Unless you happen to be an accountant, the odds are good that tax return time isn’t your favourite time of year. I’ve even got my doubts about whether accountants really enjoy it all that much, what with the complexity of ever-changing tax laws, electronic forms and chasing up client payments.
The way we can pay and organise our annual tax returns has changed markedly in recent years, with a slew of online options and apps to streamline the process.
I’ve got to be cautious here and explicitly state that none of this is intended as direct financial advice. I’m not an accountant, and in every case if you do have questions, they’d be better placed towards either your accountant or the Australian Tax Office, the final arbiter of tax laws as they’re written and evolve.
However, if you’re still using pen, paper, and ledgers to keep track of everything, while my admiration for your dedication to a world that Charles Dickens would recognise is genuine, you’re arguably making it harder for yourself than it needs to be.
Here’s some quick and simple ways that technology and apps can make tax time considerably easier.
Keep track of your receipts with your camera or printer
Lots of merchants will offer you emailed receipts, which is great because they’re searchable, fileable and never fade.
However, the odds are good that there’s going to be something this financial year that you purchased from a store where your direct (and tax relevant) purchases are recorded on a tiny slip of paper. An old school receipt, easily lost and prone to fading over time.
One of the simplest tips to keep your receipts in order is also one of the simplest hacks imaginable. When you’re buying an item that may qualify as a tax deduction – which varies by usage and your personal tax affairs, of course – whip your smartphone out of your pocket and take a photo of the receipt.
This serves two purposes. On newer smartphones, if the shot is clear, it’s possible to grab the text of the receipt, making it much simpler to add it into an accounting package or spreadsheet.
Even if your phone isn’t new enough to offer features such as Apple’s Live Text or an Android OCR app, you’re still creating a digital record of your purchase that won’t fade in the sun. If you’ve got your photos set to upload to iCloud, Google Drive, or any other online repository, they’re even safe in the event of any other physical disaster such as fire, flood or burglary.
With a little discipline you can do much the same in bulk loads with any multi-function printer with a scanner, too.
Grab the official ATO app (it’s free!)
The ATO has its own app for both Android and iPhone platforms, free to download with a host of features designed to take much of the sting out of tax time.
You do need to link a valid MyGov account to it to make the most of it, and like many government processes that can take a little time. Once it’s done, however, you can quickly and easily manage your tax affairs and your registered superannuation accounts to boot.
Remember how I told you to take photos of your receipts? The ATO app has an entire section of the app built around that idea, allowing you to capture receipts and tax records digitally before either uploading them to the ATO’s online MyTax suite, or to your registered tax agent.
If your employer is responsible for most of your tax payments, you can also use the ATO app to check for pre-filled information prior to lodging your tax return.
What if I use an existing accounting app?
If you do use an accounting app to manage your personal or business finances, it’s well worth checking for mobile apps that may be part of that suite, especially as most will work in tandem with your computer app to simplify your business processes – including any tax-specific items you may buy or sell.
In some cases, they may cost extra to access on a one-time or subscription basis, but many packages these days include access to their mobile apps for free.
One key factor to check here is that you’re getting the legitimate app for your accounting platform, and that it’s been kept reasonably up to date and secure.
What about online accountants?
There’s a whole raft of newer players in the accounting field that focus specifically on tax returns, promising to maximise your returns at lower prices than the cost of traditional tax agents.
Reviews are mixed as to their efficacy – I guess the same could be said of a flesh and blood accountant though to be sure – but if you’re looking to both simplify your tax affairs and not have to worry about face-to-face appointments or bouncing details back and forth with your accountant over email, they could save you both time and money.
Make sure you seek financial advice
We have tried to be as helpful as possible, but it’s important to note that this should not be considered financial advice. This article contains general information only, and you should seek out independent, professional advice on your personal situation before making any financial decisions.
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