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Tax refunds: 3 tips to get your tax return back from ATO faster

Cash-strapped Aussies are depending on their tax refund to pay everyday bills.

As the cost of living continues to bite, every precious dollar is seemingly committed to higher grocery costs, increased mortgage interest, and blossoming fuel prices, so you might want to get your tax refund back from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) as quickly as possible.

According to the ATO, most tax returns are processed within two weeks but, in practice, many returns are actually processed far quicker – in as little as three days. The trick to getting your tax refund back as fast as possible is to avoid certain things that could cause a lengthy, and possibly indefinite, delay.

Here’s what all Aussies need to look out for before lodging their tax return.

Layered image of hand holding cash in front of a pig to represent refund outline and bold letters tax
Tax refunds can take as little as three days. (Source: Yahoo Finance AU) (Samantha Menzies)

Tip 1: Don’t forget the basics

Lots of tax returns get held up by the ATO because taxpayers have made basic mistakes such as failing to notify of a name or address change, not including bank account details, or even simple spelling mistakes.

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If you lodge with incorrect details, the ATO won’t be able to match it with your tax file number (TFN) and it’ll slip into an ATO black hole. Forget to include things like your bank details and you can kiss that refund goodbye.

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Tip 2: Don’t embellish deductions

Don’t inflate deductions to get a bigger refund. Only claim for costs you can prove you spent, by producing an invoice, receipt or bank statement for instance. Self-lodgers using the ATO’s myTax program are monitored during the preparation process to ensure they’re not over-claiming.

If any of your claims sound alarm bells in the ATO’s computer systems, myTax will give you a stern warning inviting you to rethink that deduction. Ignore that message, and you could be headed for an audit.

If your deduction claims are found to be incorrect, it can delay your return. You will be required to repay the missing tax payment, plus interest. If the ATO believes you have acted carelessly, a penalty of between 25 per cent and 95 per cent of the missing tax may also be charged.

Tip 3: Don’t rely on pre-filled data

These days, with the push of a button, you can pre-fill lots of your income information straight from the ATO’s systems. Take care though and don’t assume that income data is correct or complete. Always use your own information as the key source data. If you omit income and get questioned by the ATO, the legal burden will be on you, even though you’ve taken the information straight from the ATO’s pre-filled data.

Should I use a tax agent to make the process smoother?

You can use a tax accountant or tax agent like H&R Block. Make sure your accountant is registered with the Tax Practitioners Board by checking on their website. To make the process as convenient and hassle-free as possible, it's important to come to your appointment prepared. Our tax checklist to maximise deductions has a list of all the documents you need to get your taxes done quickly and accurately.

Alternatively, you can lodge yourself through the government’s online portal, myTax. On the surface, you may think DIY lodging online is quicker but, for most people, this isn’t the case. Once you add in the time to collate your information, look up your deductions, and check to make sure you haven't made any mistakes, the process is generally longer and more convoluted than using an agent.

Most people (70 per cent of all Australians) find it far less stressful to leave it to an agent to complete their return. This ensures the return will be accurate and complete, and an experienced agent will usually be good at sniffing out obscure tax deductions you didn’t know you could claim.

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