Congress could pass a mortgage tax relief bill this week that encourages loan modifications and ensures that homeowners are not penalized when a lender reduces the principal amount of their mortgage.The bill, passed by the Senate Dec. 14, eliminates tax penalties for three years on mortgage debt forgiven in a loan mortification or foreclosure. Currently, any reduction in mortgage debt by a lender is treated as income for tax purposes. "Homeowners who are already in trouble on the mortgage certainly can't afford a big hit from the tax man, too," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The House passed a permanent exception back in October. But the House is expected to vote on and pass the Senate version so it can be sent to the president for his signature quickly. House Ways and Means Committee spokesman Matthew Beck said it is important to provide this relief to troubled homeowners as soon as possible. "I believe the House will accept the Senate version," he said. The Senate bill also includes a three-year extension of a tax deduction for mortgage insurance premiums. The House bill called for a seven-year extension.

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