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Guide to completing a tax return

Whether it’s your first time or you're a seasoned veteran, lodging a tax return can be tricky. Let finder.com.au walk you through the process step-by-step.

There are many different ways to file a tax return – pay a tax agent, lodge a paper return or do it online. Lets take a look at the benefits of each method, and what you’re going to need before you begin.

Have you considered using a tax agent?

A tax agent can save you time and stress, and they can also help get you a bigger tax return as they know the ins-and-outs of the system. Plus, you claim their fee as a tax deduction the following year!

Rates last updated October 23rd, 2017
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What information do I need to file a tax return?

  • 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 (if you’ve used MyTax before)
  • PAYG payment summary

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
  • 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)
  • Bank account interest accumulated
  • Other Tax Offset information (e.g. spouse’s income details)
  • Other income details

Check out our handy tax return checklist for a guide to all the information and documents you may need.

How to complete a tax return

Wondering how to complete your tax return? There are three ways to lodge your return with the ATO:

  • Online using MyTax
  • By paper
  • Through a registered tax agent

Let's take a closer look at how each option works.

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. MyTax replaced the outdated e-tax software and allows you to lodge your return online, with no need to download any programs to your device.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, and you'll 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.

Lodging a paper return

If you prefer to file the old-fashioned way, you can fill out a paper tax return. You can get a copy of the paper tax return in two ways:

  • Online through the ATO's publication ordering service
  • By calling 1300 720 092

The deadline for paper tax returns is October 31. Completed paper returns must be mailed to the ATO and can take up to 50 business days to process.

Lodging through a registered tax agent

If you need expert help when filing your return, the third option is to 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.

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.

The benefits of lodging online

Why should you lodge your tax return online? There are several reasons, including:

  • Fast processing, with refunds generally paid within two weeks
  • 24-hour service so you can lodge your return whenever it's convenient for you
  • Information from your employer, bank and government agencies is pre-filled, helping you save time
  • Upload deductions information collected using the myDeductions tool on the ATO app
  • Accessibility for vision impaired
  • High-level security
  • Lodge from overseas
  • Available for all individuals (including sole traders) who want to lodge a tax return
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This is my first tax return – what if I make a mistake?

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.

Hiring a tax agent or tax accountant

Income tax is a complicated and confusing area, and it can be hard to wrap your head around how to correctly file a return and include all the deductions you're eligible to claim. So if you want to maximise your refund, or if you just want to take some of the stress out of completing your return, you might want to engage the services of a registered tax agent.

Tax agents, sometimes also referred to as tax accountants, are Australian tax law experts. They have an in-depth knowledge of taxes and deductions and can help you properly report all sources of income, claim any deductions you're entitled to and maximise your return. They also use their vast bank of knowledge to ensure you don’t make any mistakes or misleading statements on your return, potentially saving you from a hefty fine.

Tax agents must be registered with the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) and meet a professional code of conduct. Most tax agents are also accountants who are registered with the TPB. Visit the TPB website to find an agent near you.

So, how much does it cost to hire a tax agent? Well, it varies depending on the agent you choose and your personal financial situation. 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.

Find an online tax agent

If you simply don’t have the time to visit a tax agent in person, there are many digital businesses that offer the same services in the convenience of an online setting. Providers such as etax.com.au and H&R Block not only allow you to submit your tax return online, but also provide email and phone support if you ever have any questions or problems. Online tax agents offer a convenient service for anyone who's time-poor and can help take some of the hassle out of filing a tax return.

Benefits of hiring a tax agent

Why hire a tax agent to help you complete your return? There are several reasons why this option is worth considering, including:

  • Tax agents take the stress and hassle out of completing your return
  • They can ensure that you claim all the deductions you're entitled to, helping you maximise your return
  • Tax agents know how to meet all your tax obligations and legal requirements, ensuring that you won't get stung by an audit
  • The fee you pay for a tax agent will often be covered by the increased return you receive
  • You can claim the agent's fee as a deduction on your tax return for the next financial year
  • Online tax agents also available if you don't have time to visit an agent in person

What can I claim as a tax deduction?

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 ultimate guide to tax deductions for full details on what you can and can't claim.

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.

Frequently asked questions

Linking your myGov account to the ATO not only verifies your identity, but also allows you to easily import your personal details and previous tax return data into MyTax.

You should usually receive your notice of assessment within 12 business days of successful lodgement. This does fluctuate depending on the time of lodgement (if you’ve lodged at tax time, it could take longer due to the massive influx of claims). You can track the progress of your return through your myGov account (another benefit of linking it to the ATO). However, the ATO asks that you wait at least 30 days after successfully lodging your claim before contacting them.

Applying for a TFN differs depending on your circumstances. The TFN application process you need to follow will depend on whether you’re an Australian resident, living outside Australia, or a foreign passport holder, permanent migrant or temporary visitor. Visit the ATO website for more information on how to apply for a TFN.

The best thing you can do is usually to lodge your return as soon as possible. While a late fee may apply, this fee increases the longer you wait.

You can visit the Tax Practitioners Board website to check whether your accountant is a registered tax agent.

Brodie Fogg

Brodie is the Assistant Publisher at finder.com.au for everything tech and telco. When he's not drooling over the latest comic book releases or grinding away at the newest time-devouring RPG, he's helping people choose between Australia's streaming services, suggesting better broadband plans or comparing the latest mobile plans.

