It is time to start organising yourself for 2008-09 tax return preparation and lodgement. The past financial year has seen some changes to the taxation landscape that will certainly make a difference to lot of Australian taxpayers this “tax time”.

Changes include education tax refunds and family tax benefits as well as changes in the Medicare levy surcharge threshold and claiming donations to charity.

Education tax refund
Eligible parents who incurred education expenses for primary or secondary school students in their care on or after 1 July 2008 are able to claim a tax refund for a proportion of the incurred expenses.

Generally, eligible parents are able to claim 50% of their education expenses for the year. The maximum claimable amount for primary and secondary school children is $750 and $1500 respectively. This results in a maximum refund of $375 for primary school children and $750 for secondary school children. Parents can claim the full refund for each child who meets the schooling requirement. Independent students under the age of 25 who are undertaking primary or secondary school studies are also eligible to claim a refund on some of their education expenses.

You should be aware that not all expenses can be claimed. Purchases such as laptop and home computers and school text books are able to be claimed, whilst school fees and uniforms are not. The most important thing is keep you receipts in order to verify the eligible purchases in your return.

Family tax benefit
Effective from the 2008-09 financial year you are no longer able to claim the family tax benefit in your return. In order to claim the benefit for both current and existing years you must claim it as either a fortnightly or a lump sum payment through the Family Assistance Office.

Family Assistance Offices are located in Medicare Australia offices and Centrelink Customer Service Centres around the country or you can contact them on 13 61 50 for assistance with your family tax benefit queries.

First home saver accounts
First home saver accounts were introduced in October 2008. For those with a first home saver account the Government will make an annual contribution to that account based on contribution amounts for the year. You are not required to pay tax on any earnings by the account and as a result you don’t need to declare any income from this account on your tax return. If you are not required to lodge a tax return, you will need to lodge a First home saver account – notification of eligibility form before the Government will pay any contributions.

Medicare levy surcharge thresholds
For the previous financial year, 2008-09, the Medicare levy surcharge thresholds have been increased for both single persons and families. For single persons who earned above $70,000 during 2008-09 and did not have private patient hospital cover a surcharge of 1 percent for any period during the year that they did not have the cover will be levied. For families the threshold is increased to $140,000.

For the 2008-09 financial year only, you are considered to have been covered by private hospital cover all year if you took out an appropriate policy some time between 1 July 2008 and 31 December 2008, and then continued to be covered from 1 January to 30 June 2009.

Claiming donations to charity
As a result of the dramatic events of the past year, such as the Victorian bushfires and Queensland floods, many taxpayers made donations to fund-raising and charitable organisations.

You are able to claim a tax deduction in your 2009 tax return for any gift or donation if the organisation is a registered deductible gift recipient.

When claiming the deduction you should be sure to keep your receipt as evidence. For donations made via the web, over the phone or through a third party such as a bank or retail outlet web receipts or credit card statements are acceptable. Additionally, for any ‘bucket donations’ made during the year you are able to claim a tax deduction equal to your contribution up to $10 without being required to produce a receipt.

The team of accountants and tax agents at The Quinn Group are able to advise you on all of the deductions and refunds that you are eligible for in your 2008-9 tax return. We will work with you to legally minimise your tax liability and get you the maximum return that you are eligible for. Contact us on 1300 QUINNS or click here to submit an online enquiry.