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!
- 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 MyTax replaced the outdated e-tax software and allows you to lodge your return online, with no need to download any programs to your device.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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why am I required to link my myGov account to the ATO?
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.
How long will it take me to receive my tax return after I’ve lodged it through 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.
This is my first time lodging a tax return. How do I apply for a Tax File Number (TFN)?
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.
What if I'm late lodging my return?
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.
Is my accountant a registered tax agent?
You can visit the Tax Practitioners Board website to check whether your accountant is a registered tax agent.