tax return

Do I need to lodge a tax return?

Not sure if you need to file a tax return with the ATO? Here’s how to find out.

The financial year has ended and tax time is here once again. But how do you know if you need to file a tax return with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO)?

If you’re an Australian resident for tax purposes and you earned income during the previous financial year, you’ll most likely need to lodge a tax return. The same goes for non-Australian residents who have earned income from within Australia. However, there are certain scenarios and circumstances when you may not need to send a return to the ATO.

Read on to find out how you can discover whether you need to lodge a return for the current financial year or any previous years.

Choosing a tax agent to help lodge your tax return

Updated May 27th, 2018
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Who needs to lodge a tax return?

You’re required to lodge a tax return with the ATO if any of the following circumstances apply:

  • Tax was deducted from payments made to you during the financial year, for example wages from your employer.
  • You are an Australian resident and your taxable income exceeded the tax-free threshold for a particular financial year. For the tax year 2017-2018, the tax-free threshold was $18,200.
  • You are a foreign resident and you earned more than $1 in Australia during the financial year.
  • You are leaving Australia permanently or you are leaving Australia for more than one financial year.

However, even if none of the above criteria apply to you, there are still many circumstances under which you are required to lodge a return. Examine the checklist below to find out how you can tell whether you need to file a tax return with the ATO.

You can also visit the ATO’s website to use its interactive “Do I need to lodge a tax return?” tool. This allows you to select an income year from 2012-13 to 2017-18, enter your financial information and work out whether you’re required to complete a return.

How to tell if you need to lodge a tax return – basic checklist

The information in the checklist below is taken from the ATO website. Use it to work out whether you need to complete a tax return this year. It is a basic checklist only, and you should consult the full list on the ATO’s website for more detailed information.

You will need to lodge a tax return for the 2017-18 financial year if any of the following apply to you in the past year:

  • You were an Australian resident and you paid tax or had tax withheld on your behalf
  • You were eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset and your rebate income exceeded $28,974
  • You were not eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset but had a total taxable income of over $20,542
  • You were not eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset in 2017-17 and you didn’t receive a payment listed at question 5 or 6 of your tax return, but...
  • Your taxable income exceeded $18,200 for the entire financial year or $416 if you were under the age of 16
  • You earned over $1 if you were a foreign resident
  • You had a reportable fringe benefits amount on your pay-as-you-go (PAYG) payment summary
  • You had reportable superannuation contributions on your PAYG payment summary
  • You were entitled to the private health insurance rebate
  • You carried on a business during 2016-17
  • You made a loss or you can claim a loss from a previous year
  • You received a superannuation lump sum that included an untaxed element, or a death benefit
  • You were involved with a trust or partnership
  • You received income from dividends exceeding $18,200
  • You made personal contributions to super or a retirement savings account
  • You received child support or a government allowance

When is my tax return due?

The due dates for 2017-18 tax returns are as follows:

  • If you lodge your return yourself, it will need to be submitted by 31 October 2018.
  • If you lodge through a registered tax agent, you may have until 15 May 2019 to lodge your return. However, you must register with a tax agent before 31 October 2018, and you will not be able to access this extended deadline if you had tax payable of more than $20,000 in the previous year or if you have any unlodged tax returns from previous years.

When you may not need to lodge a tax return

There are also specific situations when there may be no need for you to lodge a tax return. These include:

  • If you earned less than $18,200 (the tax-free threshold) in 2017-18 and there was no tax withheld from that income
  • If you are a foreign resident and the only Australian-sourced income you earned in the 2017-18 financial year was interest, dividends or royalties from which non-resident withholding tax has been correctly withheld
  • You were eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset in 2017-18 and your rebate income was less than:
  • $32,279 if you were single, widowed or separated at any time during 2017-18
  • $31,279 if you had a spouse but one of you lived in a nursing home or you had to live apart due to illness, or
  • $28,974 if you lived with your spouse for the entire year

There are many more circumstances which may mean that you don’t need to lodge a tax return, but working out whether they apply to you can be a confusing process. If you’re at all unsure about whether you need to lodge a return, ask your accountant or registered tax agent for advice that takes into account your unique financial situation.

If you’re certain that you do not need to file a tax return for or the 2017-18 income year, you will usually need to complete a “Non-lodgment advice” form. This form is available for download from the ATO website or can be submitted through online services, and must be sent to the ATO by 31 October 2018.

How to tell if you need to lodge a return for a previous year

Do you think you may be required to lodge a return for a previous financial year that you may have missed? To find out whether you need to submit a return, you can use the ATO’s interactive “Do I need to lodge a tax return?” tool.

This tool can help you understand your obligations for any financial year dating back to 2012-13, and the ATO also offers links to older tools to help you check your return requirements for earlier years.

Frequently asked questions about tax returns

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