After the party, I resolve to ...

Looking to make a fresh start with your finances in 1997? ... Sort out my tax affairs

The New self-assessment tax system begins in 1997, meaning more work for anyone who pays income tax, writes Ken Welsby.

Self-assessment will mean a new-style tax return, the chance to calculate for yourself how much you owe, and potentially heavy penalties if you don't keep proper records of your earnings.

The forms for making tax returns will, it is promised, be tailored to individual needs. But for many, self-assessment will mean more, not less, paperwork.

If you are self-employed, you should have received a first "statement of account" from the Inland Revenue. This sets out how much the taxman calculates is due for the year 1996-97; the first instalment is due on 31 January and will probably be in line with the amount you paid on 1 July last year, while the second instalment is due on 31 July.

If you are self-employed and have not received a statement, or you do not understand it, you can telephone the Revenue on 0345 161514 and ask for leaflets giving more information.

If you think you need professional help with your tax affairs, the best way to find an accountant is to ask a friend or colleague for a recommendation. In the meantime, there are some steps you can take to minimise your tax burden. For a start, husbands and wives can elect to be taxed singly, with both eligible for the single person's allowance. If the wife does not have any earnings then the husband can claim the married couple's allowance.

If your partner has minimal or no earnings, consider putting investments and deposits in his or her name to avoid paying income tax on the returns (allowances permitting).

Next, look at savings. Personal equity plans (PEPs) and Tax-exempt special savings accounts (Tessas) are simple ways to invest for the future tax- free.

If you can lock money away for five years in a Tessa, you will receive a much more attractive gross rate of interest than with a conventional deposit.

For higher returns, PEPs are one of the best tax-free investments and can also be a more flexible way of saving for retirement than a pension. Up to pounds 6,000 a year can be invested in UK or continental European shares or unit trusts through a variety of PEP schemes. And a further pounds 3,000 a year can be invested in a single company PEP. The main attraction is that all profits, income or capital gains, are tax-free.

National Savings also offer a range of tax-free options. See our table of Best Savings Rates on page 13 for some of the deals.

You and the taxman in 1997

31 January

Pay first instalment of tax on self-employment and investment income which is paid to you gross.

28 February

Are you planning any investments by the end of the tax year? Act now if you need funds from a 30-day notice account.

1 March

Track down best-buy PEPs; check your pension contributions - remember, you can claim tax relief on top-ups back to 90-91.

By 30 March

Post PEP and pension top-up cheques to ensure they are received before the end of the tax year.

6 April

New tax year begins; self-assessment returns start to go out.

31 July

Pay second instalment of tax on self-employment earnings.

30 September

Deadline for submitting tax returns if you want the Revenue to calculate your tax liability.

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