3 tax myths that could actually hurt you

New FICO system could impact your rating

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With tax season officially open as of January 27, taxpayers may feel a familiar sense of anxiety. In fact, about one in three taxpayers told Credit Karma Tax in a recent survey they typically get anxious about prepping their taxes.

Tax anxieties are higher among younger Americans, with the survey finding that more than 40% of the millennial and Generation Z groups experience tax anxiety, compared with fewer than  30% of Generation X. The reason could be tied to experience, since Gen X — taxpayers between about 40 to 55 years old — have many more years of filing returns under their belt.

Fueling those anxieties are several common misconceptions that can hurt taxpayers, either by needlessly adding to their worries or even costing them money.

At the heart of the issue is a complicated tax system that the Bipartisan Policy Center — a think tank that integrates ideas from both Democrats and Republicans — says literally costs Americans $200 billion each year in time and money spent to prepare their returns. That estimate excludes tax payments, it says.

“A lot of the confusion around tax filing comes from a general lack of understanding of how taxes work,” says Dana Marineau, financial advocate at Credit Karma. “This was apparent in our last survey surrounding refunds, where we found that more than half of taxpayers don’t realize where their tax refunds come from.”

That can hurt taxpayers if they don’t understand their refunds reflect money they already paid to Uncle Sam. In other words, refunds are an interest-free loan to the U.S. government courtesy of taxpayers. While tax refunds can offer a chance to catch up on bills or buy something special, some consumers might be better off adjusting their withholding to avoid overpayment of taxes, some experts say.

Taxes don’t have to be so anxiety-laden, tax experts note. Clearing up several misconceptions can help.

Couple looking at documents with tax preparer

Myth 1: A mistake will impact my credit score

About one-third of taxpayers mistakenly believe that an error on your tax filing will hurt your credit score, Credit Karma Tax found in its recent survey. But that’s not the case, tax experts say.

“Everyone understands a credit score is important, but they may not understand what goes into it,” says Matt Sotir, a financial professional at Equitable Advisors. “It’s not irrational they would think it would impact it, but tax return liens are excluded from credit scores now.”

That change occurred in 2018, when the three national credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — removed all tax liens, or debts owed to the IRS, from credit reports because of research indicating problems with accuracy.

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In other words, consumers shouldn’t needlessly fret that an error on their tax returns will impact their credit score. Credit scores “are the credit bureaus’ best guess of whether you will pay your bills on time, and that has nothing to do with paying your state and federal taxes,” Marineau adds.

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