The tax deadline is almost upon us, but don't panic if you have yet to file your return online

Just over a fortnight is left before the self-assessment deadline when all online tax returns must be filed along with any money owed. Taxpayers must return their forms by 31 January to avoid contributing to the estimated £503m in fines for late returns and errors set to be handed to the taxman this year, according to professional advice website Unbiased.co.uk.

If you are new to filing online, you'll have even less time to file your return as you must first register on the HMRC website for self-assessment online. This is so that a personal identification number can be sent to you in the post, but it can take up to seven days to arrive so you must register as soon as possible to give you enough time to collect your PIN and file your return on time. Failing to return your form by the deadline will incur an initial charge of £100, but if you still haven't returned the form by 31 July, another £100 penalty will be slapped on, after which HMRC is able to apply a fee of as much as £60 a day.

Self-assessment forms are renowned for being complicated so what help is there out there for taxpayers?

Tools and calculators

For those with relatively straightforward tax affairs, HMRC's own online tax return service should suffice and won't cost a penny. There is plenty of helpful advice and as well as comprehensive guides on both the HMRC's website (hmrc.gov.uk) and Direct Gov (direct.gov.uk).

"For the majority of relatively straightforward tax affairs, they should be able to do it themselves. The HMRC software is absolutely fine; it's easy to use with lots of links to help sheets," says Anita Monteith, a tax spokeswoman for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

For anyone struggling to cope with the number crunching, free tools and calculators are available online. At taxcentral.co.uk, for example, there is a tax code checker, a VAT calculator and a pension relief calculator. Which? also has its own tax calculator (which.co.uk/advice/which-tax-calculator/index.jsp).

If you're part of the iPhone clan, useful applications, such as the income tax and self-assessment calculator from nXtreme (59p), allow you to enter your salary, dividend, bank savings interest and any other income for a clear and fast tax calculation, with a detailed breakdown of that calculation to help with the self-assessment forms.

Computer software

Beyond the free HMRC software and various tools and calculators, commercial software packages are available too, from the likes of TaxCalc, Sage Taxation and Ftax. Basic packages cost from about £25 and are designed to make light work of completing the self-assessment tax return. However, be warned that if your tax affairs are more complex, you may need a more comprehensive package.

"Self-employed people or those with small businesses are likely to have more complex affairs and also have more allowances available to them, so they need to ensure they are using a more elaborate package to cover all of this," says Helen Lacey from Which?, the consumer organisation.

TaxCalc is one of the UK's most popular software applications and has a range of products for individuals, partnerships, trusts and companies. TaxCalc actually offers a wider range of forms than the HMRC online service and, as well as more general taxation advice with each box. It also allows you to import data from previous years, assuming you used TaxCalc software before, to avoid having to repeat static information such as your contact details. The TaxCalc 2009 Personal 6 costs £29.99.

Visit the HMRC website for a list of commercial software suppliers that are compatible with its online service.

Accountants

Business owners and anyone earning their income from various sources such as shares or property are more likely to need a helping hand from a professional. A qualified tax adviser is better equipped to spot mistakes and make the most of your allowances by getting as many tax deductions as possible for your tax expenses. Accountant costs can vary widely but is likely to set you back at least £100 an hour.

Look for an accountant who has been accredited by a professional body such as the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Make sure you get a quote first as most accountants will be able to have a quick look at your books and know roughly how long it will take them to complete your self-assessment.

"When tax affairs start getting more complicated you will usually find that accountants quickly earn their fees and save you the money that they charge," says Ms Monteith.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

    Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones