Canceled credit card debts come back to haunt taxpayers
Billions of dollars in credit card debt that was charged off during the Great Recession— some of it decades old — is coming back to haunt borrowers in the form of unexpected tax bills.
Debt that is canceled or forgiven is considered taxable income, something many borrowers don’t realize until they receive a 1099-C tax form from their lender. The IRS projects that creditors will send taxpayers 6.4 million 1099-Cs in 2012, up from 3.9 million in 2010.
The increase likely reflects the rise in credit card defaults during the economic downturn, says Gerri Detweiler, personal finance expert for Credit.com. Moody’s Investor Service estimates that the nation’s six largest credit card companies wrote off more than $75 billion in uncollectible balances in 2009 and 2010.
Taxpayers who receive a 1099-C, which is also submitted to the IRS, are liable for the tax bill unless they can prove that the debt was discharged in bankruptcy or that they were insolvent when the debt was canceled, says Jennifer MacMillan, an enrolled agent in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Shelley Cartier, 48, of Austin, recently received a 1099-C for a credit card debt that was more than 20 years old. Cartier says she filed for bankruptcy in the early 1990s but no longer has the paperwork to prove the debt was discharged. Numerous calls to the financial institution have gotten her nowhere, she says.
“I can’t file my taxes until I get it cleared up,” Cartier says.