Freelancers with discharged student loans may be eligible for tax relief

Jan 22, 2020

Do you have a student loan that was recently discharged? If so, you may be eligible for tax relief on the value of the forgiven funds based on new guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Read on to see if you qualify for these tax savings.

Typically, the discharge of a federal or private student loan that is used to finance attendance at a nonprofit or for-profit school is treated as a taxable event. This is because the cancellation of debt is generally treated as income to the debtor by the IRS. This requirement has recently been lifted by the IRS for certain situations meaning that affected students will not have to report the amount of the discharged loan or pay tax on the income. This tax break applies to students who:

  1. Were involved in a Closed School discharge process which allows the Department of Education to discharge a federal student loan obtained by a student (or their parent) who attended a school at the time it closed, or who withdrew from the school just before it closed.
  2. Participated in the Defense to Repayment discharge process. This process enables the Department of Education to discharge a Federal Direct Loan obtained by a student (or their parent) if the borrower can provide proof that a school's actions or omission would give rise to a cause of action against the school under applicable state law.
  3. Are part of legal settlement discharge actions. This generally corresponds  with lawsuits brought by federal and state governmental agencies to resolve allegations of unlawful business practices by educational institutions and specific private lenders such as unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices.

The IRS is also extending this tax relief to any creditor that would be required to file information returns and provide statements to any affected students. The IRS is strongly recommending that creditors do not provide students (nor the IRS) with a Cancellation of Debt form (Form 1099-C).

This new tax guidance on discharged student loans comes just in time for tax season. Since the guidance is effective for loans discharged in 2016 and later, if you are eligible for this tax relief you may also be eligible to claim refunds for overpayment of tax on any previous year’s return. If you are uncertain about your status under this new IRS regulation, check with a tax professional as you prepare to file your 2019 taxes.

Jonathan Medows is a New York City based CPA who specializes in taxes and business issues for freelancers and self-employed individuals across the country. He offers a free consultation to members of Freelancer’s Union* and a monthly email newsletter covering tax, accounting and business issues to freelancers on his website, — which also features a new blog, how-to articles, and a comprehensive freelance tax guide.

*Jonathan is happy to provide an initial consultation to freelancers. To qualify for a free consultation you must be a member of the Freelancers Union and mention this article upon contacting him. Please note that this offer is not available Jan. 1 through April 18 and covers a general conversation about tax responsibilities of a freelancer and potential deductions. These meetings do not include review of self-prepared documents, review of self-prepared tax returns, or the review of the work of other preparers. The free meeting does not include the preparation or review of quantitative calculations of any sort. He is happy to provide such services but would need to charge an hourly rate for his time.

Jonathan Medows

Jonathan Medows is a NYC-based CPA who specializes in taxes for consultants across the country. His website has a resource section with how-to articles and information for freelancers.