Thinking about your tax return? Here’s what to know

Your next tax refund could be just around the corner.
The more you know about the tax return process, the easier it will feel.Getty

It may be something we do every year, but lodging a tax return always seems to raise questions. As well as the usual suspects, such as ‘when is the deadline’ and ‘will I get a tax refund’, there can be new ones if the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has made changes.

All of this can make tax returns a task we put off for as long as possible.

To make it a bit easier, we’ve gathered the key details together, so you don’t have to search for them.

You have almost 4 months to lodge your tax return online with the ATOs myTax service.

When can I lodge my tax return?

You can lodge your tax return for the financial year after 30 June, as long as you have everything you need.

Keep in mind that this date marks the end of the financial year (EOFY), which is a busy time for businesses. So, it may take a few days or weeks for you to get income statements or payment summaries from employers.

A spokesperson from CPA Australia, one of the largest accounting agencies in the world, says rushing into your tax return can lead to mistakes and missed opportunities to claim deductions.

“Too many Australians make mistakes on their tax return. Getting it wrong can lead to delays in receiving your refund, extra work to get it right, unnecessary stress and potentially even penalties,” the spokesperson tells The Australian Women’s Weekly.

What details do I need for my tax return?

Here’s a handy checklist of details you need for an individual tax return:

  • Tax File Number
  • Bank account details
  • Income statements or payment summaries from your employer/s
  • Any payment summaries from Centrelink/Services Australia
  • Receipts or statements for deductible expenses
  • If you have a spouse, details of their income
  • Private health insurance details, if you have cover
  • Details of any tax deductions

If you’re lodging your own tax return through myTax, the ATO will pre-fill most information for you. If you’re using a tax agent, you just need to give them these details.

But CPA Australia says it’s also important to be patient while this information is gathered.

“We know it’s tempting to lodge your return straight away, but you should wait for the ATO to finish pre-filling your tax information,” the CPA Australia spokesperson says.

“This can take several weeks or more, and many who lodge in early July end up having to amend their returns later so it’s best to wait. It’ll save you in the long run.”

You might also need to provide other details, such as income earned through an ABN (Australian Business Number) or investments.

“The more complex your earning activities and finances, the more you should consider expert advice,” CPA Australia’s spokesperson says. “For instance, if you’re receiving rental income or have bought and sold cryptocurrency, you should consider speaking to a tax agent.”

Basically, if you have questions, contact a tax agent or the ATO directly.

When is the deadline for Australian tax returns?

You have until 31 October to lodge your own tax return and avoid a financial penalty. But you can get longer if you use a tax agent and were registered with them by this date.

Depending on the agent and your circumstances, this could give you up to 15 May in the next year to lodge your return.

What happens if I miss the deadline?

You can still lodge your tax return after 31 October but could be charged $313 for every 28 days that the lodgement is late.

This is known as a Failure to lodge or FTL penalty, and the ATO updates the cost over time. You can check the ATO website for any changes, or ask an accountant.

Remember to keep receipts and records for your tax return.

How do I claim expenses?

If you lodge your own tax return, you’ll be able to add tax deductions. If you use a tax agent, they will do this for you. Either way, you need to keep detailed records of the expenses.

Broadly speaking, you can claim tax deductions for expenses related to your work and career, as well as some financial activity. This can include:

  • Working from home expenses (e.g. office equipment, energy)
  • Computers, tools and items you use for work
  • Charitable donations over $2
  • Education, training and conferences
  • Personal super contributions
  • Transport costs for work
  • Investment expenses (e.g. interest on an investment property loan)
  • Memberships and accreditations (e.g. union fees, Working With Children Check)
  • Clothes and other items you need to wear for work
  • Compulsory medical checks
  • Income protection insurance
  • Other industry or job specific expenses
  • Tax agent fees

CPA Australia says there could be expenses you may not realise you can claim.

“People often don’t realise that they can claim things like donations to charitable organisations, work-related education and training, even sunglasses if you’re required to wear them for work,” the spokesperson says.

“Subscriptions, union and membership fees are all tax deductible if they’re for work – just remember if your work pays for them, you can’t claim them as a deduction.”

Keep in mind that the ATO has specific criteria for claiming expenses. So even if you spend money in one of these categories, it may not be an expense.

CPA Australia’s spokesperson adds: “All deductions require evidence to make a claim. Many of us have been working from home more often, but remember that you’ll still need to provide evidence to proof the eligibility of your work-related claims. You will need a diary of every day you’ve worked from home, and have copies of your bills and receipts.”

The ATO website has lots of details about claiming deductions. But if you want details specific to your expenses or situation, contact a tax agent or someone at the ATO.

When do I get my tax refund?

In most cases, you’ll get the money in your bank account within 2-3 weeks, but it can take up to 30 days from when your tax return is lodged. Although, if you lodge a paper return, it could take up to 10 weeks.

How much will I get back from my tax return?

Your Tax Assessment Notice lists the amount you’ll be refunded. But it can vary a lot from year to year.

As an example, the average tax refund in 2022 was $2,576 for people who submitted their own returns and $3,550 for people who used a tax agent, according to H&R Block. Many people got lower returns in 2023.

But changes to individual tax rates that the government introduced in 2024 mean that 13.6 million Australian taxpayers will receive a tax cut in the 2024/25 financial year.

For a person on an average income of around $73,000, the changes mean a tax cut of $1,504.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean a refund of $1,504. It means you’d be paying $1,504 less tax (in this scenario), which would hopefully lead to a bigger refund.

The ATO has a free income tax calculator you can use to get an estimate of your tax refund (or payment) for the current financial year. It’s relatively simple to use and takes about 15-25 minutes to get an estimate.

What if I have a tax debt?

Usually, this will only happen if you haven’t paid enough tax during the financial year. When that’s the case, you need to pay the difference. The ATO includes details on your Tax Assessment Notice about how and when to pay. It also offers payment plans and other support options.

*This article contains general advice only and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Make sure you seek financial advice appropriate to your individual circumstances before making decisions.

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