December 1, 2023

Taxes on Settled Debt

When a person settles a debt with a creditor, it is important to understand the tax implications of that settlement. In general, settling a debt for less than the full amount owed can result in a taxable event for the debtor. This is because the amount of debt forgiven by the creditor is considered income by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

How Debt Settlement Affects Taxes

Debt settlement occurs when a debtor and creditor agree to a reduced payment plan for the outstanding debt. The creditor agrees to forgive a portion of the debt in exchange for the debtor paying off the remaining balance. This forgiven debt is considered taxable income by the IRS.

For example, if a debtor owes $10,000 to a creditor and settles the debt for $5,000, the $5,000 of forgiven debt is considered taxable income. The debtor will receive a Form 1099-C from the creditor showing the amount of forgiven debt, which must be reported on their tax return as income.


Insolvency Exclusion

There are some exceptions to the rule that forgiven debt is taxable income. One of these exceptions is the insolvency exclusion. If a debtor is insolvent at the time the debt is settled, they may be able to exclude the forgiven debt from their taxable income.

Insolvency is determined by comparing the debtor’s liabilities to their assets. If the debtor’s liabilities exceed their assets, they are considered insolvent. In this case, the forgiven debt may be excluded from taxable income up to the amount of the insolvency.

Bankruptcy Exclusion

Another exception to the rule is the bankruptcy exclusion. If a debtor files for bankruptcy and has debts discharged, the forgiven debt is not taxable income. This is because the bankruptcy court has determined that the debtor does not have the ability to repay the debts.

Tax Consequences of Debt Settlement

Debtors who settle their debts must be aware of the tax consequences of that settlement. If the forgiven debt is not excluded from taxable income, the debtor will owe taxes on that income. This can result in an unexpected tax bill for the debtor.

Debtors who settle their debts should also be aware that the amount of forgiven debt may have an impact on their credit score. Debt settlement can lower a debtor’s credit score and make it more difficult to obtain credit in the future.


Settling a debt can have tax consequences for the debtor. If the forgiven debt is not excluded from taxable income, the debtor will owe taxes on that income. Debtors should be aware of the insolvency and bankruptcy exclusions, which may allow them to exclude the forgiven debt from taxable income. It is important to consult with a tax professional to fully understand the tax implications of debt settlement.

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