Tax time tips for sole traders


31st August, 2021

Sole trader tax: What you need to know

If you’re a sole trader and need to get your taxes organised, start by reading these expert tips for maximising your return and get a jump start on next financial year.

End of financial year can be stressful for any business owner, especially when it comes to completing your tax return. But rest assured, with a little pre-planning and expert help, you can easily reduce your tax-time stress while maximising your deductions.

To help make tax time less stressful, we chatted to Chartered Accountant and small and solo accounting practice coach, Amanda Gascoigne.

Here are her top tax time tips for sole traders – and some common mistakes to avoid.

Key takeaways:

  • Organising your records and setting up good recordkeeping practices now will save you time in future
  • Don’t leave tax planning to the very last minute if you want to be thorough, reducing the risk of an audit and maximising your deductions
  • There are tech tools to help streamline the process
  • Seek professional advice from a certified tax agent

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What is a sole trader?

A sole trader is an individual who runs a business. A sole trader is the only owner of the business, and controls and manages the business.

Sole traders are legally responsible for all aspects of the business, and assume liability for all debts and losses.

Sole trader tax rate

Sole traders are taxed as part of their own personal income, so the personal income tax rate applies.

How much can I earn as a sole trader without paying tax?

The tax-free threshold for sole traders is $18,200 in the 2019–20 financial year.

Do sole traders get a tax return?

Sole traders are obliged to lodge a tax return, even if their income is below the tax-free threshold.

Whether or not a sole trader gets a tax return depends on what their income and costs were during the financial year. An income tax estimator can be used to get an idea of whether a return will be earned. Alternatively, your accountant will be able to help you work this out.

READ: How long does it take to get a tax return?

How is taxable income calculated as a sole trader?

For a sole trader, taxable income is calculated at the same rate as personal income. The ATO calculates the sole trader’s income tax by deducting allowable deductions from taxable income.

The result of this equation is the amount that the sole trader is liable to pay tax on.

How to pay tax as a sole trader

In a sole trader’s first year of business, they can make tax pre-payments into their tax bill account, put money aside for the tax they expect to pay or voluntarily enter into instalments.

Once a sole trader has lodged their first income tax return and reported a tax-payable amount above a certain threshold, they will automatically enter the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) instalment system.

READ: How to save tax in Australia – 15 tax minimisation strategies

Tax tips for sole traders

Come tax time, sole traders have enough to worry about without getting their taxes in a tangle. Here are 8 tips to make tax time easier.

1. Separate business and personal expenses

If you don’t already have a business account set up, you should make this a priority.

Pay all of your business expenses through a business bank account and a dedicated credit card. This will ensure you don’t miss out on any tax deductions.

If you do have to pay for something business-related with cash, or from a personal account, reimburse yourself from your business bank account so you have a record.

READ: Key differences between sole traders and companies

2. Know the rules around expense claims

“If you are spending money on things that help you make money in your business, it will be either fully deductible or partially deductible,” said Gascoigne.

But it’s important you only claim the portion that is used for your business. For example, if you have one mobile phone for both work and personal use, you can only claim a certain percentage of your bill as a business deduction.

According to Gascoigne, an expense that’s regularly overlooked is the use of a privately-owned vehicle. “Often it could be this vehicle that is used for quotes, banking and collecting mail or business supplies,” she said.

If this is the case, a logbook should be maintained as proof of business use or business kilometres.

To learn what can – and can’t – be deducted, head to the ATO website’s business tax deductions summary.

READ: Overlooked tax minimisation tips and deductions

3. Keep digital copies of work-related receipts

There’s a lot of confusion around the need for receipts, said Gascoigne.

You cannot claim a tax deduction for an expense if you do not have a receipt.

You’re required to keep these records for a minimum of five years. And, as paper receipts fade and are easily misplaced, it’s best to have a digital backup in case of an audit.

READ: Invoice vs receipt: Key differences and FAQ

4. Don’t leave tax planning (and returns) to the last minute

According to Gascoigne, it’s always best to undertake tax planning strategies well before 30 June. This enables you access to a range of tax reduction strategies you may not be able to put in place at a later date.

Gascoigne recommends sole traders compete their returns well before the due date, even if a tax bill is anticipated.

“This way they can start setting aside money for that year and the current year,” she said.

5. Don’t go it alone

Whether you’re yet to submit last year’s tax return or planning for the new year, consider seeking some outside help.

Enlisting an accountant can save you time and money, and provide valuable insight into the health of your business.

According to Gascoigne, having an accountant produce your profit and loss statement and tax return is the best way to ensure your tax is minimised.

6. Keep good records

Keep thorough and detailed records, preferably with online accounting software. This will ensure you can keep your eyes on your numbers throughout the year.

7. Set aside tax

Throughout the year, set aside tax (and GST if registered) to avoid a nasty surprise at tax time. Your accountant will be able to help you calculate the amount to set aside.

8. Hire a good accountant

Find an accountant that you can relate to, speak openly with, and who will consider all options to legitimately reduce your tax.

Avoid these common sole trader tax-time errors

According to Gascoigne, some of the most common mistakes made by sole traders at tax time are:

  • Not declaring all income received — that means keeping your invoices in order and staying on top of BAS
  • Claiming expenses that are not business related
  • Not taking into account the private proportion of expenses
  • Not keeping a logbook, which can limit your motor vehicle claims
  • Not claiming interest on motor vehicle loans and business loans
  • Incorrectly claiming loan repayments as leases
  • Not claiming expenses that were paid for personally

This information is not intended as professional advice. As everyone’s individual tax situation is unique, MYOB recommends sole traders seek the advice of an accredited professional before submitting a tax return. You can start your search for an advisor near you today.