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How to complete a tax return

You don’t need to dread tax time, just follow this step-by-step tutorial to complete your return with minimal fuss.

woman working on taxes on computerThrough free e-tax software

Step 1. Do your homework and your paperwork

Go to the e-tax section of the Australian Taxation Office. Using information under the heading “Work out your tax”, make a list of what you must declare, what you can claim, and what documentation or figures you need — and take a tea break if your lists are long!

Make sure you chase up all these documents from your employers, or search for them in your personal files (or handbag) before you try to start filling out your tax return.

Step 2. Download the Australian Taxation Office e-tax software.

Most PCs and Windows packages will run the software , however some workplaces may have a download firewall. Check compatibility requirements on the website.

Step 3. Verify your identity — it could be anyone trying to claim your tax refund!

To submit your tax return online, you will need to verify your identity to ensure all data relates to you. You will need to provide details from an original or amended notice of assessment (NOA) with a date of issue after 1 May 2007 and before 26 May 2012. You will need:

  • Date of issue at the top right-hand side of your NOA
  • Sequence/reference number at the top right-hand side of your NOA, below the date of issue
  • Your name exactly as it says on your NOA.

If you do not have a notice of assessment with a date of issue after 1 May 2007 and before 26 May 2012, you will need:

  • Your tax file number (TFN) issued to you before 26 May 2012
  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • And some unique information or ‘shared secret’

After you have provided these details, e-tax gives you a unique password or “digital signature”, which you use every time you add information to your tax return.

If you are unable to provide the above details or your TFN was issued after 26 May 2012, you cannot lodge your tax return online. You can still prepare your tax return using e-tax. However, you will need to print it out and send it manually, which may take longer.

Step 4. Enter all your personal information, as well as scanned documentation if required.

If you have any questions at any particular step, you can call 13 28 61. You can also arrange one-on-one appointments with ATO staff who will try to answer your tax-related questions.

Step 5. Take a break before you hit submit or pop it in the post!

Look over your tax return with fresh eyes to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Think about your previous tax returns, in case you’ve left something off, or forgotten to claim something.

Step 6. Send it off!

Make sure you print out a copy for your own files. Now you can put your feet up after all the hard work.

Through an accountant

If you prefer the help of a professional when it comes to sorting out your finances, it still pays to do your homework and come to those appointments prepared.

Working with an accountant can help ensure you maximise your tax refund and avoid penalties for inaccurate reporting. But they need their clients to co-operate too, so before that first meeting, prepare as much documentation as you can and think of any questions you might have about your tax.

While their fees can be high, many people, especially those on higher salaries or with more complicated finances, find they save time, energy and money working with an expert. In fact, it can work out to be cheaper to pay an accountant if this means avoiding mistakes (which can incur penalties) and increasing tax deductions.

More tax help

The pros of working with a tax pro
5 Tax deductions for families
10 Great ways to spend your tax return

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