Are you making these common mistakes at tax time?

There’s a reason so many small business owners dread tax time – all businesses prefer money to be coming in, not going out. And because most small business owners aren’t tax experts, they’re at risk of making a number of common mistakes when lodging their returns.

Here are some of the most common mistakes, as well as some of the ways you can address them to reduce stress and maybe even save money.

Mistake #1: Relying on a spreadsheet

Many small businesses start out using spreadsheets for bookkeeping, particularly when there aren’t that many numbers to track. Most already have Excel (Windows) or Numbers (OS X) installed on their computers, making spreadsheets a low-cost, familiar and easy-to-use solution.

However, a manually updated spreadsheet just doesn’t scale when business grows. No matter how good you are with Excel formulas and sorting data, a spreadsheet is reliant on manual input. As the number of transactions and other line items multiply, managing all of your finances in a spreadsheet rapidly becomes arduous and prone to mistakes.

Solution: Choosing the right accounting software can automate much of your bookkeeping and other accounting workflows by integrating with your other tools and services. For example, your PayPal account can sync directly with your Xero or Intuit QuickBooks Online account, keeping them updated in real time and removing the potential for mistakes.

Even if your existing systems don’t integrate directly with PayPal, it takes only a few minutes to export your payment data from your account and upload the file into your accounting software.

Mistake #2: Forgetting to write off stock

When you purchase new trading stock (inventory), the expense is offset by the value of the stock while it sits on the shelf. That means the stock has no impact on your taxable income until it’s sold. However, lost, damaged, discontinued or obsolete stock loses its ability to sell at a value that covers its initial expense. If you have stock that is worth less at the end of the financial year than it initially cost, you can downgrade the value and write off the difference as a deduction.

Solution: There are many ways to revalue stock. You can’t simply decide something is worth less so as to gain a deduction. You’ll need relevant documentation to demonstrate any actions you may have taken, such as discounting, and to justify the reduced value. Talk to your accountant about what may be an appropriate valuation strategy for your business and what documentation you’ll need.

Mistake #3: Poor recordkeeping & bookkeeping

“I’ll update the logbook/spreadsheet/accounts when I’m not so busy.” Give yourself permission to skip a task once or twice and it becomes easier to skip it again, and again. It’s easy for these admin tasks to slip down the priority list when the next BAS statement or tax return isn’t due for a while .

But bookkeeping can quickly snowball into a lost weekend of frantic activity when the lodgement deadline looms. Rushed bookkeeping increases the chances of mistakes creeping in and if you discover an important tax invoice or document is AWOL, you may not have time to find it or seek a replacement.

The problem gets worse if you haven’t kept certain records up to date as well, as some may be virtually impossible to update retrospectively. The weekend before lodgement is the wrong time to find that 12-week driving logbook sitting in the glove box in almost pristine condition. And without a complete record of each journey, including times and kilometre readings, you may be unable to claim many of your car expenses.

Solution: Good recordkeeping and regular bookkeeping should be habits. Always take that extra minute or so to update your records when the event happens. Look into apps that can help you update your records more easily, such as Logit for iOS and Android, an ATO compliant logbook app.

And if you do your own bookkeeping, schedule a recurring task in your diary each week to get it done while there’s not much to do, your memory is fresh and receipts are yet to stray.

Mistake #4: Only speaking with your tax accountant only when it’s time to lodge

That annual meeting with the accountant to lodge your return is not the best time to learn there have been changes to tax law that impact your business. Instead of taking advantage of the changes in this return, any benefit will have to wait until the following tax year.

While missing out on a potential benefit may be inconvenient, there could be more serious repercussions for not staying up to date with tax law. Failing to comply with a current tax law – such as a change to payroll tax – could mean you incur a penalty or an unexpected bill for the shortfall.

Solution: If you’re ever unsure of your requirements, the best place to start is the ATO website, which has many helpful articles and videos. Many accountancy firms also offer an email newsletter to keep you across relevant changes and advice. However, you still need to talk to your accountant for advice specific to your situation. You should treat lodgement as the end of the advisory process with their accountants, not the beginning.

Stay in control of your tax

You don’t need to relish bookkeeping or enjoy decoding the intricacies of tax law. But if you have easy, routine tasks, the right tools and regular check-ups with your accountant (and bookkeeper, if you have one), BAS reporting and tax time can become a lot less stressful.

Disclaimer: This article is not tax or accounting advice, but a general commentary on some solutions you might consider in the course of running your business. You should talk to your tax or accounting professional before acting on any of the solutions set out in this article.