The time of year is almost upon us where millions will have to complete their self-assessment tax return. Whether that’s as a sole trader, a freelancer, a contractor or running your own businesses, anyone who works for themselves will have to complete their forms before the annual January 31 deadline. For many, it can seem like a daunting task, so is there anything you can do to make the process easier?
James Foster, Commercial Manager at specialist accountancy provider Nixon Williams
At Nixon Williams, we manage a large client base of small businesses, contractors and self-employed individuals, which means we complete thousands of tax returns each year. This experience has provided us with an in-depth knowledge of the process and how to maximise efficiency when it comes to completing a self-assessment tax return submission.
The majority of the working population have their tax deducted at source from the company that they work for, however, anyone that is self-employed has to complete a self-assessment tax return in order to be taxed appropriately on their earnings by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
When you start working for yourself, your workload includes everything that you might need to do to make your business a success – from marketing and advertising to admin and ordering stationery. You may find that managing your finances is more complex than you might have expected as you will need to keep records of all the money you spend in the running of your business, as well as how much you earn. Many people decide to use the services of a professional accountancy firm like ours to help them through the process, but some decide to manage everything themselves. Either way, there are some simple things you can do to make the process as straightforward as possible, so here are my top five tips:
- Get organised – compiling all your invoices and receipts ahead of time is the best way to alleviate last minute stress when it comes to self-assessment forms. Ideally, you’ll have kept some form of spreadsheet or an online portal up to date throughout the year of your accounts, and you can use that to finalise your tax return. But if that’s not the case, don’t wait until the very end of January to get started. There are often missing pieces of information you’ll need to track down, so give yourself plenty of time to work through everything. And don’t forget – if it’s your first time completing your Self-Assessment Tax Return, make sure you’re registered with HMRC in time.
- Know the key dates for completion – If you decide to complete your tax return online then the deadline for this is any point up until the 31st January, whereas a paper tax return needs to arrive with HMRC by the 31st October the previous year. If you haven’t sent an online tax return before then you will need to register and HMRC advises you to do this no less than 20 working days before the deadline.
- Separate your work and personal bank account – a number of self-employed people operate with just one bank account for personal and business use, but this can make it hard to separate out your business expenses from your personal expenses. It’s often easier to identify which costs are related to your business by having a separate business bank account. This will not only help you keep a track of your business expenditure throughout the year, but it will make your life a lot easier when it comes to your tax return.
- Know the expenses and tax reliefs that you can claim – if you are a sole trader, for example, make sure that you know the expenses that you can claim in your tax return, as there may be some items you might forget about such as business mileage and expenses relating to working from home. It’s also beneficial to know about other tax reliefs that you are entitled to such as personal pension and gift aid payments.
- Tax returns can be complex so use an accountant – having professional support can be really beneficial because an accountant should not only assist with the compliance side of things (i.e. helping you to file your tax return on time) but they will also give you pro-active advice where appropriate. Tax returns are something most accountancy practices deal with on a daily basis from April to January, alleviating a lot of the financial stress away from clients and helping them to focus on what they do best – making a success of their business.
Running your own business and managing the many tasks that come with it can often push your tax return submission to the bottom of your ever-growing pile of work to do – but help is always available from professionals with the right experience and knowledge of the latest legislation. You can find further information on completing your self-assessment tax return on the Nixon Williams website here.