Money

Do I Need An Accountant?

Tax time is upon us and all of the questions we asked ourselves last year (and the year before) have bubbled back up again. When do I get my group certificate? What can I claim? Is it easy to do by myself? Where are all of my receipts?

I’ve been doing my own tax since I started lodging it nearly 10 years ago and have always found it super easy. One job, one group certificate, no deductions. Bing, bang, boom.

But as I get older and settle into my Very Serious Adult Career, there are lots more variables popping up that could mean I can get more money back. Or, might mean I owe more money than I realise. So do I need to get an accountant now?

Assuming that you’re a regular tax-confused lodger like me, here are more questions that you can answer to figure out whether you really need an accountant, or not. We’ve also enlisted the help of Saul Markunsky, Director of In The Picture Chartered Accountants to clear up a few muddy areas.

Have you held more than two jobs in the financial year?

One or two group certificates are pretty easy to wrangle through eTax. You just have to input a few details, crosscheck both certificates and you’ll be well on your way to seeing that sweet cash drop in your account. I wouldn’t worry about calling on an accountant to help.

But if you’ve worked a few jobs in one financial year, it gets quite difficult to keep on top of everything. Unless you have a deep understanding of how eTax works, you might want to just hand it over to a professional.

Are you good at keeping records?

Meticulous records are the make or break of a bankable tax return, and will help make your return extremely easy-going.

Seeking financial advice means you’ll learn exactly what to keep track of over the next year. You might be able to claim your petrol or Internet usage and not even realise it.

Saul offers some extra tips on things to keep safe. He says, “When keeping receipts one should make sure that any receipts that can fade are scanned into a document to prevent losing the detail on the receipt. A motor vehicle logbook, travel diary and Internet usage log are good examples of records you can keep.”

Are you aware of your deductions?

If you’re completely confident about what you can and can’t claim, then you’re probably fine to just go through eTax and lodge them on your own.

If you’re not entirely sure about what can and can’t be claimed, then definitely make your way to an accountant. Not only will they prevent you from making any preventable mistakes, they know the ins and outs of every type of deduction.

Do you work in a specific industry?

There are accountants that specify in certain industries, meaning they deal in maximising your tax return for you. Saul himself deals with creative industries, and advises writers, artists and filmmakers on their tax returns.

“Tax professionals — especially those specialising in certain professions — are usually aware of all the allowable deductions and laws around your tax return,” he says. “Not only will they come up with extra deductions, but they will be able to advise you on those items which are not deductible. This should prevent any interest and penalties if a person has over claimed and/or non-allowable deductions.”

Basically, you don’t want to wing it and be punished for accidentally doing it wrong. Getting an accountant that specifies in your industry is also good because they’ll be up to date on new claims and regulations. “Certain professions have tax minimisation rules that taxpayers are not aware of. A good example of this is special professional income averaging, which allows some people in the creative industry to average their income overriding four-year period.”

Income averaging is available to inventors and sportspeople, too

Do you have an ABN (and use it)?

There are people that use an ABN to provide their entire income, and then there are people who use their ABN to support a hobby along with their full-time job. It can get a little tricky. In order to avoid any of this confusion, Saul advises that where ABNs are concerned, accountants are the best way to go.

“When working with an ABN, the tax preparation process becomes a little more onerous,” he says. “A person would be well advised to pay a professional to prepare their tax when they have to prepare business schedule as well. If they are preparing these returns themselves and may miss out on the small business rebate as well as other items that they may not be aware that they can claim.”

He adds, for example, “There is a government incentive in place at the moment for small businesses – including ABN earners — to claim a full deduction for any assets purchased under the value of $20,000.” The more you know.

Do you buy or sell shares?

Best to get an accountant to help you figure this stuff out. Also, teach me how you do that.