• Sandra K Stewart

Tax Time Tips - For A Post COVID Economy!

The end of the financial year is less than two weeks’ away. This means that you don’t have long to act to ensure that you pay the optimal amount of tax. Here are our top 7 tax tips.

1. Have you been working from home during the pandemic?

If you are one of the millions of Australians who worked from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, you can access a temporary short-cut method to claim home office expenses as a tax deduction. You don’t have to use this method (you can choose whichever method gives you the best outcome), but it is very simple and requires almost no documentation.

For the period from 1 March 2020 to 30 June 2020, you can claim 80 cents per hour for each hour you worked at home. This covers all of your work from home expenses such as phone expenses, internet expenses, electricity and gas for heating, cooling and lighting, and the decline in value (depreciation) of equipment and furniture.

You don’t need any expense records, nor did you need to have a dedicated work area to use this method. All you require is a timesheet or diary that shows the hours you worked.

For example, if you worked 40 hours in a week, you will be eligible for a tax deduction of $32 per week. Over the 17 and a bit week, this gives a tax deduction of around $550.    

If you use this short-cut method, you can’t claim any other expenses for working from home. If you were working from home before 1 March, you will need to use one of the existing methods (see below) to cover your deductions for the period 1 July 2019 to 29 February 2020.

2. Do you have other ‘work from home’ deductions?

There are two other methods to apply for the period from July to February, and potentially from March to June (you get to choose).

There is a fixed rate method of 52 cents per hour for each hour you worked from home. This covers your running expenses (depreciation of furniture, electricity and repairs), but not all your work from home expenses.

You need to keep records of actual hours worked from home, plus a diary for a representative four-week period to show your usual pattern of working from home. You will need to have a dedicated work area such as a home office.

To your claim of 52c per hour for each hour worked, you can separately add work-related use for phone, internet, consumables such as stationery and ink and depreciation of equipment. To claim the separately added expenses, you will need receipts and records.

The actual cost method allows you to claim additional running costs incurred as a result of working from home. These include electricity and gas, depreciation on furniture and equipment, phone expenses, internet expenses, cleaning and computer consumables and stationery. Items costing less than $300 can generally be expensed in full.

You cannot claim costs for tea or coffee or other refreshments, childcare or other expenses relating to children or their education, expenses paid directly by your employer, and occupancy expenses such as rent, mortgage interest, water and rates.

With the actual cost method, you will need to keep receipts, a record of the number of actual hours worked from home and a diary of a representative 4-week period. You will also need to follow the ATO’s rules for apportioning expenses (e.g. internet) between work-related and home usage.

3. Are you a business that needs some equipment to expand or grow?

As part of its response to Covid-19, the Government has expanded the instant asset write-off scheme, which allows businesses to claim a 100% tax deduction upfront on the purchase of equipment. Businesses with an annual turnover of up to $500m are eligible and the equipment threshold has been raised to $150,000.

Some important points to note:

  • The threshold excludes GST, so you can potentially purchase an item that costs up to $165,000 (including GST);

  • Can be new or second-hand equipment;

  • A car limit applies to passenger vehicles (up to $57,581);

  • If the equipment is for both business and private use, you can only claim the business portion,

  • It is available on a per item basis and can apply to multiple assets. Potentially, you could spend $300,000 purchasing 2 units of the same item each costing $150,000 provided they are separately invoiced.

The main caveat is that you must have sufficient taxable income to apply the tax deduction, and of course, the cash flow.

4. Can you bring forward or accelerate expenses, defer revenue?

If your cash flow is sound and you have a taxable income (that is, you will be paying tax this financial year), you could consider bringing forward expenses and/or deferring revenue. Essentially, a tax deferral strategy where you shift the burden from paying tax this financial year to next year.

Pre-paying interest on loans (for example, a business loan, investor home loan or margin loan) is a classic example. Technically, you can pre-pay interest for up to 13 months in advance and claim the interest expense as a tax deduction in the current tax year.

Taking out an annual subscription to an investment newsletter or professional journal, which will generally be tax deductible, is another example. You can also consider accelerating the payment of other general expenses.

