Understanding Tax Consequences of Debt Settlement

Tax Consequences of Debt Settlement: a man with his head over a table suffering from stress

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Tax debts and standard debts are two very different things. However, they are also inextricably linked…

If you’re struggling with debts from credit cards, loans, or other creditors you’ve borrowed from, you might be considering a debt settlement.

But while this can seem an attractive option, it’s vital to understand all the implications of this type of settlement. In particular, the tax implications – as tax on debt settlements can be much higher than most people realize, and could even push you into another type of debt: tax debt.

Tax debt is when you’re unable to pay the taxes you owe the state and/or IRS. This is entirely separate from your other debts. If you find yourself with tax debts, there are also options available to help you – and this is what we specialize in here at Tax Relief Helpers

However, it’s always best to avoid getting into tax debt if it can be avoided. Which is why it’s so important to understand the risks associated with a debt settlement program before going ahead.

The enrolled IRS agents, tax attorneys and CPA’s at Tax Relief Helpers help people manage and settle their tax debts. As tax and accounting experts, we’re able to advise you on how your standard debts will affect your tax liability, and whether debt settlement is an option you should consider. 

We know how stressful both taxes and debts can be, especially when you feel they’re spiraling out of your control. If you’re already struggling to pay your debts, understanding all your options is crucial. 

We’ve outlined the basic things you need to know about the tax consequences of debt settlement below, but we also have a team of tax experts at the end of the phone, ready to help.

What is Debt Settlement? 

Debt settlement is when you negotiate with a creditor or debt collector to pay less than you owe. For example, you may owe $10,000 on a credit card, and the creditor allows you to pay $5,000 instead and accepts this as full payment. 

It’s possible to settle with some companies yourself. However, frequently it is handled by third-party companies that consolidate all your debts, negotiate the individual settlements on your behalf, and provide you with one final settlement amount you need to pay.

It’s worth noting that using these companies comes with its own additional risks, which should be taken into full consideration before going ahead. Especially to ensure that the amount of debt forgiven will be higher than any fees, interest charges, or additional tax due as a result of the settlement.

This type of debt settlement can initially seem like a very attractive option, but it’s vital to understand the potential implications of settling debt before going ahead. And in particular, the implications regarding tax on debt settlement. 

What are the tax consequences of a debt settlement? 

The tax implications that come from this type of debt settlement can be much higher than many people realize. 

If the “forgiven” debt exceeds $600, the IRS views this as taxable income. This means you will need to declare the forgiven debt in your next tax return. Depending on the level of your debts, this can lead to a notable increase in your tax bill. There’s also a chance the additional “income” pushes you into a higher tax bracket, resulting in an even larger tax bill. 

There are some circumstances where the requirement to pay tax on debt settlements can be avoided. These include the debt being canceled as a gift, if you can prove insolvency at the time of the debt cancellation, if the debt relates to certain student or educational loans, or if it’s settled as part of a bankruptcy ruling. It’s highly recommended to talk to a tax expert to understand if you would qualify for any of these exemptions, as the specifics can be complex. 

Will settling debt improve my credit score? 

A debt settlement will be recorded on your credit file, where it can stay for up to 7 years. So in that sense, a debt settlement will hurt your credit score rather than improve it. 

That said, settling your debt won’t affect your credit score as badly as not paying your debts at all will – so if you can’t find another way to reduce or pay off your debts, a settlement may still be worth considering. 

What are the alternatives to debt settlement? 

Your best alternatives to debt settlement will depend on your individual circumstances and the extent of your debt. Credit counseling, credit card balance transfers, debt consolidation loan alternatives, and DIY debt negotiation are all options that could be worth looking into. 

If your debt is already insurmountable, bankruptcy is a tax-free alternative to debt settlement that is also typically a much faster and more efficient process than settlement. However, this is generally considered to be a last resort, and bankruptcy can remain on your credit file indefinitely. 

What happens if I can’t pay the tax owed as a result of my debt settlement? 

If you didn’t realize the tax consequences of debt settlement and are already facing a tax bill that you are unable to pay, don’t worry – there are a number of tax relief options available that will help you manage your tax debt. These include things like penalty abatement, installment payment plans to pay off the debt over time, or an offer in compromise, which is essentially a settlement for less than you owe. 

All of these options have strict qualifying criteria attached, so swapping your standard debts for tax debt is not recommended as an intentional strategy. But if you unexpectedly find yourself facing tax debt as a result of your debt settlement, or for any other reason, rest assured that there are options available to you. 

If you are in this situation, Tax Relief Helpers will be able to walk you through all your options, recommend the best solution for your situation, and handle everything with the IRS on your behalf. 

Speak to a professional to get the best advice

When it comes to taxes and debts, it’s easy to become confused and uncertain of your best steps forward, which can easily lead you to make the wrong decisions. Understanding the tax consequences of debt settlement or any other options you may be considering is vital if you want to avoid receiving an unexpected tax bill. 

Speaking with a professional not only allows you to share the burden of managing your debt, but you can make decisions knowing exactly what the implications and outcomes are likely to be. 

Tax Relief Helpers has a team of seasoned tax resolution experts and tax attorneys who will be able to review your individual circumstances, advise you on your best course of action, and handle any negotiations with the IRS on your behalf, so give us a call today and take the first step toward resolving your tax and debt concerns.