Do unpaid taxes affect your credit score?

Do unpaid taxes affect your credit score?

Your credit score can be affected by many different factors, including outstanding debt sand credit limits. It’s understandable to be worried about whether an overdue tax debt could affect your ability to borrow in the future.

The good news is that your unpaid personal taxes should not affect your credit score in most cases, though unpaid business taxes may be another story.

What happens if you owe a tax debt?

According to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), if you have an outstanding personal tax debt for too long, the ATO will attempt to contact you about it. If they’re unable to do so, they may engage debt collectors to handle the job.

Some businesses and financial institutions will inform credit bureaus once they call in debt collectors, which can affect your credit score. However, the ATO specifically states that “referral to an external debt collection agency does not affect your credit rating.”

What about unpaid business taxes? 

New laws passed by Australia’s federal government in 2019 mean that the tax office will be able to disclose business tax debts to credit reporting bureaus (CRBs).

According to the ATO, the tax debt information of a business will only be disclosed to a CRB if the business meets all of the following criteria:

  • it has an Australian business number (ABN), and is not an excluded entity
  • it has one or more tax debts, of which at least $100,000 is overdue by more than 90 days
  • it is not effectively engaging with the ATO to manage its tax debt, and
  • the Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman is not considering an ongoing complaint about the proposed reporting of the entity's tax debt information.

This could potentially become an issue for small business owners, entrepreneurs, sole traders and the like, whose business tax debts could risk affecting their personal credit scores. This could make it harder to successfully apply for a personal credit card or car loan (for example) if your business owes money to the tax office.  

How to get tax help

Because Australia’s tax laws are regularly updated, if you have any questions or concerns about whether your personal or business debts could end up affecting your credit score, it’s best to contact the ATO directly.

You could also contact a finance professional such as a tax accountant or financial adviser for more personal advice on the best steps to you to take to help look after your unpaid taxes and keep your credit score healthy.

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Fact Checked -

This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Alex Ritchie before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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Learn more about credit score

Does a credit score check impact your credit score?

You may have heard that when a bank or lender performs a credit check, that it can impact credit score. But checking your own credit score isn't the same, and won't affect your credit score in the same way.

There are two types of credit checks that can be recorded in your credit history: hard credit checks and soft credit checks.

Hard credit checks occur when you apply to borrow money from a bank or lender, such as when you apply for a credit card or loan. A soft credit checks occur when your credit file is accessed outside of applications to borrow money, such as when you check your own credit score or credit history.

Checking your credit score is a request for information and not an application to borrow money, so it should not affect a lender’s decision to accept or decline your credit applications. As such, it's a soft credit check, and is unlikely to affect your credit score, positively or negatively.

 

Why should I check my credit score annually?

You may not need to get your free credit rating every year, but it can help you stay informed. A yearly free credit report can help Australians keep track of the impact of various financial transactions on their credit score.

Your credit score helps inform financial organisations, particularly lenders, about the sort of payer you are. Depending on how you've paid down debt in the past, it will have affected your credit score in various ways. In Australia, the inclusion of Comprehensive Credit Reporting (CCR) means that you can find out which transactions affect your credit score positively, as well those that have a negative impact.

Because of this, you may want to consider getting a free credit report once a year irrespective of whether you’re planning to apply for a loan or take on other debt. Checking your credit report can tell you if there are errors in your credit file, which affect your credit score and need to be corrected.

Does borrowing money affect credit score?

Whether it’s through a home loan, a personal loan, or a credit card, borrowing money will affect your credit score. Taking on a home loan or a credit card may have a positive impact on your score, but too many loan applications can bring your credit score down.  

Every time you apply for credit, an inquiry is performed against your name. Too many inquiries can reflect negatively on your credit report, and if your loan application is rejected it will negatively impact your credit score.

How you handle your debt can also make a big difference. As long as you make timely payments you may be able to improve your credit score and overall creditworthiness. However, any missed or delayed payments will likely result in a negative impact on your credit score.

What are some advantages of a good credit score?

You should know about the advantages of credit score improvement as there are many occasions when having a good score is helpful. If your credit score is categorised as good, very good, or excellent, it can indicate you have strong borrowing power. This may encourage lenders to give you special discounts on interest rates and other loan terms. You may also find it easier to get approved for a credit card or a property rental. You can also try to negotiate terms using your superior credit score as leverage.

