Taxing Times

JCU Journalism student Rebekah Smith tells of her experience trying to do a dreaded tax return solo. 













I pinned my hopes of becoming a little less broke on this year’s tax return.

“Yes,” I thought, “some money coming in that I almost forgot I was entitled to.”

That was until I opened my group statement and gawked at the measly sum of $70, which was all I would be getting back. Bugger.

But, my situation got worse very quickly. I realised, egged on by the rather pessimistic views of family and friends, it would cost me more to get my tax done by an accountant than I would actually get back in my return.

These circumstances made me curious about how other low-income earners go about lodging their tax returns without the help of a paid professional.

James Cook University students Kym Morritt and Lianna Maier both looked to their parents for help at tax time and, chatting to other students, this seemed to be a familiar trend.

“We get an accountant to do it, and my Dad handles all the dealings with him,” Miss Maier said.

Miss Morritt said she was able to complete the tax return forms herself.

She said seeing her mother file them without help gave her the confidence to ditch the accountant and do it herself.

Following Kym’s lead, I decided to file my tax return myself.It couldn’t be that hard, could it?

I picked up a tax pack from the post office and got down to work. I didn’t get much further than the first page before I ditched the bundle of papers in a flurry of confusion and ‘black ink only’. What language do they write these things in?

The form also asks for documentation I wouldn’t have thought of supplying, let alone known its current location.

This humbling realisation led me to investigate the different options available to me as well as the basics of lodging a tax return.

Shopping around

To begin with, I phoned several different agencies looking for quotes. The prices ranged from $80 to $200 for a basic individual wage return. Some agents also offer the option of paying after you receive your tax return, however this is usually at an additional cost.

Free services

While investigating the various agencies in Townsville I stumbled across Tax Help, a free tax service offered to low-income earners.

The service, currently available through the Aitkenvale Library and the Upper Ross Community Centre, relies on volunteers in the community who give their time to help people complete their tax returns.

Aitkenvale Library Programs Officer Linda Blair said very few students use their services, which are mainly used by people with English as their second language.

Whether you decide to enlist the help of family and friends, hire an accountant or access free services, you still need to supply all the required documentation.

This can be difficult if you haven’t kept organised records throughout the financial year. Tax Help volunteer Dawn Bopf said having these documents at the ready is crucial. “If people don’t have the appropriate documents, you can’t do the tax return,” Mrs Bopf said.

Mrs Bopf (pictured left) became a Tax Help volunteer because there was a shortage of helpers at the centre and she recognised how important the service was to a range of people.

She is available to sit down with people and walk them through their E-tax forms, which can be downloaded free from the Australian Taxation Office website.

“The aim of the volunteer program is to help people so they can do their tax return themselves later down the line,” Mrs Bopf said.

“A lot of students would be capable of downloading the E-tax and doing it themselves but Tax Help is a way of providing assistance to those in need.”

To see whether you are eligible for Tax Help, check out the criteria below or call Linda Blair on 4727 8325 for more information.