Living the student lifestyle is expensive, money is always tight and there are course fees, supplies and beer to pay for. A part time job can help but they are often low paid and after tax what little is left disappears in a single night out.

But what does the end of the financial year have to do with being a student right? Well it can mean a mid-year cash boost when you need it most. By completing a tax return you may be able to claim back the tax you paid through employment, course fees and other essential student supplies – not beer though sorry, take it up with Penny Wong.


First of all do you actually need to lodge a tax return for the 2011-2012 financial year?

You may not need to but to find out first identify all sources of taxable income you have received during the 2011-2012 financial year.

Sources could include:

•    Earned income from a job: including any tips (if you were good).
•    Income from investments, such as bank interest or dividends on shares received

•    Some government payments from Centrelink, such as Austudy, ABSTUDY and youth allowance count as taxable income.
•   In some cases non-government scholarships, grants and awards are included.
•   Distribution from a family trust or partnership.

If your total taxable income exceeds the government determined tax-free threshold of $6000 for the period of 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2012 you will most likely need to lodge a tax return. If your income is less that $6000 you should also consider lodging a tax return in case you are due a refund from the ATO (woohoo!)


1. What expenses can you claim for?

An expense incurred in direct relation to the taxable income you have earned may be tax deductable in section D4 of the 2012 tax return. Keeping receipts and bank statements will help you to claim for these. Examples of expenses which may be eligible as a tax deduction include: uniforms, personal protective clothing, union fees, or the use of a mobile phone or vehicle for work related purposes. Study related expenses are not included in this section of the tax return but you can claim them in section D5.


2. What about government training courses?

If you receive an assessable government training payment, you can claim a tax offset which means you are exempt from paying tax on the money you received.

Austudy, ABSTUDY, Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance are all eligible for the offset.


3. Study related expenses

Although you can’t outright claim for expenses incurred through study, if you can show that the study you are undertaking is directly linked to your current occupation skill set and could help to maintain or improve your skills or income you may be able to claim for some of the following.
•    course fees
•    textbooks
•    stationery
•    the depreciation of assets such as computers and printers

•    student union fees

*If you’re studying your first university course you will not be eligible for self-education expenses unless it is related to your employment – the government make the laws not us!


4.    Are student loan repayments tax deductable? 

Sadly no. HELP (Higher Education Loan Program) repayments start once your annual salary exceeds $47,196. The amount repaid is income assessed.
Completing a tax file declaration form will allow the ATO to automatically calculate your repayments, if you don’t you could land a massive bill from the ATO.


5. What if you’re an overseas student?

An overseas student who is studying in Australia for six months or more will be classed as a resident for tax purposes and pay the same tax as Australian residents. The tax-free threshold only applies to students who have been an Australian resident for the full financial year.
Changes for the financial year 2012-2013 mean that the tax-free threshold rises to $18,200 which should benefit students on low part time incomes hurray!


If you feel like doing some study see the student section on the ATO site.


Your 2012 Tax Return: 6 Things to Consider When Selecting a Tax Agent.

Like most of us, you probably won’t have the time or know-how to prepare and lodge your own tax return, so it’s likely you will turn to the service of a Tax Agent.

So how do you choose which is right for you?

There are a lot of tax agent companies in Australia – over 37,000 to be exact offering all manner of tax services with different fee structures. Though self-complete tax preparation services are growing in popularity, assisted tax preparation is still the most popular method of lodgement in Australia with 71% or 8.8 million returns being lodged. More than 95% of businesses get their returns done by a Tax Agent.

Here are 6 important considerations when selecting a tax agent for your 2012 tax return:

1.      Is the Tax Agent registered?

This is perhaps the most important thing to check. Australian tax agents must be registered with the Tax Practitioners Board. Look for or request a registration number from your tax agent or check yourself at the Tax Practitioners Board website.

To achieve registration, tax agents or tax agent companies must have the up to date experience and related accounting qualifications and must be a person of good character. Additionally, only a registered tax agent may charge a fee for preparing a tax return. However, over the past few years unscrupulous unregistered so called tax agents have sprung up, charging clients to lodge returns via online portals such as etax, which is unethical and illegal.

