If you find yourself drowning in credit card debt, you might wonder what your options are for paying it off. While some debtors opt for filing bankruptcy, doing so can result in long-term negative consequences, including a poor credit score. Another alternative is debt settlement, which can help you clear your debt much more quickly. Just be aware that claiming insolvency for credit card debt can have tax consequences.
What is Debt Settlement?
Debt settlement, or debt negotiation, lets debtors pay off outstanding credit card accounts or other debts for less than the actual balance owed. The debtor negotiates with the creditor to pay a percentage of the debt, typically in the form of a lump sum payment or several smaller payments. The creditor then forgives the remaining amount of the debt. Depending on the creditor, the age of the debt and the amount of cash you have to settle with, you might be able to reduce your debt by anywhere from 25 percent to 75 percent.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has specific rules about reporting forgiven debt. A creditor must complete IRS Form 1099C to report the cancellation of a debt if the forgiven amount exceeds $599. The creditor must also issue a copy of the 1099C to the debtor for tax filing purposes. If you receive a 1099C, you must report the amount of forgiven debt as income on your taxes, unless you plan to claim insolvency. If you believe you were insolvent at the time the debt was forgiven, you will need to complete IRS Form 982 to determine what amount of debt can be excluded from your income.
Insolvency means the value of your total debts or liabilities exceeded the total fair market value of your assets. The IRS allows debtors to exclude forgiven debt from their taxable income up to the point of insolvency. For example, assume that your debts total $50,000 and your assets are valued at $35,000. Your creditors forgive $20,000 of outstanding debt. According to the IRS rules, you can only exclude $15,000 of the debt from your income since this is the point to which you're insolvent. The remaining $5,000 will have to be reported as taxable income.
In addition to the tax implications associated with credit card debt settlement, there are several other things you should consider. First, you should negotiate with your creditor to have the debt listed on your credit as paid in full, rather than settled or charged-off. While a settled debt is not as damaging to your credit as bankruptcy, it can potentially cause your credit score to suffer. Second, if you're thinking of using a debt settlement company to negotiate on your behalf, you should be aware that a number of these companies operate fraudulently in order to scam unsuspecting consumers. Finally, if you settle a debt but don't receive a Form 1099C, you must still report the forgiven debt on your taxes to avoid additional IRS penalties.
Rebecca Lake is a freelance writer and virtual assistant living in the southeast. She has been writing professionally since 2009 for various websites. Lake received her master's degree in criminal justice from Charleston Southern University.