Are tax returns the last thing on your already full plate? As a sole trader, balancing business and life is challenging enough. But alas, there’s no getting around the midnight 31st January Self Assessment deadline. We understand, and we’re here to help with some savvy advice and a sprinkle of pension know-how.
Remember, procrastination is the thief of time, especially with tax returns. While the post-festive January crunch sees many scrambling, why not be the early bird? You can file your Self Assessment tax return any time after the tax year ends on 5 April. But, in the real world, sole traders have so many other things to do. Plus – who enjoys doing tax returns?
The longer you leave it, the greater the risk of missing the Self Assessment tax return online-filing deadline. Many people do. In fact, a reported 600,000 people missed last year’s deadline. And if you think that’s a lot, some 2.3m people missed the January 2022 deadline, most as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.
There is an automatic £100 fixed penalty if you don’t file your tax return before the deadline. If you have a valid reason (eg partner’s death, you were seriously ill or hospitalised shortly before the deadline), you can appeal your £100 penalty.
Obviously, it’s better to complete your Self Assessment tax return long before the midnight 31 January online-filing deadline. Let’s assume that you’re already registered for Self Assessment. Here are six tips designed to help you get your Self Assessment tax return off your plate quickly and with less effort and panic.
Making sure that you gather together in advance all of the information you need to complete your Self assessment tax return will speed things up significantly. As a sole trader you’ll need:
Top tip! If you’ve kept detailed accounting software records of your sole trader income and costs throughout the year, finding summary figures for your tax return will be a piece of cake. If you haven’t, you should seriously consider it going forward, because it can make tax returns far easier and quicker to complete (especially if your accounting software is integrated with tax return-filing software).
As well as the main Self Assessment tax return (the SA100 form), sole traders must also fill out “supplementary pages” that summarise their self-employed income and costs.
You use the SA103S pages if your annual business turnover was below the VAT threshold (£85,000 for 2023/24) and the SA103F pages if it was above.
You may need to complete other supplementary pages, the SA105, for example, if you earned taxable rental income. The full list of supplementary pages is listed on government website GOV.UK.
Don’t leave completing your Self Assessment tax return until days or even weeks before the online filing deadline. Do it now. Just because you file earlier doesn’t mean your tax bill will be payable any sooner. Having to battle a fast-approaching deadline creates additional pressure, which can actually slow you down, while if you rush or don’t prepare properly, you risk making mistakes.
If you free yourself from all distractions, you’ll complete your tax return much quicker. That means picking the right time and place, because any interruptions will impact your progress. If you can find a quiet, isolated place, it can make a big difference. If others are going to be near, tell them you need to be left alone to concentrate on your tax return. Turn off notifications on your phone; remain focused on your tax return.
The average person is believed to take between three and four hours to complete their Self Assessment tax return and briefly check it at the end. Committing to complete your Self Assessment tax return in one sitting will be the quickest option.
If you do it in a series of shorter sessions, it will take longer. Get together all of the information that you need; set aside four distraction-free hours and work through your tax return methodically. Take your time and get it right.
Self Assessment tax returns can be filled out online and filed directly with HMRC, by visiting GOV.UK and signing in using your Government Gateway user ID and password. However, the only guidance you’ll get is from notes published elsewhere online by HMRC, which may or may not help you.
Alternatively, you can use commercial software, which can make filing your Self Assessment tax return far quicker and easier. Once you explain what taxable income you need to report, the software will guide you through relevant sections of the tax return and supplementary pages. The filing software should red flag any mistakes you make, while automatic prompts will tell you what information you need to enter where.
Self Assessment tax-return software can cost around £50 for the year, but it can be a price worth paying for the time you save and the peace of mind it gives. It’s also cheaper than paying an accountant to do your tax return, and you’ll still have to provide the information they need to complete the tax return.
If you’re really pushed for time and you’re starting to panic because tax returns just aren’t your thing and you can afford it, to save time and hassle, you could pay an accountant to sort out your Self Assessment tax return for you. If your return is reasonably straightforward, expect to pay about £150-£250. You’ll pay more if your tax affairs are more complex.
If you decide to do your own Self Assessment tax return but want additional peace of mind, perhaps because you lack experience or your tax affairs are more complex, you can pay an expert to look over your tax return once you’ve completed it. About £100-£200 or so should do it. This should ensure that you haven’t made any mistakes. The expert might even suggest ways that you could reduce your next and subsequent tax bills.
As a final word, however determined you are to complete your Self Assessment tax return as quickly as possible, never let that be at the expense of accuracy and doing a good job. Otherwise you may later need to correct your tax return, which will only take up more of your valuable time.
As a sole trader, your pension is a key player in your financial future. Contributions to your pension not only prepare you for a comfy retirement but can also reduce your taxable income. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone – saving for the future while saving on taxes today. So, when you’re listing your expenses and contributions, give your pension its deserved spotlight.
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The software submits directly to HMRC and is the solution for freelancers, the self-employed, sole traders and anyone with income outside of PAYE to file their self-assessment giving hints and tips on savings along the way.
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