A high credit score indicates that you are financially responsible, but it requires you to be disciplined. If you currently have a good credit score, you still need to remember not to apply too often for credit cards or loans as these can quickly pull down your score. On the one hand, you may have better access to credit, but your good financial habits mean that you may not need to access this credit. Having some credit products can help build up your credit report, and therefore your credit score. You would just need to keep the debt and limits to a minimum and pay the bills on time. It’s never advisable to take out credit that you can’t afford to pay as it negatively impacts your credit history.  Even if you have a good credit score, you can always improve it further.

Can a debt collector affect your credit score?

When a creditor is unable to contact you by phone or by sending you a formal notice in regards to outstanding debt, they will often outsource the job to a debt collector. The debt collector can try to reach you by phone, or they can attempt to contact you face to face. If they cannot get through to you by either method, they can only report back to the creditor but not directly report a payment default to the credit rating agency. So, can debt collectors affect your credit score? No, they cannot do so directly.

However, if you owe money, you have an obligation to return it or communicate your difficulty in doing so to the creditor as well as to any involved debt collector. If they cannot contact you, they can report a serious credit infringement against you, which may affect your credit score for many years. Creditors can also take the legal route, and a court judgment against you can also severely impact your credit score.

You should remember that debt collectors need to abide by specific rules and cannot harass you by repeatedly calling or visiting you, or by threatening to confiscate your possessions if you don’t pay up. Similarly, they cannot threaten to file a default against you, especially with a credit bureau.

How regularly does your credit score change?

There are plenty of things that can affect your credit score, but when they'll impact it can vary wildly, and often depend on when the information has been passed on.

Every credit enquiry is noted on your credit file, and this impacts your credit score. Thanks to Comprehensive Credit Reporting (CCR), it means you both positive and negative transactions can impact your score, but so, too, can the frequency. For instance, if you apply too often for credit cards or apply with multiple lenders for a home loan and aren't successful, you may see a decline. 

How long this information take to pass on is an important question, but the length of time often depends on the credit reporting agency. Some transactions can take a small amount of time, while others take much longer. For that reason, it's important to check your credit history regularly so you can be more aware of what your credit score looks like, and if you need to correct any of the statements made on it. 

What can impact my credit score?

Your credit score isn't set in stone and can change with every financial decision and action you take. While you checking your score is a soft check and won't impact the result, payments and other actions can affect the score. 

The very things that can impact your credit score include your payment history (late or on time), the age and type of credit you have and owe, your debt balance (both current and delinquent, if any), recent payment behaviour, the credit available to you presently, and if you have any court judgements or actions resulting form bankruptcy.

Australia's Comprehensive Credit Reporting (CCR) also tracks your positive payments, and allows your credit score to be impacted positively, as well. 

What if your credit score has dropped for no reason

The importance of checking your credit score regularly is hard to overstate as the changes may not be as relevant to your life, and there may be the occasional error, but what should you do if it drops for no reason?

Credit reporting agencies calculate your credit score based on the information they receive from lenders, banks, credit card providers and utility companies, among others. This report takes into account both the credit enquiries these companies make, as well as your payment history with them, and may include other factors. But because some reports may come in at different times, delays can appear like drops. 

Suppose you missed paying a bill while on holidays and the supplier couldn’t reach you, or something like it -- in this instance, the provider may report the default to the credit reporting agency, which can cause your credit score to fall when the credit reporting agency eventually sees the information. Because of an obvious delay, the drop can seem random.

Regularly checking your credit score and the transactions that have appeared can provide some understanding as to why a credit score drop might have occurred, and even provide some understanding as to how you can fix the drop, improving your credit score in the process. 

Does home loan pre-approval affect credit score?

Home loan pre-approval can give you a better idea of the amount you can spend when buying a property. It can also tell you about the steps you need to take to finalise your home loan and receiving the funds. Depending on how you approach a lender, pre-approval could include a credit inquiry which does affect your credit score. Some lenders, however, may offer an online pre-approval which is faster and doesn’t involve a credit history check. An online pre-approval may only consider your financial capacity and offer suggestions on how to prepare yourself to take a home loan.

