Common tax filing mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Young woman working on laptop, frustrated by common tax filing mistakes on her income tax return.Image: Young woman working on laptop, frustrated by common tax filing mistakes on her income tax return.

In a Nutshell

Mistakes on your return can result in paying more than you owe, getting a smaller refund than you’re owed, delayed refunds or even an IRS audit. Here’s a look at the most common tax filing mistakes and how to avoid making them.
Editorial Note: Intuit Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Information about financial products not offered on Credit Karma is collected independently. Our content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

This article was fact-checked by our editors and Christina Taylor, MBA, senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma.

When the tax filing deadline looms, you may be tempted to rush through preparing and filing your federal income tax return.

But rushing can to lead to common tax filing mistakes. Even simple errors on your tax return can cause you to overpay your taxes or receive a smaller refund. Mistakes may also delay your refund, cause you to get a notice from the IRS or even have your return selected for audit.

Every year the IRS releases a list of common tax errors that cause returns to take longer to process. So take a little extra time, double-check your math, and triple-check that you’re not making these common tax filing mistakes before filing.

Wrong names and Social Security numbers

The first common tax filing mistake is extremely basic, but it trips up a lot of people. Before you file your return, make sure the names and Social Security numbers of all taxpayers and dependents are included and correct.

If you recently married, divorced or changed your name, make sure you’ve updated your name with the Social Security Administration before you file. The name on your tax return must match the name on file with the Social Security Administration.

If you e-file your return, missing or incorrect names and Social Security Numbers may cause your return to be rejected, forcing you to either e-file again or potentially file a paper return. Those same mistakes on a paper return could cause your refund to be delayed, if you’re owed one.

Fortunately, these errors are easy to avoid.

Double-check the spelling of all names, and make sure you haven’t transposed any numbers. Compare names and numbers to the actual Social Security cards for your spouse and dependents. If the name is wrong on the Social Security card, you’ll need to follow the Social Security Administration’s instructions to apply for a new card.

Wrong filing status

Your filing status impacts everything from your tax bracket to the deductions you’re able to take. There are five possible filing statuses to choose from. Here’s a quick look at each:

  • Single: You are unmarried, divorced or legally separated according to your state’s laws.
  • Married Filing Jointly: You are a married couple who chooses to file a single return together. If your spouse died during the tax year, you may also be able to file a joint return for the year of death.
  • Married Filing Separately: Married couples can choose to file separately if it results in less tax being owed or if each spouse wants to be responsible only for his or her own tax.
  • Head of Household: You are not married, but you pay more than half the cost of keeping up a home for yourself and a qualifying person who lived with you in the home for more than half of the year (except for temporary absences, such as school). Though, if the qualifying person is your dependent parent, he or she doesn’t have to live with you.
  • Qualifying Widow(er): You can choose this filing status for the two years following the year your spouse died, if you have a dependent child. This status is entitled to joint return rates and has the highest standard deduction amount.

More than 80% of taxpayers choose single or married filing jointly. But for some taxpayers, selecting a filing status is not so simple. The IRS reports that the head of household status is the one most often claimed in error. When in doubt, try the IRS’s What Is My Filing Status? interactive tool.

Incorrect bank account numbers

Are you expecting a refund? The IRS says that the “best and fastest” way to get your refund is to have it deposited directly into your checking or savings account rather than having a paper check mailed to you. In fact, the IRS says they issue more than 90% of refunds in less than 21 days. But to send your refund quickly, the IRS needs your correct bank account and routing numbers.

The IRS runs a validation check on all account and routing numbers. Entering an incorrect account or routing number can result in a few different scenarios.

If the numbers you enter don’t pass the validation check, or if the numbers do pass the validation check but the bank rejects the deposit, the IRS will simply mail a paper check for your refund to the address shown on your return. The paper check will likely take longer to reach you than a direct deposited refund would have.

The real problems happen if you inadvertently enter an account or routing number for another person’s bank account and their bank accepts the deposit. In that case, the IRS doesn’t take responsibility for the error. You’ll have to work directly with the bank to recover your refund.

If you have trouble getting results from the bank, you can get the IRS to intervene by filing Form 3911, Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund. This form allows the IRS to contact the bank on your behalf to recover your refund. But don’t expect a speedy resolution. The bank has 90 days to respond to the IRS’s request.

In a worst-case scenario, the bank may refuse to cooperate with the IRS. In that case, it will be up to you to pursue a civil case against the bank or the other account owner.

This is another common tax filing mistake that’s easy to avoid. Double-check your bank account and routing numbers for any direct deposited refunds — then check them one more time just to be safe.

Bottom line

Errors happen, but many common tax filing mistakes can be avoided by planning ahead, slowing down and checking your work. The IRS strongly encourages e-filing returns, as they’re able to process e-filed returns faster and with fewer errors. E-filing can help ensure your return is as fast and accurate as possible.

It’s also a good idea to take advantage of free online tax preparation services to e-file instead of completing your tax forms manually and filing by mail. When you file a paper return, it’s easy to botch the math or forget to sign your name.

Christina Taylor is senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma. She has more than a dozen years of experience in tax, accounting and business operations. Christina founded her own accounting consultancy and managed it for more than six years. She co-developed an online DIY tax-preparation product, serving as chief operating officer for seven years. She is the current treasurer of the National Association of Computerized Tax Processors and holds a bachelor’s in business administration/accounting from Baker College and an MBA from Meredith College. You can find her on LinkedIn.

About the author: Janet Berry-Johnson is a freelance writer with a background in accounting and insurance. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Morrison University. Her writing has appeared in Capitalist Review, Chase News &a… Read more.