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Tax return: top tips to file on time

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We’re starting to see reminders from HM Revenue that the tax return season is fast approaching. Here are my top tips to help you file your tax return on time.

Online

Most people who have to file a tax return do so online. It’s quicker and easier and means the deadline is later: January 31, 2012. That’s also when any tax and National Insurance will be due, whether you file online or by using a paper form.

Paper

If you’re filing your tax return using a paper form, whether you’re filling that in by hand or printing it from tax software, you need to get it in to HMRC by October 31, 2011.

Registering to file online

And what if the tax year that ended on 5th April 2011 was the first one for which you have to file a tax return? You must file it by January 31, 2012 if you’re filing online, either via HMRC’s online site or through commercial third party software.

If you want to file your tax return online, you must register to do so with HMRC – and that’s a different process from registering with them as self-employed. (HMRC, if you’re reading this, it would be great if you could please combine these processes!)

Why file online?

For one thing, it’s quicker. It’s also kinder to the environment, and, perhaps most importantly of all, commercial software and the HMRC website will calculate your tax for you.

That’s not to be sneezed at. Working out your tax, by the time you’ve included National Insurance as well, isn’t a walk in the park. 

When to register

So if this is the first year you have to file a tax return, and you haven’t yet registered with HMRC to file online, it’s a good idea to do so sooner rather than later.

This isn’t just because it’s easy to forget to do it. HM Revenue have to send you an activation PIN for the online filing service. They send this by snail mail and this can take up to seven working days to arrive. This needs to be done even if you’re going to use commercial software to file your tax return, rather than HMRC’s own website.

So why not make registering a task for later this month, or November, before the Christmas rush hits? Remember, not only will you be very busy in December, but so will Royal Mail, and your activation PIN might get delayed in the post.

Don’t risk being late

HMRC have changed the rules so that if you do file your tax return late, you’ll pay a £100 fine, even if you don’t have any tax to pay. (Historically, the fine was limited to the amount of tax payable.)

And the fines increase the longer you delay filing. You will almost certainly also have to pay interest and penalties if you pay your tax late. So don’t give Mr Osborne more money than you need to – register now and file your tax return on time.

Emily Coltman is chief accountant at online accounting provider FreeAgent.

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