The strategy: To get my things together to do this year's tax return.
Already? Unless you're super organised, chances are you haven't even started thinking about this year's tax. But if you're expecting a refund, the sooner you get organised the sooner the money will be in your pocket. For most employees, that means finding receipts and other documentation to claim all the deductions for which you're eligible. Unfortunately, as part of its cost cutting, the government has abandoned its plan to allow taxpayers a standard deduction that they could claim without any questions asked. So you still have to have written evidence to support all your deductions if you are claiming more than $300, or your claim includes travel expenses for using a vehicle other than a car or a non-work-related expense. Even if you claim less than $300, the Australian Tax Office says you should still be able to show how you worked out your claim.
What sort of documents do I need? In most cases you'll need documents showing what you bought, when you bought it, who you bought it from, what it cost and the date of the document. These can be in electronic form. You can use your own evidence, such as a diary note, for expenses of less than $10 each (providing they don't add up to more than $200) and items for which it is impractical to get a receipt, such as tolls paid in cash and parking. These notes must provide the same information as a formal receipt.
Paper trail … collate all your documents and you're halfway to getting your tax return in on time. Photo: Thinkstock
Some expenses require additional documentation, such as a diary showing the expense was incurred for business, not personal, reasons. If you buy an item such as a computer for both work and personal use, for example, the Taxation Office says you should keep a diary for four weeks to determine the proportion of business use.
Car and travel expenses also have specific rules when it comes to written records. There are four methods for calculating car expense claims ranging from the logbook method, which requires you to keep a logbook and odometer reading as well as written evidence for expenses other than fuel and oil costs, to the cents per kilometre and 12 per cent of initial value methods, which only require you to show how you worked out your business kilometres.
Note that if your employer has reimbursed you for any of your expenses, you can't double dip by claiming them as a tax deduction.
What sorts of things can I claim for? The basic rule is that you can claim for expenses that were incurred as part of earning your income. Common deductions include items for work such as computers, membership of professional associations and subscriptions, the cost of buying and cleaning uniforms if you're required to wear one, self-education expenses related to your current job (not getting a new one), work-related travel, professional tax advice and donations. The Taxation Office has issued guidelines for common claims made by a number of professions. They are available in the individuals section at ato.gov.au
If you're an investor you may also be able to claim costs such as the interest on investment loans, account fees on investment accounts and ongoing fees for financial advice (although the cost of getting an initial plan is regarded as a capital cost and can't be deducted).
You'll also need to keep records to help you work out any capital losses or capital gains that arise later on.
This means you will need to keep records such as purchase contracts, dividend reinvestment statements and capital expenditure receipts (such as improvements to a rental property).