How to score a free tax return through the Australian Tax Office

Aug 21, 2021
Tax returns lodged through the ATO's Tax Help service are completely free of charge. Source: Getty

If it’s been a tough year and you don’t need another bill to pay, you may be able to strike your accountant off the list. Thousands of Australians can now access a free tax-return service operated under the supervision of the Australian Tax Office (ATO).

It’s a service well worth chasing, considering that the cost of lodging a simple tax return can range from $75 for an online service through to hundreds of dollars if you’re using a qualified accountant.

The ATO has rolled out their Tax Help program to help people prepare and lodge their 2020-2021 income tax returns. Tax returns lodged through Tax Help are completely free of charge.

Tax Help is open to anyone with an income of about $60,000 or less who doesn’t have complicated tax affairs and didn’t work as a contractor or run a business. “Complicated tax affairs” includes people with investment properties, those who have been wheeling and dealing in assets such as shares or crypto currencies, or where you might have special employer-provided fringe-benefit arrangements.

The program involves about 700 ATO trained and accredited volunteers, who provide face-to-face assistance to people needing to lodge a tax return. With Covid-19, that assistance has been extended to online and phone assistance.

Last year, more than 30,000 people took advantage of the service, which makes use of the online myTax service, which people can also access themselves via the my.gov.au website. (My.gov.au is the website portal that allows you to access all Commonwealth government services, including Centrelink, Medicare, My Aged Care and, of course, the ATO.)

If using myTax, whether through your Tax Help volunteer or through myGov, the system takes full advantage of pre-filled data provided to the ATO by employers, banks, share registries, managed investment funds, health insurers, Centrelink and super funds. In most cases, the online tax return will simply require you to verify the payments received, which will pop-up on the screen in front of you,

Most people will simply need to provide details of any tax deductions claimed but, even then, donations to some charities will often appear pre-filled. The system can offer typical tax deductions for your specific occupation, and it will generate alerts if what you have claimed seems out of the ordinary.

A new user starting from scratch can register on myGov and often complete their tax return in less than half an hour. To speed up the process, you’ll need your tax file number, a recent notice of assessment issued by the ATO and some other form of verification document, which includes a bank statement, dividend statement from an Australian listed company or a superannuation fund statement.

If all this seems too hard, you can make an appointment with a local Tax Help volunteer by calling: 132 861.

And like a dodgy steak-knives commercial, “But wait there’s more!” Some time ago, and with little fan-fair, the ATO introduced an automated program for seniors over 60 years of age.

  • Lodge a tax return yourself – either through myGov or using a Tax Help volunteer.
  • Get a refund of your franking credits. (The refund must be less than about $5,500.)
  • Do this for two years.

Then the ATO will send you a lovely letter in July, telling you there’s no need to tear you hair out doing a tax return. They’ll automatically process your franking credit refund and credit it directly to your nominated bank account.

The sting is that if you use a tax agent to do your return, you’ll never be put into the program! Also, individuals need to lodge their tax returns by October 31 if they’re not using the services of a tax agent. Tax agents include shopping centre pop-up tax return services, online services other than myGov, store-front franchises such as H&R Block or ITP, and most accountants.

More details can be found here. For more financial info by Nick Bruining, head here.

 

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

Did you know about this ATO service?

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