Getting the most out of tax time
There are a few things to look out for if you plan to claim some work related expenses when you’re studying - which we will look at below.
There are a number of simple things you can do to get yourself organised for tax time. Firstly, don’t panic, just because it’s the end of the financial year, it doesn’t mean you have to get your tax done by 1 July. In many cases you won’t be able to because you won’t have received your payment summary for the year yet. Individuals have until 31 October to file their tax returns. The 30 June deadline is really for any expenses you’re planning on claiming.
Do I have to file a tax return
If you’re a student and earn less than $18 200 a year, you may not need to file a tax return at all. This might apply to you if you earned spare cash doing some one-off or casual work. However, if you received any income (including Austudy or ABSTUDY), and got a PAYG payment summary from your employer, you will need to file a tax return.
Don’t go running to the shoe box full of receipts yet. If your tax return is relatively simple—for example, if you had a single employer—you can save the cost of your accountant and just do it yourself.
The ATO has an online lodgement tool called myTax which is really easy to use. You can use it on any device, and all it requires is a myGov account (which is quick to set up). Once you log in, it pre-fills all your information on wages and health-fund info. You just add your deductions for the year, and you’re done.
In fact, last year the tax office said you could have your whole return done in an hour, and a refund in your bank account in a couple of weeks. This also saves you the cost of getting your accountant to do it.
The vast majority of people can use the myTax app, and the ATO says if you do make a genuine mistake while using it, they’re not likely to punish you for it. After all, it’s in their interest to make paying tax as easy as possible for you.
What can I claim on my tax?
So, to the important part—what deductions can you claim? Which receipts do you really have to have in that shoe box?
The tax office allows you to deduct certain self-education expenses only if you’re currently employed in a related job and you’re educating yourself to get better at it. If you’re studying full-time to become a doctor, dentist or vet and working as a waiter on the weekend, you can’t deduct your education expenses but deductions are available if you’ve finished your first degree and are increasing your skills, or if you’re in a closely related job.
The rules around this are pretty tight but the good news is, if you’re eligible, there are quite a few deductions available to you. Courses and tuition fees, any costs associated with staying away from home to do the course, travel and parking expenses, student union fees and amenities fees, and textbooks, stationary and costs associated with running a home office are all deductions—after you’ve spent $250 on them.
So that means you have to add up all those receipts to work out how much you’ve spent. It’s any amount over $250 that’s deductible. So if your expenses came to $260, for example, you’d only get a $10 deduction.
You can also claim depreciation on items costing over $300 (that’ll be your computer and any equipment or technical instruments). That may well zero-out the first $250 anyway and those deductions are on education-specific costs. If you’re a working dental assistant studying to become a dentist, you can deduct costs such as uniforms, dry cleaning, safety items, overtime meals and travel expenses.
Making it easy to get the most out of tax time
Of course, an accountant can help you with this if it’s starting to sound a little too complex. However, if you’re still determined to avoid an accountant, the ATO has produced a free app you can use to track your deductions on the go. It’s called myDeductions, and you can find it in the ATO app that you can download from the various app stores (Apple or Google).
Once you have the app up and working and linked to your myGov account, you can fill in the record of your expenses as you make them. If you’re too busy, you can just take a photo of the receipt and store it to retrieve later.
You can also easily keep track of expenses (and savings) by setting up a couple of linked bank accounts. Keep a simple, low-or-zero-fee savings account for your everyday expenses and living money. If you can, link it to a debit card which you use for work expenses. Then you’ll be able to see anything you’ve missed on your debit card statement each month, and adjust it in your ATO app if necessary.
Tax time doesn’t have to be a pain if you take a few minutes to get organised and let your device do most of the work.