And please don’t forget about our charities, many of whom have found that Covid-19 has led to an increase in demand for their services. Donations are, of course, tax deductible, meaning that for high rate taxpayers, the Government pays almost half. (If your marginal tax rate is 47%, a donation of $100 only costs you $53). Get your donations in by 30 June!

If you are operating a business or are a contractor, you may want to push back invoicing customers so that you defer the receipt of revenue to the 20/21 tax year.

5. Can you get a tax offset for helping grow your partner’s super?

If your spouse earns less than $37,000 and you make a spouse super contribution of up to $3,000, you can claim a personal tax offset of 18% of the contribution, up to a maximum of $540. Tax offsets are the same as tax rebates  – a dollar for dollar saving in how much tax you will pay.

The offset phases out when your spouse earns $40,000 or more. Income includes assessable income, reportable fringe benefits and reportable employer super contributions such as salary sacrifice. And, you cannot claim the offset if your spouse exceeded their non-concessional super cap of $100,000 or their total super balance was more than $1.6 million. 

6. Can you claim a tax deduction for making a personal super contribution?

There are two caps that limit how much you can contribute into super. A cap on concessional (or pre-tax) contributions of $25,000 and a cap on non-concessional (or post tax) contributions of $100,000.

Concessional contributions include your employer’s compulsory super guarantee contribution of 9.5% and any salary sacrifice contributions you make. There is also a third form which is a personal contribution you make and claim a tax deduction for. Previously, this was only available to the self-employed under the ‘10% rule’, but this rule has been scrapped and anyone can now claim this tax deduction.

There are two important caveats. Firstly, you must be eligible to make a super contribution. If you are under 65, or aged between 65 and 74 and pass the work test, you will qualify (there are some particular rules for the under 18s). Secondly, you aren’t allowed to exceed the $25,000 cap on concessional contributions.

Let’s take an example. Tom is 45 and earning a gross salary of $100,000. His employer contributes $9,500 to his super, and he has elected to salary sacrifice a further $5,000. Potentially, prior to 30 June, Tom can contribute a further $10,500 to super and claim this amount as a tax deduction, which he does when he completes his 19/20 tax return. He will also need to need to notify his super fund.

7. Do you have any capital gains or capital losses?

When assets are sold, capital gains tax (CGT) is payable. The main exemption is the family home. The gain (essentially the sale proceeds less the cost base) is counted as part of your assessable income and taxed at your marginal tax rate. If you have owned the asset for more than 12 months, individuals are eligible for a 50% discount (meaning they only pay tax on 50% of the gain), while super funds are eligible for a one-third discount (they pay tax on two-thirds of the gain). There is no discount for companies that own assets.

Capital gains can be offset by capital losses, and if the losses cannot be applied, they can be carried forward from one tax year to the next and then applied to offset a capital gain. If you make a capital loss, don’t forget about it.

If you have taken a gain in 19/20, consider these questions:

  • Do you have any carried forward capital losses from 18/19 that you can apply?

  • Have you taken losses on other assets in 19/20 that you can apply?

  • Do you have assets in a loss situation that you should sell now to crystalize a loss?

While you should never do anything just for tax reasons, crystalizing a loss on a non-performing asset can often make sense- Potentially, you can always re-purchase the asset if you subsequently decide that the sale was a mistake.

Conversely, If you have taken capital losses during the year, you may want to consider the disposal of assets in a gain situation.

One other point to note. If you have multiple parcels of the same asset (for example, shares acquired through a dividend re-investment plan) and you sell part of that asset, you can choose which parcel(s) you sell. There is no set formula (such as FIFO (first in first out) or LIFO (last in first out)) to apply, meaning that you can select the parcels which best optimise your CGT liability. 

Article by Paul Rickard for Switzer. Paul has more than 25 years’ experience in financial services and banking, including 20 years with the Commonwealth Bank Group in senior leadership roles. Paul was the founding Managing Director and CEO of CommSec, and was named Australian ‘Stockbroker of the Year’ in 2005.

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