Personal finance: Sites that make filing your return less taxing
Saturday 24 January 1998
To save yourself paying the tax man any more than you really have to, you should make sure of three things by this time next week: that your tax return is filed; that your tax liability for 1996/97 is paid in full and that your first payment on account for 1997/98 is paid. The trick, I am told, is to stop thinking of it as "your" money.
If you have been putting off and putting off and putting off tackling your return because of its complexity, you may take some consolation from being in the company of one of the greatest minds of all time. Even Albert Einstein claimed: "The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax!" But Einstein didn't have the benefit of the web for assistance.
My first port of call was the Chartered Institute of Taxation's website. The institute has over 10,000 members who are all qualified tax practitioners.
The site explains self-assessment in detail and has regularly updated tax tips. For those suffering severe sense of humour failure over self- assessment, the institute's website may provide a small lift with its collection of jokes and quotations about tax.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants also has a website which includes a geographical directory of members to help you find an accountant near you.
Elsewhere on the web you will find Tax Fix, set up specifically to help people with their self-assessment forms. Tax Fix is one of a handful of organisations to gain Inland Revenue approval to lodge clients' tax returns electronically and get acceptance - or queries - within 48 hours.
This promised response time has become more of a factor now than it might have been a couple of months ago!
The Inland Revenue does have its own explanatory site to assist you, hosted by Hector the friendly taxman, an oxymoron memorably described as a moonlighting Home Pride flour grader with a Hitler moustache.
However, it could be well worth your while checking out the frequently asked questions (FAQs) on Hector's site to make sure that you are not making any of the common mistakes which are highlighted.
Remember, if you send your tax return in but it is wrong and is returned to you, you need to make the correction and get the form back to the Inland Revenue by the deadline or face the automatic fine. Better to get it right first time.
Of course, you are not required to use the services of an accountant or a tax adviser to tackle your tax return. If you are feeling up to it yourself there are still plenty of ways in which you make your own life easier.
There are a number of software programmes which can help you fill in your return and work out what you need to pay.
You can order TaxCalc from Which Software and Intuit's QuickTax add- on through the web but if you feel the urge to buckle down and get on with the job straight away you could immediately download SmartTax from the web, paying with your credit card.
In the future, paying your tax is likely to involve downloading a form from the Inland Revenue website, filling it in on screen, attaching a digital signature and e-mailing it back to the taxman together with payment details.
In fact, this is technically possible now. The government began testing the use of digital signatures in December for people wanting to register as self-employed.
One final thought - does self assessment mean the United Kingdom will become a land of untold wealth? After all, it was John Maynard Keynes who said that: "The avoidance of taxes is the only pursuit that still carries any reward."
Chartered Institute of Taxation: www.tax.org.uk
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