The IRS has released guidance which addresses the federal income tax treatment and information reporting requirements for payments made to or on behalf of financially distressed individual homeowners by a state with funds allocated from the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF). The fund was established under section 3206 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, P.L. No. 117-2, in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. This guidance is effective on November 8, 2021, and would apply to qualified expenses paid after January 21, 2020.
Disaster Relief Payments
The IRS guidance provides that any HAF payment made to or on behalf of a homeowner is qualified disaster relief payment within the meaning of Code Sec. 139(b)(4) since COVID-19 is a qualified disaster. As a result, such payments are not included in the homeowner’s gross income. However, a homeowner that receives a HAF payment, or on whose behalf a HAF payment is made, for qualified expenses cannot take a deduction or credit with respect to such expenses. Qualified expenses under the HAF program include assistance payments for mortgage payments, utilities, and insurance.
Safe Harbor for Tax Deductions
For tax years beginning in 2021 through 2025, a homeowner may deduct as qualified mortgage interest expenses or qualified real property tax expenses on the homeowner’s federal income tax return for the lesser of:
- the sum of all payments the homeowner actually makes from the homeowner’s own sources during the taxable year to the mortgage servicer; or
- the sum of amounts shown on Form 1098, for qualified housing payment expenses.
A homeowner may first allocate the HAF payments to qualified expenses that are not qualified housing payment expenses before allocating the remaining portion of the HAF payments to qualified housing payment expenses. A qualified housing payment a payment for a mortgage or taxes that would be eligible to be deducted on the taxpayer’s return.
A homeowner is eligible to claim relief under the IRS guidance if:
- the homeowner receives a payment from, or a payment is made on the homeowner’s behalf by, a State;
- the payment is made with funds from the HAF;
- the payment is used to pay qualified expenses of the homeowner, and at least one of the expenses is a qualified housing payment expense;
- the homeowner has also paid a portion of the qualified housing payment expense from their own sources;
- the homeowner itemizes deductions on their federal income tax return;
- the homeowner would meet the requirements of Code Sec. 163(h)(3) to deduct qualified mortgage interest expenses, if they paid the qualified mortgage interest expenses from the homeowner’s own sources; and
- the homeowner would meet the requirements of Code Sec. 164(a)(1) to deduct qualified real property tax expenses if the homeowner paid the qualified real property tax expenses from the Homeowner’s own sources.
Since HAF payments made to or on behalf of homeowners are excluded from the gross income of the homeowners, they are not fixed or determinable income under Code Sec. 6041 and information reporting for such payments is not required. HAF payments that are made directly to third parties on behalf of homeowners, such as payments made to insurance companies and homeowners associations, are generally reportable to those third parties if they constitute fixed or determinable income to the third party and the aggregate payments meet the $600 reporting threshold. Moreover, the interest received from a governmental unit or an agency or instrumentality of a governmental unit is not interest received on a mortgage. Lenders who receive a homeowner’s mortgage payments directly from a State should not report the interest received from the State on Form 1098 as interest received on the homeowner’s mortgage.
If a lender files and furnishes a Form 1098 that includes mortgage interest received directly from the State, thereby reporting an incorrect amount of interest on the information return, the lender will not be subject to penalties under Code Secs. 6721 and 6722 so long as the lender notifies the homeowner that the amounts reported on the Form 1098 are overstated because they include payments from a governmental unit or an agency or instrumentality of a governmental unit, and sets forth the amount of the overstatement. Such notification to the homeowner should be made at the time the Form 1098 is furnished or within 30 days thereafter, and can be provided in a separate statement (written or electronic), or included on Form 1098 in Box 10 labeled “Other”.