I see three major issues in your question.
When a mortgage lender forecloses on a home, the lender will generally sell the property, either at auction or by offering the property through a broker. Once the home is sold, the lender applies the sale proceeds to the balance of the original mortgage. If the sale proceeds are insufficient to cover the entire amount owed, which is often the case, especially with the recent drop in home prices, the remaining debt becomes a "deficiency balance." Depending on the type of loan and the laws of the state in which the property is located, the lender may be able to pursue the borrower for payment of the remaining deficiency balance of the debt.
Recourse vs. Non-recourse Loans in California
A recourse loan is one where the lender has the legal means to collect the deficiency balance from the borrower. A non-recourse loan is a loan where the creditor's ability to collect on a defaulted loan is restricted to any assets used to secure the loan. In other words, if the lender forecloses, then it cannot get a deficiency judgment and attempt to collect it from the borrower. Whether a loan is recourse or non-recourse varies with the state you reside in, and the nature of the loan.
California recourse rules are intricate and somewhat tricky. (We cite California statutes and case law here as an aid for your attorney to research your issues and facts.) Under California law, a lender cannot pursue a borrower for a deficiency balance resulting from a first mortgage used to purchase a residence. (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 580b)
In California, purchase money loans made on your home are non-recourse. (Roseleaf Corp. v. Chierighino, 59 Cal. 2d 35, 41 (1963) and Spangler v. Memel, 7 Cal. 3d 603, 610, and 612 (1972).) A "purchase money" loan is one where the money went from the lender, to escrow, and then to the seller or to pay purchase closing costs. If the borrower never refinanced and the property is still encumbered by the original purchase money deed, the anti-deficiency protection remains. (Foothill Village Homeowners Ass'n v. Bishop, 68 Cal. App. 4th 1364, 1367 n.1 (1999).)
Second mortgages may or may not be recourse loans under California law. If the second mortgage was taken out at the time of sale and was used as purchase money loan then it is a non-recourse loan (Brown v. Jensen, 41 Cal.2d 193 (1953).) However, if the second mortgage was financed after the initial purchase of the property and is on a second deed, then Section 580b does not apply. Similarly, Section 580b also does not apply when the borrower has refinanced the property to take out additional equity or obtain financing at better terms (Union Bank v. Wendland, 54 Cal. App. 3d 393, 400 (1976).)
California Recourse & Non-recourse HELOC Loans
A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) is akin to a credit card secured by property. No money changes hands until the consumer draws on the HELOC, which is customarily not done at the moment of purchase.
By contrast, a Home Equity Loan is a lump sum borrowed at the time of purchase or thereafter and is similar to a second mortgage. How an agent/broker structures the home equity loan may determine whether a home equity loan is a recourse loan.
Many banks limit the size of mortgage loans they will extend to 80% of the appraised value of the home being purchased. Traditionally, the remaining 20% of the purchase price was covered by the borrower's down payment.
During the housing boom of the mid-2000s, people who had little or no money to bring to the table as a down payment were able to purchase homes through various creative financing arrangements. To sell a home to an individual with no money for a down payment, a broker would often arrange with the seller to formally transfer the home to the buyer for 80% of its appraised value. A separate agreement would then be made between the buyer and the seller for the buyer to pay the remaining 20% immediately following the transfer of the property. The broker would pre-arrange a home equity loan for the 20% unencumbered equity (since the home was sold for 80% of the actual value, the new owner now had 20% equity); once the property was formally transferred, the 20% home equity loan could be finalized, with the proceeds used to pay off the 20% of the value that the buyer (now the owner) still owed to the seller.
All of these transactions took place in immediate succession, so to the buyer and the seller, it looked like a single deal. However, from a legal perspective, the home equity loan closed after the sale of the property was final (since the home had already been transferred to the buyer), which could make the home equity loan a recourse loan under California law.
I do not know how your financing was arranged. I provided the scenario above as an example of how complicated home financing can be and how a home equity loan, even one signed at the same closing as the first mortgage and sale documents, may be a recourse loan.
Here, you may or may not be liable for a deficiency balance on the 80% first-mortgage loan depending on whether it is the purchase money loan you used when buying the property. Regarding your 20% second mortgage HELOC, the same analysis applies. Review your loan documents carefully to determine when the loans were taken out, and how the deed or deeds read for each of the loans. I urge you consult with a California attorney experienced in property law to review your loan documents, deeds, and titles on the property.
In many cases, home equity lenders are considered "junior encumbrances" to the first mortgage, and are entitled to a portion of the sale proceeds only after the first mortgage holder collects 100% of the amount it is owed. Therefore, many people end up owing large deficiency balances on their home equity and second mortgage loans.
Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act
Under federal law, a lender must report to the IRS any forgiveness of a debt in an amount larger than $600. Borrowers are required to report this amount on form 1099-C when they file their income taxes. The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act exempts borrowers from the tax liability that would otherwise be created by a lender forgiving a portion of their loan balance, either in a short sale, loan modification, or as the result of a foreclosure. This legislation does not prevent your home equity lender from pursuing you for payment of a deficiency balance, if the lender chooses to try to collect the debt.
According to the IRS, the benefits of Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act can be used for debts forgiven in tax years 2007 through 2012.
In answer to your question, I believe you could still benefit from this law if your home is not sold until 2012. The date of the forgiveness really has little to do with the date of foreclosure; it is the date on which the lender actually forgave the debt. If you negotiate a short sale, it would likely be the date that the sale is finalized. In a foreclosure, the date of forgiveness could really be any date after the foreclosure, as the creditor can choose to forgive the debt at any time, if it decides to do so.
Any amount forgiven outside of the period covered by the "Relief Act" may be taxable as regular income. If one of your lenders forgives a debt, you should receive a form 1099-C from the lender, which would show the amount and the date of the debt cancellation.
I encourage you to consult with a qualified tax professional if you receive a 1099-C, so that you can make sure you are correctly calculating what you owe and to ensure that you are taking advantage of all exemptions available to you. The IRS offers valuable information about the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act.
To learn more about foreclosure, I invite you to visit the Bills.com foreclosure page.
I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.