How to complete a tax return
The first step is to decide how you want to lodge your return. After this, you can complete your return by following these steps.
We've listed the basic steps you need to take to lodge your tax return below. After this, we'll go into a lot more detail on each step so you know exactly how to lodge your tax return.
- Step 1. Decide which way to lodge - online yourself or with a tax agent
- Step 2. Gather the information and documents you need
- Step 3. List all your deductions
- Step 4. Lodge your return with the ATO
Check out our handy tax return checklist for a guide to all the information and documents you may need.
Step 1: Decide which way to lodge your tax return
There are 2 main ways to lodge your return with the ATO:
- Online yourself via myGov using myTax
- Through a registered tax agent
Let's take a closer look at how each option works. If you've already decided, you can skip ahead to step 2.
Lodging your return online using MyTax
Lodging online using the MyTax system is the quickest way to submit your tax return to the ATO and get your refund. It's also free. MyTax allows you to lodge your return online, with no need to download any programs to your device. You can lodge via your computer, tablet or smartphone - you'll just need a myGov account linked to the ATO. MyTax can be used by any individual (including sole traders) completing their own return, and the tax return deadline for online submission is October 31.
To lodge via MyTax simply log into your myGov account, click on the ATO option and click 'Lodge tax return'. Then just follow the prompts to fill out the form (you'll find a lot of your income details are already pre-filled!).
Lodging through a registered tax agent
If you need expert help when filing your return, you can get a registered tax agent to prepare and lodge your return for you. A registered tax agent will charge a fee for their services but can help you understand the ins and outs of filing a return and how to claim all the deductions you are entitled to. Plus, their fee is tax deductible in next years return.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to take advantage of a later tax return deadline if lodging through an agent. However, you must be registered with a tax agent by October 31. A small, straightforward tax return can cost less than $100. More complex tax returns, such as those involving multiple sources of income, can cost several-hundred dollars or even a few-thousand.
For more of detailed comparison of these options, you can take a look at our myGov vs tax agent guide.
Step 2: Gather the information you need for your return
Here's what you'll need:
- Your TFN (Tax File Number). This can be found on your payment summary (group certificate) or previous notice of assessment.
- Your bank account details (so any refund you're entitled to can be deposited directly into your account)
- Your myGov login if you're filing your return online yourself
- PAYG payment summary or income statement from your employer (don't stress if you can't find this, it'll likely already be pre-filled by the ATO for you).
If you plan to claim more than $300 in work-related expenses you're also going to need:
- Paper or electronic copies of invoices or receipts for work-related expenses
- BPay receipt numbers
- Credit card statements
- Travel logbook
- Home office logbook
Other information you may need:
- PAYG summary for Centrelink payments
- Information on investments (e.g. rental income or dividends)
- Bank account interest accumulated (again, this will likely be pre-filled for you)
- Other Tax Offset information (e.g. spouse's income details)
- Other income details
Step 3: Get your deductions organised
You're entitled to claim deductions for expenses which are directly related to earning an income. If you want to claim a deduction for a work-related expense:
- You must have spent the money yourself and not been reimbursed
- The expense must have been directly related to earning your income
- You must have a record (e.g. a receipt) to prove it
So, what can you claim? Acceptable deductions include:
- Vehicle and travel expenses
- Clothing, laundry and dry-cleaning expenses
- Gifts and donations
- Home office expenses
- Self-education expenses
- Tools and equipment
- Interest, dividend and other investment income expenses
Check out our guide to tax deductions for full details on what you can and can't claim.
How to claim deductions
After you've entered in your basic income and financial information on the first page, you'll be taken to a section where you can enter any deductions. This is where you can list the expenses that you want to claim as a work-related tax deduction. It'll ask you to enter the amount you spent for each one and write what it was.
If you are claiming things like some of your home office internet bills or a portion of your phone bill, you'll need to be able to prove your calculations. You won't need to enter your calculations into the tax return form, but, you will need to have these ready in case the ATO requests it. You can see more information on how to claim a home office in our separate guide.
Step 4: Lodge your tax return with the ATO
When you lodge your tax return yourself online, it's simply a case of going through the form question by question until you've finished it. You'll find that some of your information (such as how much you earned from your main employer and your private health insurance details) will already be pre-filled for you.
When you're happy you've filled in all the required details and added in any deductions you wish to claim, the final page of the form will have the option to submit your return. Then, the ATO will take it from here and your tax return (if you're getting one) should be paid into your nominated account within a couple of weeks.
What if I make a mistake on my tax return?
Filing your first tax return can be a confusing and daunting experience, but try not to worry. If you make a mistake on your return or forget to include any important information, it's actually quite easy to make an amendment. There are a few ways to do this:
- Online. You can amend your return using ATO online services via the myGov portal. Online amendments are usually processed within 20 business days.
- By paper. You can complete a 'Request for amendment of income tax return for individuals' form and submit it by fax or post. Amendment requests made in writing take up to 50 days to process.
- Through your tax agent. If you lodged your return through a registered tax agent, the agent can amend your return for you.
If you've made any particularly misleading claims in your tax return, for example failing to disclose a secondary income, you also have the opportunity to make a voluntary disclosure. If you find yourself in this situation, make the disclosure as soon as possible – if the ATO has to contact you about a misleading statement or claim, you could be severely penalised.
Can I complete a tax return for someone else?
Generally speaking, only a registered tax agent can lodge a tax return on someone else's behalf. If you want a friend or family member to sign and lodge a return for you, you'll need to complete a power of attorney authorising them to do so.
Do I need to complete a tax return for a deceased person?
If you happen to be the executor of a deceased person’s estate, it’s possible you will have to submit a final tax return on their behalf. You may be required to submit a tax return on someone else’s behalf if:
- Tax was withheld from the income they earned
- The person’s earned taxable income exceeds the tax-free threshold
- The person had tax withheld from interest or dividends because no TFN was quoted to the investment body
- The person lodged returns in previous years, or should have lodged returns in previous years
You will need to determine whether or not submitting a tax return for the deceased party is necessary. It's also important to note that tax returns for deceased people can only be lodged using a paper tax return.
If it is not necessary, you still need to complete a ‘Non-lodgement’ advice for that person and send it to the ATO.
If a final tax return is necessary, the executor will need to submit it on the deceased person's behalf. This will be the last time a tax return is required to be submitted for the deceased – it is known as a “date of death return”.
This article discusses how to complete an individual tax return. However, committing to a Statement of Advice (SOA) is an individual decision and users can opt for any method of filling in a tax return governed by the Australian Tax Office (ATO).
DISCLAIMER: Many of the comments in this article are general in nature and anyone intending to apply the information to practical circumstances should seek professional advice to independently verify their interpretation and the information applicability to their own particular circumstances.
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