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21 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    MARTINAugust 8, 2017

    I retired from work last April of this year at the age of 66. I paid 21,000 to salary sacrifice through my employer last October and paid the sum of 8,000 into my wife’s Superfund. Can I claim any tax concession on this transaction?

    • Staff
      RenchAugust 9, 2017Staff

      Hi Martin,

      Thanks for reaching out to us. With regard to your query about the Tax Return/Concession, yes you may be able to claim it since it is only this April that you’ve retired. You may have a look on this page helpful information about Tax Return/Concession and also on this page for additional information needed. I hope this helps.

      Best regards,
      Rench

  2. Default Gravatar
    Bj17July 27, 2017

    Hi, I just did my tax return with my group certificates but due to rushing and not thinking I forgot to lodge my earnings from my ABN, what should I do to rectify my problem?

  3. Default Gravatar
    JamesNovember 3, 2016

    Hi there, I just have lodged my return with myTax. It seems like I can only print a copy of the tax summary. Do you know how I can get a copy of the FULL TAX RETURN? My banker has been chasing me about this… many thanks

    Kind regards,
    James

    • Staff
      HaroldNovember 3, 2016Staff

      Hello James,

      Thank you for your question.

      To request for a full copy of your tax documents you may find this link helpful.

      I hope that helps.

      Cheers,
      Harold

    • Staff
      ClarizzaNovember 3, 2016Staff

      Hi James,

      Thanks for your question.

      You’ll need to download and fill out the ‘Copies of tax documents’ PDF form from the ATO website and return it to the ATO.

      Regards

  4. Default Gravatar
    rajAugust 19, 2016

    Can i lodge my tax return by paper for 2016, as i have using paper return from last few years, i have downloaded the paper form..portable document from ato.gov.au for 2016..its in red color..Does ato accepting paper returns for 2016.

    • Staff
      MayAugust 19, 2016Staff

      Hi Raj,

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      Yes, you can use the paper Tax return for individuals and the Individual tax return instructions to lodge your paper tax return by mail. However, most refunds are issued within 50 business days of lodgment compare to 2 weeks when you lodge you tax return via online.

      Cheers,
      May

  5. Default Gravatar
    misskate72August 12, 2016

    I am self employed and chose to pay PAYG to the ATO for the first quarter of the FY. Where do I enter the amount I have paid within the MyTax? Or is this auto calculated by ATO once lodged?

    • Staff
      ShirleyAugust 15, 2016Staff

      Hi misskate72,

      Thanks for your question.

      Unfortunately we’re unable to assist with any navigational enquiries related to MyTax, since we don’t have access to the system.

      In this case, we’d recommend that you speak to someone from the ATO who can provide further instructions.

  6. Default Gravatar
    misskate72August 12, 2016

    Self employed as well as part time employee. I chose to pay some PAYG for the first quarter against my self employed income to the ATO. Where do I enter this in the ATO My Tax program or is something they will calculate once lodged?

    • Staff
      ClarizzaAugust 15, 2016Staff

      Hi Kate,

      Thanks for your question.

      If you intend to claim this as a tax deduction, you will have to notify your superfund or complete a notice of intent form via the ATO website. Once this has been completed and your superfund confirms receipt of this letter, you can claim it as a deduction through ‘My deductions’ in MyTax. Our tax returns guide might also help.

      If you would like to discuss your personal situation, we recommend you speak to an online tax agent. Please note, we are a comparison website and provide general advice only.

      Hope this has helped.

      Clarizza

  7. Default Gravatar
    TeresaJuly 18, 2016

    I have worked at 2 places. How do I separate the dates on Mygov tax lodgement on line?

    • Staff
      MayJuly 19, 2016Staff

      Hi Teresa,

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      When using the MyTax app to lodge your tax online, some of your contact and financial institution details including your employment information may have already been provided by your employer or employers to ATO – this is to simplify the process for you. If you may need to enter details like dates or other information manually, you can select the add/edit buttons.

      I have emailed you the link to the ATO page where you can find the process on how you can lodge your tax online through MyTax.

      I hope this has helped.

      Cheers,
      May

  8. Default Gravatar
    Jonesy18July 7, 2016

    I’m doing my tax return through the mygov website but where do I put the interest from my bank accounts in my return. Thank you

    • Staff
      ClarizzaJuly 7, 2016Staff

      Hi Jonesy,

      Thanks for your question.

      Are you lodging your tax through the ATO’s myTax web-based service? If so, you can personalise your tax return by selecting a series of items that apply. You will be able to see these options once you log in to myTax.

      Hope this helps.
      Clarizza

  9. Default Gravatar
    sonnyJune 21, 2016

    We relocated to Australia in Feb 2016 and are not employed yet, and living off savings. we get centrelink payments for our 7 yr old child every f/night of around 398$.
    do we still need to file a tax return? if so, will our savings be treated as income for tax purposes?

    • Staff
      ElizabethJune 23, 2016Staff

      Hi Sonny,

      Some Centrelink payments are not taxed but others are, so you may still need to lodge a tax return. Your savings will not be treated as income unless you have earned them in the last financial year as taxable income. When you lodge your tax return your Centrelink income will be pre-filled for you if you fill out your tax return online.

      You can check if your Centrelink income is tax deductible here.

      Hope this helps,

      Elizabeth

  10. Default Gravatar
    martinFebruary 19, 2016

    if i have a investment property currently giving me 200 dollars weekly how much tax will i pay

    • Staff
      BelindaFebruary 19, 2016Staff

      Hi Martin,

      I’ve sent you an email to follow up with this enquiry.

      Regards,
      Belinda

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