Your Money: Cry freedom from the taxman

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The Independent Online

For those who believe that we pay too much tax, confirmation is at hand with this year's Tax Freedom Day, which falls tomorrow.

This is a theoretical exercise run by the Adam Smith Institute showing what would happen if, instead of spreading our tax throughout the year, we gave up all our earnings to the Inland Revenue, starting in January, until our liability was paid off. Tax Freedom Day - the day on which our bills would finally be cleared - is falling later and later each year as the tax burden swallows up a greater proportion of our income. So now it's only on 2 June that we start earning money for ourselves.

It's a sobering thought and illustrates why we must make sure we don't pay more than we need to. The first thing to do is to check that you've got the right tax code. This appears on your payslip and, if it changes for no reason, you should take up the matter with your payroll department.

Trying to save tax by not declaring income is a false economy. If you decide to go self-employed, for example, you must register as such with the Inland Revenue within the first three months or you may be liable for a fine.

And once you have filled out your self-assessment return, you must pay the tax you owe on time or, again, face a fine. One way of easing the paperwork burden is to get the Revenue to calculate what you owe. To do this, you must return your form by 30 September.

If you are self-employed and work from home, make sure you claim a proportion of the household expenses - such as heating, lighting and phone calls - against your business income. This should be done through your self-assessment form.

But be careful when you are splitting the phone bill. Claims can only be made for the cost of business calls, not on the line rental and other fixed charges. If you are reimbursed for private calls, this is classed as a taxable benefit and should be declared to the Revenue.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants also suggests letting out a spare room because you can charge rent of up to £4,250 tax-free every tax year. And while it is no reason in itself for getting married, there are tax benefits to be gained from doing so. Assets passed from husband to wife or vice versa are exempt from inheritance tax and capital gains tax.

With a bit of planning, tax needn't be a headache. Get into the habit of reviewing your finances once a year - and if you can't bear to do this yourself, hire an accountant. Otherwise, your personal tax freedom day could keep falling later and later every year.

m.bien@independent.co.uk

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