Short sales in California are generally not subject to state or federal income tax for cancellation of debt. The Franchise Tax Board (FTB) issued a letter yesterday stating that, as nonrecourse obligations, short sales in California are not subject to state income tax for cancellation of debt. The FTB’s position conforms with the federal treatment of short sales stated in an IRS letter as we previously reported on November 15. These letters will provide welcome relief for short sale sellers given that the tax break for a qualified principal residence under the federal Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 will expire at the end of this year, and similar protection under California law already expired in 2012. The FTB letter includes transactions that closed in 2012 but, as always, sellers should consult with their own tax professionals.
According to the recent FTB letter, “a California taxpayer would not have cancellation of indebtedness where the taxpayer was involved in a short sale pursuant to CCP section 580e.” Section 580e of the California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) generally protects borrowers from owing a deficiency after a short sale of a residential property with one-to-four units, including both first and junior trust deeds. Exceptions include fraud, waste, cross-collateralized loans, and borrowers that are corporations, LLCs, or limited partnerships. For more information, C.A.R. members may refer to our legal article on Short Sale Deficiencies.
As with the IRS letter, the FTB letter states that even if no cancellation of debt income is owed, a taxpayer may nevertheless have capital gains to the extent that the outstanding debt exceeds the tax basis for the property. A principal residence, however, is generally excluded from capital gains tax up to $250,000 for single taxpayers and $500,000 for married couples filing joint returns (under 26 U.S.C. § 121).