IRS broadens student loan COD relief

By Sally P. Schreiber, J.D.

The IRS extended its safe-harbor relief from recognizing cancellation-of-debt (COD) income for students whose loans were discharged either because their schools were closed or as a result of some type of fraud (Rev. Proc. 2020-11). The IRS had earlier provided relief for students from Corinthian College or American Career Institutes Inc. whose loans were discharged by the Education Department under the "Closed School" or "Defense to Repayment" discharge process (Rev. Proc. 2015-57 and Rev. Proc. 2017-24). Rev. Proc. 2018-39 provided relief for students from those schools whose loans were discharged under a settlement of a legal cause of action resolving various allegations of unlawful business practices, including unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices.

The IRS has determined that it is appropriate to provide relief to students from other schools who have obtained federal or private student loans and who qualify under one of the following safe harbors:

  • Borrowers participating in the Closed School discharge process in which the student or a parent on behalf of the student obtained a federal loan, and who was attending a school at the time it closed or who withdrew from the school within a certain period before the closing date;
  • Borrowers whose loans have been discharged under the Defense to Repayment process, which allows the Education Department to discharge a Federal Direct Loan obtained by a student, or by a parent on behalf of a student, if the borrower establishes, as a defense against repayment, that a school's actions would give rise to a cause of action against the school under applicable state law; or
  • Borrowers participating in a legal settlement discharge process where federal and state agencies have brought legal causes of action that have resulted in settlements resolving various allegations of unlawful business practices, including unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices, against for-profit schools and certain private lenders that made student loans to finance attendance at these schools.

The IRS recognizes that many of these students would qualify for forgiveness from recognizing COD income under other Code provisions, such as the insolvency provision, but wants to make it easier for students to determine whether they qualify for exclusion.

In addition, the IRS will not assert that a creditor that is an "applicable entity" under Sec. 6050P must file information returns and furnish payee statements for the discharge of any indebtedness within the scope of this revenue procedure. Filing those information returns with the IRS could result in the Service's mistakenly issuing underreporter notices to taxpayers, and furnishing payee statements to taxpayers could cause confusion. Thus, the IRS does not want creditors to file Forms 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, for taxpayers who qualify for this relief.

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