What You Might Not Know About Debt Relief and Your Taxes

Written By Mary Beth Eastman
Last updated March 20, 2019

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Personal Finance
March 20, 2019

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

On its face, debt relief sounds like an unconditionally good thing. Who wouldn’t like a little — or a lot — of their debt forgiven? But everything comes with its cost, and debt relief can have a major impact during tax season.

Read on to learn about some effects of debt relief you may not have considered — and how to make plans for April. Keep in mind that tax laws change swiftly, so check with your online tax service to learn about the most recent regulations.

Many debtors don’t know that the IRS considers forgiven debts above $600 to be income, just like wages or interest. And like any income, the IRS expects a cut. Check with your online tax service.

You can expect to pay taxes on your forgiven debts — anywhere between 10% and 37% of your income in 2018-19, depending on your tax bracket. (You receive information about this income via a 1099-C Cancellation of Debt form.) And yes, your forgiven debts could push you into a higher tax bracket.

If you’ve received this relief because your debts outweigh your assets (such as when you apply for bankruptcy), you may not need to pay taxes on this money. Some other circumstances may also cause your debt relief to not count as taxable income, so check with your online tax service.

But if those circumstances don’t apply, you might see a smaller refund during tax season. And at worst, you could find yourself suddenly owing more money at the end of the year than you expected.

If you’re lucky enough to get your debts forgiven, follow this advice to make sure tax season goes smoothly for you:

Put aside some extra money. It may be hard, but try to put aside some extra money to pay your taxes.

Claim fewer allowances. If you get debt relief, think about filing a new W-4 withholding form, so you claim fewer allowances. This way, your employer will withhold more money toward your taxes. You’ll take home less money from each paycheck, but you’ll be less likely to owe in April.

Check with your online tax service. Even if you’ve just dug your way out of debt, you can still take advantage of online tax services like everyone else! Most services will give you advice on how to navigate your new financial situation.

Debt relief is a tremendous windfall, but it can bring new tax challenges into your life. By staying abreast of the law, planning ahead, and working with your online tax service, you can meet your tax obligations in April.

About the Author

Mary Beth Eastman

Mary Beth Eastman serves as the content manager for Simple. Thrifty. Living, where she is dedicated to helping readers use money and credit wisely. Mary Beth believes that access to the right financial information paired with a growth mindset are essential tools for getting out of debt and building wealth. Mary Beth has a degree in Journalism from Bowling Green State University and has focused her 20-year journalism career on putting readers front and center, carefully considering their concerns and presenting information that will help them in their everyday lives. She has won numerous statewide journalism awards. Her writing on personal finance as been featured on numerous websites in addition to Simple. Thrifty. Living, including Huffington Post and Lexington Law blog. Mary Beth resides in Pittsburgh, Pa., with her family and two rescue dogs.

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