There are obviously pros and cons whichever track you decide to head down, but in many cases forking out around $200 (this figure would obviously change depending on the degree of complexity of your tax return) for a qualified accountant to do your tax once a year is a wise investment decision.
One of the main benefits is that a good accountant will be able to help you navigate through all the tax-deductions available, and will also be across legislative changes which could affect your financial situation.
Do your homework
But before you decide to hand over control of your tax, it's worth doing your homework to make sure you're choosing the most suitable accountant.
Like people of all professions, accountants have their own strengths and weaknesses, so it's best to choose the right fit for you.
If you're not already familiar with a good accountant, or if you're not happy with the one you're using, your first step should be to gather up a list of potential targets.
You can do this by simply flicking through the local yellow pages, but a better way is by asking trusted sources, like friends or family, your bank manager or even your lawyer, for recommendations. If the accountant comes with a strong backing from someone you trust, at least you know you're on the right track.
Once you've got a list together, it's then worth checking whether they are registered with the Tax Agents' Board (if you don't already know). All accountants in Australia must be registered in order to provide financial advice, so it's a really effective way of ensuring they have the right qualification to complete your tax return. You can check if an agent is registered by visiting the website - http://www.tpb.gov.au/
Don't be a rule breaker
It's also worth choosing an accountant who's a member of a professional accounting organisation, such as the CPA or ICAA. That's because they're required to abide by strict guidelines in order to belong to the financial body and they're also required to keep on top of changing accounting practices.
Once you've considered their qualifications, you should be in a position to draw up a shortlist of around four or five accountants you'd like to contact.
Then I reckon it's worth giving them all a simple phone call to find out about their practice, to see if they're the right professional for you. You might like to find out what experience they have under their belt, whether they've had any exposure to your line of work or whether they offer any additional services.
On the other hand, if you decide to complete your own tax return this year it's really important to be aware of what you can and can't claim.
Some of the most common mistakes include understating income, forgetting interest and providing incorrect or leaving out capital gains and losses. A good guide to help you identify what you can claim can be found at the ATO website
The bottom line
Whether you choose to use an agent or go it alone this financial year, remember that tax time isn't just a June 30 issue. This time of year also provides a good opportunity to take stock of your overall financial situation and think about how it can be improved.