Tax returns for the 2018-19 tax year are due by midnight on 31 January 2020. If you’re among the 11.5 million people who need to file one, getting a head start will help you avoid a £100 fine for missing the deadline.
In 2019, HMRC reported that 5.5 million people still hadn’t filed their return three weeks before the deadline.
Rather than leaving it all to the last minute and spending deadline day trying to find a year’s worth of receipts, follow our six tips for a stress-free tax return.
We reveal how to get around missing figures, explain the ways to pay and have even put together a mini tax crash course so you can be up to speed on all of the essential knowledge.
1. Be aware of the penalties for missing the deadline
If you file your return just one minute after midnight on 31 January, you could be landed with an automatic £100 fine.
The longer you leave it, the more the fines will escalate – even if you don’t owe any tax this year.
If you do owe tax and you’re late paying it, you could be charged late-payment fees on top of the late-submission fees.
So, if you received income during the 2018-19 tax year that you need to declare or HMRC has simply asked you to submit a tax return, it’s best to get started as soon as possible, in case you run into any problems or delays.
- Find out more: late tax returns and penalties for mistakes
2. Don’t delay if you have missing figures
If you’re stuck waiting for paperwork to confirm any figures, remember that it’s always better to make an estimate than to miss the deadline.
When you receive the correct figures, you can submit an amendment via the HMRC portal or your tax software.
HMRC can fine you if it thinks you’ve been careless in providing the wrong information, or if your figures are deliberately misleading. So, make sure your estimate is reasonable and correct the figures as soon as you can.
- Find out more: online tax returns
3. Round up your receipts first
Finding receipts, bank statements and documents such as your P60 can be the most time-consuming aspect of doing your tax return.
The best way to tackle this is to keep your records up-to-date throughout the year. But if this hasn’t happened, there are a few ways to make the process easier.
Try to find all of the receipts and documents you’ll need before sitting down to fill out your return.
If you need receipts to make an expenses claim, you may still be able to use other evidence such as bank or credit card statements if it turns out that you’ve lost the physical receipt.
Some things can also be claimed at a flat rate – such as mileage costs, working from home or living at your business premises – so you won’t need receipts for every transaction in this case.
- Find out more: tax-deductible expenses
4. Brush up on your tax knowledge
Dealing with your tax return can be both confusing and time consuming, but it’s made even worse if you’re not familiar with key terms or aren’t sure what information you’ll need to fill in.
You can use our free guides to better understand key tax rules and allowances:
- Tax-free income and allowances – find out what you can earn before paying any tax.
- Tax-deductible expenses – how to claim your business costs
- Self-employed capital allowances – this guide explains how your business investments are taxed.
- Capital gains tax thresholds and rates – find out your tax-free allowance if you’ve recently sold something valuable.
- Tax on property and rental income – everything landlords need to know about tax.
5. Be ready to pay your bill
It’s not just your tax return that’s due on 31 January – many people will also need to pay their tax bill by this time.
Only those who are paid a salary or pension, submit their return before 31 December and have a tax bill of less than £3,000 will have the option to pay tax via PAYE throughout the following tax year.
Otherwise, you’ll need to settle the balance on 31 January.
For those who are self-employed and pay tax by payment on account, you’ll have already paid the estimated tax for the 2018-19 tax year. In this case, you may have to make a settling payment, and then pay the first half of your estimated bill for 2019-20.
You can’t pay your tax bill with a credit card.
If you know you’re not going to have enough money to cover the bill, contact HMRC as soon as possible. You may be given a different payment plan or later deadline if you genuinely don’t have enough funds.
If you simply don’t pay on time, you’ll be charged interest on the tax you owe and there may be additional charges.
- Find out more: paying tax – self-employed
6. Use an online tool
As the paper tax return deadline has now passed, submitting online is your only option.
You can submit through the HMRC tool, as well as some online tax calculators.
The advantage of using a tax calculator is that you’ll be given helpful tips along the way, and told what information to enter and how it affects your total tax bill.
The Which? tax calculator allows you to tot up your return and submit direct to HMRC up until midnight on 31 January, in return for a small fee.
You can see how the calculator works in the video below and try it for yourself at which.co.uk/taxcalculator.