Some lenders may forgive a deficiency balance on a mortgage, but not all do.
Even after closing out your loan with your lender, through either a short sale, deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, or a foreclosure, your problems may not be behind you. Depending on the original terms of your loan as well as the state you live in, you may end up with a significant financial liability or a tax liability. You may owe your former lender(s) if the sale proceeds did not pay the entire balance you owed on all loans that were secured by your property. The difference between what you owed and what the home sold for is called a deficiency balance.
Some lenders may forgive a deficiency balance, but not all do. It is often an unsound economic decision for a lender to sue you for the deficiency balance. For one, you may not have any resources to pay them. You likely would not have defaulted on your mortgage if you could have afforded to pay it.
Some states protect their citizens with anti-deficiency laws. Rules vary from state to state.
Non-Recourse or Recourse Loan
An important factor in whether you can be liable for a deficiency balance is whether your loan is a non-recourse loan or a recourse loan. A non-recourse loan restricts your lender’s ability to collect on your defaulted loan to the assets used to secure the loan. For your mortgage loan, it is likely that the home itself was the only security. If you have a non-recourse loan and your lender forecloses on you, then it cannot get a deficiency judgment and attempt to collect on it. It can only sell the home and keep the proceeds.
Most non-recourse loans are restricted to loans used to purchase a primary residence. If your lender foreclosed on your investment property or vacation home, you likely are liable for the deficiency balance. You could also be liable for the deficiency balance if you had taken out a loan on a primary residence and the home was no longer your primary residence.
A recourse loan is one where the lender has the legal means to collect the deficiency balance from you. Your lender can pursue collections, including suing you to get a deficiency judgment against you, which can lead to a levy on your wages. Your lender can also sell or assign the debt to a collection agency that can come after you to collect on the debt. Your lender may or may not decide to pursue collections, if it has the legal authority to do so. There is no sure way for you to know. Lenders realize that if you went through a foreclosure or short sale that you may have a severe financial hardship which makes collecting on the debt difficult. If your lender takes the time, expense, and effort to get a judgment against you, it may never be able to collect. Therefore, it may not even pursue collecting in the first place.
Some states are non-recourse states, while other states are recourse states. In non-recourse states, your lender generally cannot come after you for any balance that remains after the proceeds from the sale of your primary residence home are applied to your outstanding mortgage debt. Still, even within non-recourse states, things are not black and white. Loans that were not used for purchase money can become a recourse loan even in a non-recourse state. Check the terms of your loan. In fact, it is a good idea to know whether your loan will be a recourse or non-recourse loan, before you take out the loan.
In some cases, you lender my write of the debt, deciding instead of trying to collect it from you. A debt that your lender wrote off can result in a tax liability for you. A 1099-C is a notice to the IRS that the financial institution has forgiven or canceled a debt of $600 or more. If the financial institution issues a 1099-C to you, then it has forgiven the debt and you must report the dollar amount shown on the 1099-C as income on your income tax return. Fortunately, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 allows taxpayers to exclude income from the discharge of debt on their principal residence. The forgiveness is restricted to mortgage debt that you incurred to purchase your home. If you took out cash from the equity in your home in a refinance, as many Americans did during the real estate boom period, you are not covered by the Mortgage Forgiveness Act. Even if you cannot use the protections of the federal act, you may still be able to avoid declaring the dollars listed on the 1099-C. Check with a CPA, tax attorney, or tax professional to see if you meet the IRS rules regarding your assets and liabilities and can use the IRS Form 982 to avoid declaring the 1099-C as income.
If the financial institution issues a 1099-C to you, it will probably not pursue you for the deficiency balance because it has deducted the loss on the loan from its taxes. However, there is no guarantee the financial institution will not pursue you for the deficiency balance and then later amend its tax returns.
Consider negotiating with your creditor in an attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement on the debt. The good news here is collection agents purchase deficiency balance collection accounts for 1 or 2 cents on the dollar. (This is in contrast to credit card collection accounts, where the industry standard is 6 or 7 cents on the dollar. If necessary, enroll the debt in a debt negotiation program. (Go to the Bills.com debt relief savings center for a no-cost quote.) Another option is to negotiate the debt yourself. Consider opening negotiations at 5 cents on the dollar for a lump-sum settlement. This amount may sound small, but given the fact the collection agent bought the collection account for a penny or two on the dollar, this amount gives the collection agent a handsome return on their investment.
If a creditor pursues you for a deficiency balance, make sure you understand which financial and tax responsibilities can follow you, even after you lose or sell your home. Speak with an attorney or a tax specialist to your rights and liabilities under your state's laws. The last thing you want is for a problem you thought was behind you to rear its head with IRS collection notices or a wage levy from a judgment an aggressive creditor obtained.