Most lenders, however, will likely prefer to make a full assessment of your financial situation by requesting a credit report in addition to your bank statements and tax returns. Such a credit inquiry, sometimes called a hard pull, is usually recorded on your credit file and can therefore affect your credit score. If you approach several lenders and all of them initiate credit inquiries, this will impact your credit score negatively. Sometimes credit reporting agencies make an exception in terms of including multiple credit inquiries if they are made within a certain period. It would still be best to avoid making multiple applications with different lenders.

Can I check my credit score without a driver's license?

In Australia, your driver’s license is the preferred identification document for credit reporting agencies. This means you may not be able to confirm your identity using another document, such as a proof-of-age card. You may have genuine reasons like concerns over identity theft for not wanting to provide your driver’s license number. Unfortunately, most credit bureaus won’t allow people to check their credit score without a driver’s license. 

If you don’t have a driver’s license, there’s a good chance you haven’t applied for credit in the past and don’t have a credit score at all. In case you are concerned about identity theft, credit reporting agencies can offer you paid packages that include insurance against identity theft. Such packages may also include monthly credit score checks or alerts whenever your score is updated.

Does breaking a lease affect your credit score?

When you sign a lease, you’re agreeing to pay rent for a certain period. But what happens in case you need to break the lease midway? Does breaking a lease affect your credit score? 

If you’re planning to break a lease early, you might be required to give a certain amount of notice, pay two months' rent and an early termination fee, or you should be willing to forfeit your security deposit.

If you’re able to pay all dues before moving out, breaking the lease is unlikely to affect your credit score. However, if you leave without paying, your landlord could use a collection agency to collect any unpaid rent. Your landlord could even sue you, and if you lose, you may have to pay the dues and court costs. While landlords typically don’t report unpaid rent to credit bureaus, there’s a possibility that a collection agency will report it. Collection mentions can stay on your report for several years and may affect your credit score.

Furthermore, breaking a lease could create issues when you're looking to rent in the future. A future landlord could contact previous landlords or check your rental history, and any mention of a broken lease could make you appear as a high-risk tenant, putting the rental application at risk.

Do landlords check credit scores?

For landlords, credit score checks can tell if a potential tenant has a history of delayed or missed rent payments. Usually, a poor record of repayments is likely to result in a low credit score. Also, your credit history may include information from tenancy databases such as the number of times landlords have inquired about your credit score. 

If there are too many inquiries within a short time, landlords may conclude that you have had issues renting in the past.  However, there is no rule as to when landlords check your credit score. Some might check every time they receive a tenant’s application. In some cases, landlords may even rent out their property to tenants with a poor credit history if they can submit additional documents or sufficiently explain their situation and how they are trying to address it.

 What credit score do landlords look for?

Landlords may look for issues relating to repayment rather than a specific credit score, although a low credit score probably suggests that you’ve had repayment issues. In general, if your credit score is categorised good, very good, or excellent - which corresponds to an Equifax credit score range of 622 - 1,200, landlords may not scrutinise your credit history too closely.

Do you need a credit score to rent a property?

A credit score is used by banks and lenders to understand your financial health and wellbeing, but you may not be aware that it's used as a way for landlords to understand whether or not it's risky to get into a financial relationship with you.

When you’re looking to rent a property, your landlord may check your credit history to get a sense of your capability to pay rent in a timely fashion. Landlors may look at your history of repaying debts, and this as a benchmark to understand the likelihood of you paying your rent on time, or not.

 

Why your credit score may differ between Experian and Equifax

Two of Australia's biggest credit reporting bureaus are Experian and Equifax, and while they both do the same thing, it’s not uncommon to find that your credit score can differ significantly.

Firstly, Experian and Equifax each have their own credit reporting algorithms to interpret and quantify your personal credit history. That means that while they do the same sort of thing -- credit tracking and reporting -- they may not handle it in the same way. Your credit history may therefore be similar, but not identical between Experian and Equifax.

While neither reveals exactly how they work, each also likely work in different time frames, which means your credit history may be viewed differently between the two. One could look at the most recent, while another might be weeks apart. For this reason, scores can vary.

Finally, there are different scales at which they work, and depending on the types of transactions your credit history has seen, this may impact the overall result slightly different, thus making the scores different.