to negotiate terms, knowing they will now not be subject to an IRS bill.
“Today’s bill will ensure that any debt forgiven on a mortgage secured for a principal residence will not be taxed. This is very significant legislation. This may also mean that some day in the future these families can once again achieve the dream of homeownership.”
While this bill has been long awaited by homeowners who would be penalized by the potential phantom tax, and real estate agents who pray that it will open the flood gates to more business via short sale listings, the goal of the Administration and legislators is to reduce the number of foreclosures and the need for short sales by allowing homeowners to renegotiate their loans without tax consequences.
Here is the full text of The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007
Overview of the debt forgiveness portion - Short Sale and Phantom Tax Debt Relief Overview
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