2.      Are you paying too much?

There are no ‘set’ tax return fees. Generally, what you pay depends on your individual circumstances and who you choose as your tax agent.  Many Australian taxpayers enlist the services of accounting firms that are simply too expensive for their needs. Such firms can charge upwards of $350 an hour and many have a one hour minimum charge.  Such practices generally have high overheads they need to cover, such as expensive high street offices.

Even though the fees charged by your tax agent are tax deductable in the following year, given the average aussie has relatively simple to intermediate tax needs, one can still get the maximum refund for a reasonable fee. At the end of the day, financially, you are better off matching the tax agent to your specific needs.

Qualified experienced tax agent companies such as new innovative Australian tax agent Mr Tax Refund are becoming popular with canny consumers seeking the same service for a reduced price.

3.      Does the agent guarantee a maximum refund?

Getting a maximum tax refund is the aim of every tax payer. No one wants to pay more tax than they have to and it’s arguable that the Australian Tax Office benefits from the naivety of the Australian public by holding onto more tax than necessary.  Some tax agents will stand behind the quality of their work by guaranteeing the maximum refund and offering to repay fees should they not attain the optimal result for their clients.

4.      Does the agent offer instant refunds?

Many tax agents offer ‘quick’ tax refunds, but they are really not in control of the time it takes for the Australian Tax Office to refund the clients’ money, and often this will take several weeks at the earliest. Some Australian tax agents offer an instant tax refund option for those that need their money very quickly. For a fee, the agent or associated financier will forward all or a proportion of the clients expected refund within a day or two. This service has been popular in the US and Canada however only a very small number of Australian tax agents provide such an option.

5.      Can your agent access the tax office over the internet?

One of the key benefits of being a registered tax agent is the ability to access the Australian Taxation Office’s Tax Agent Portal on the internet. Registered tax agents can get a window into their clients’ tax profile allowing them to prepare and lodge client tax returns quickly and easily. They can also check a client’s tax history and get details on most government debts owing (which are deducted from the balance of any refund due). Access to the portal can also provide important information from employers (such as payment summaries, allowance information and employee share scheme information) and income from bank interest among other things.

6.      Were you aware your tax agent is not personally responsible for your return?

Even if your tax agent completes your return it is you who is ultimately responsible for the information it contains and even any mistakes they make which could end up in extra tax payable, audits or possibly fines. So it’s important you are accurate and honest when briefing your tax agent and providing them with your documentation.

Tax agents can however be reprimanded by the Tax Practitioners Board or even lose their licence f they submit an inordinate amount of incorrect returns.

When providing tax return documentation to your agent try to include previous tax return(s) and all your PAYG payment summaries (previously known as group certificates) from each employer that you worked for during the year. If by the end of July you have not received a PAYG payment summary, call the employer and request it as it is a legal requirement to provide employees with these by mid-July.

A registered tax agent is a good investment, but choose wisely

If you, like most aussies, are unfamiliar with tax law its highly advisable to use a registered tax agent to submit your tax return in 2012. If you shop around and choose an agent that meets your needs as closely as possible, not only will the fees paid be a good investment it will also save you a lot of frustration and anguish.


Education Tax Refund – What Happened To It?

You can no longer claim the Education Tax Refund (ETR), it has been replaced by the Schoolkids Bonus.

You cannot claim the Education Tax Refund in 2011-2012 tax returns. The Department of Human Services made one-off payments to eligible families in June 2012 in place of the refund they would otherwise have claimed. If you think you are eligible and did not receive a payment contact the Department of Human Services.

From January 1 2013 the Schooldkids Bonus will be paid automatically into the bank accounts of families who are eligible to receive it. The payment will be staggered in two instalments: half in January and the second half in July. You do not need to keep receipts or claim the payment in your tax return.

Mr Tax Refund Set to Launch Queensland Office

Surviving on a few hours of restless sleep to get everything set up, Australia’s newest national tax preparation service Mr Tax Refund is excited to announce the launch of the Queensland Mr Tax Refund office at Southport on the Gold Coast. This will give us unmatched service as we will be available to look after our many thousands of clients over the phone between the hours of 8am and 10pm weekdays and 10am to 6pm Saturdays.

The Gold Coast has had a rough trot over the past few years.Perhaps we can help a few locals get a great instant tax refund for a rock bottom fee.

Look for us on the 5th floor of the Southport Central Commercial Tower One.