The deadline for people preparing their own taxes is October 31, but there’s plenty of options available if you haven’t had the chance to take care of the paperwork.
Among the quickest ways to submit a tax return is online using the Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) myTax portal. The average application takes about 30 minutes, and much of the information is already pre-filled, simply requiring that you review it.
“While much of your information will already be in your return, we recommend taking the extra minute to get your return right,” Karen Foat said, assistant commissioner at the ATO.
“Things like not updating bank account details, forgetting to include all income, or claiming deductions you are not entitled to can result in your refund being delayed.”
Tax refunds submitted via the government’s myTax portal typically take about 14 days to show up in your bank account, provided there’s no hiccups.
If I submit my tax late, will I be charged a late fee?
The standard fee for a tax return that’s lodged late starts from $220, but the ATO offers some understanding for people who miss the deadline.
“We recognise that sometimes people don't meet their lodgment obligations on time, even with the best intentions,” the ATO said. “Generally we don't apply penalties in isolated cases of late lodgment.”
Typically you’ll receive a phone call or email letting you know that you’ve failed to lodge your yearly tax return.
Leave it too late however and you may be hit with the fee -- and possibly interest charges calculated on any tax owing.
Accountants can lodge a little later
A registered accountant could buy you a little more time as they have a special lodgement program, but in order to take advantage of it, you’ll need to get in contact with them by October 31.
“If you plan to lodge with a tax agent, you may have a later lodgement date,” Ms Foat said.
“But it’s important to contact your agent and get on their books now.”
How much extra time an accountant will secure will depend on your personal circumstances.
What if I can’t afford to repay my tax?
There’s a range of support options available for people worried they’ll have a potential tax debt they can’t afford.
By putting off your taxes, you could be charged late fees and interest on a debt, so it’s best to contact the ATO and see what options are available. These could include payment plans or deferrals, depending on your circumstances.
“You still need to lodge your tax returns on time if you can, even if you can't pay by the due date,” Ms Foat said.
“This will show us that you're aware of your obligations and doing your best to meet them.
“Once we understand your situation we can discuss whether a deferral or a payment plan is best for you.”
There’s still some flexibility associated with a payment plan. It’s possible to suspend, vary or cancel it if there’s a change in circumstances.
“We will also make sure you are not charged interest on the outstanding debt while you are affected by COVID-19,” Ms Foat said.
Tax Help, a community-based tax return preparation service, is available to people who earned $60,000 or less in a year until 30 November. This does not include contractors, sole traders and some people with “complicated tax affairs”.
Working from home during COVID-19?
There’s a blanket formula being used to calculate expenses for people working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March.
Instead of having to calculate costs for specific running expenses, you simply need to keep track of how many hours you’re working to claim 80 cents per dollar on tax.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing a small number of people not taking care to adjust their claims to their altered circumstances or making claims without sufficient evidence,” Ms Foat said.
“Not being able to support your claim if asked, may delay your refund and result in a penalty in the most serious cases.”
The ‘shortcut method’, as it’s now known, has been extended until 31 December, so that people still working from home due to COVID-19 will be able to easily claim their expenses.