By Margie Sheedy, ninemsn Finance
There are now many different ways to lodge your tax return. Margie Sheedy asks the experts for their tips of which ones are best.
There are currently four ways to lodge your tax return with the Australian Tax Office (ATO). The decision of which one to use, say the experts, comes down to whether your income and expenditure information is straightforward, or more complicated with investments that generate income, or if you operate a business.
The ATO's personal tax self-help phone number is 132 865. Follow the prompts and you can lodge your return over the phone in about 12 minutes with the service, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to the ATO, refunds should be issued within 14 days of lodgement.
Garry Addison, senior tax counsel with CPA Australia, says that this facility is useful for taxpayers such as young people just entering the work force who have a short tax return and simple tax affairs, and people who can't access the online e-tax facility.
"It should be noted though that if you have not received the short tax return in the mail then you may not qualify for this option," he adds.
You can lodge your tax return through the ATO's online e-tax facility. The majority of refunds through e-tax are made within 14 days.
"The ATO has indicated that more than 2 million individual taxpayers (including older people) with such simple returns now lodge through this online facility," Addison says.
"It can be a good option for individual taxpayers with relatively simple tax affairs such as salary and wage earners with only small amounts of, say, interest income from bank accounts and relatively straightforward deduction, expense and/or rebate claims."
The beauty of the e-tax filing method, says Yasser El-Ansary, tax counsel with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, is that "if you're owed a refund, you'll get that refund in your hands much quicker than using a paper return".
Tax packs are a printed publication issued by the ATO. They are particularly good, Addison says, "for those taxpayers with more complex affairs and/or who generally may not be entitled to an end-of-year tax refund."
Each tax pack contains two tax return forms (one for completion and lodgement with the ATO and another for the taxpayer's own records).
"It is also divided into two parts, with one being for those with simpler returns and a tax pack supplement for those taxpayers with more complicated tax affairs/returns," he says, noting that this year's tax pack for the more complex returns, including the instructions booklet, runs to about 130 pages.
Tax agents and accountants
Only accountants who are registered as tax agents with the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) can lodge tax returns on your behalf. If you're unsure, there's a register of tax agents on the board's website.
According to Addison, around 75 percent of taxpayers with non-business returns currently use a tax agent to ensure that their tax returns are completed correctly and on time. Around 98 percent of businesses use agents to lodge their annual tax and other related returns.
The benefit of using a tax agent is that "they will make you aware of the specific laws that apply to income and deductions that you may not otherwise have known," El-Ansary says.
"They also offer you the ability to defer the due date for the filing of your return; this is especially useful if you owe the ATO money at the end of the year."
If you don't currently employ the services of a tax agent, Addison says you should contact an agent "no later than the deadline for lodgements by individual taxpayers, which is usually October 31.
"While tax agents have extended lodgement programs and can lodge individual returns after this date, you need to be listed on an agent's program prior to this date to take advantage of this facility," he says.