From the point of view of the IRS, any of your debt that is forgiven is considered the same as income, and taxes must be paid on it as such. Forgiven debt has been called phantom income because it's not really income that's there. Despite that, it's still subject to taxation just like it was money you earned at your job.
But in 2007 the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act became law, which exempts homeowners from having to pay taxes on forgiven mortgage debt. On January 1, 2017 the act will expire. When it does, forgiven mortgage debt will be taxable again.
Why the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act Was Needed
The country has been experiencing a foreclosure crisis over the last decade. More than seven million homeowners have experienced foreclosure since the housing crisis began. As a result so many people had mortgage debt forgiven that the government stepped in to help them avoid even more financial damage with the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act.