The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act was introduced in Congress on September 25, 2007, and became law on December 20, 2007. This act offered relief to homeowners who would formerly owe taxes on forgiven mortgage debt after facing foreclosure. The act extends such relief for three years, applying to debts discharged in calendar year 2007 through 2009. (With the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, this tax relief was extended another three years, covering debts discharged through calendar year 2012.)
Normally in US law when a lender decides to forgive all or a portion of a borrower's debt and accept less, the forgiven amount is considered as income for the borrower and is liable to be taxed.
However, after the signing of the Mortgage Forgiveness Act, amendments have been made to remove such tax liability and allow the borrower and lender to work freely together to find a common solution that is beneficial to both parties. This protection is limited to primary residences -- rental properties are ineligible for relief -- so consultation with a tax advisor is necessary to ensure that a borrower qualifies. The amount of forgiven mortgage debt allowed to be excluded from income tax is limited to $2 million per year.
More recent legislation provides for a specialized type of refinancing option, available for mortgages made after 2006, for owner-occupied homes. Under this program a debtor provides information similar to that necessary for a short-sale but rather than selling the house to a third-party an FHA guaranteed loan at a fixed-rate is available if the original lender is willing to write-off all but 85-percent of outstanding of the debtor's obligations (including principal, interest, late-fees, prepayment penalties, and all other fees). FHA-backed refinance packages are available beginning October, 2008, and carry a fee equal to 1.5% of the value of the house. Debtors who exercise this option must sacrifice 50-100 percent of equity that builds in a house, and may not participate in home equity loan programs. This program is only available to owner-occupied residences. This program requires consent from a lender: consent is not automatic and may be freely withheld, though withholding consent can result in a foreclosure with adverse financial results.