Australian tax returns require a TFN – here’s what you need to know
A tax file number (TFN) is a unique number issued to you by the ATO that helps them keep track of your Australian tax return and government payments. You only get one TFN for your entire life, even if your name or residency changes, so keep it confidential.
Why do I need a TFN?
Though not compulsory, it is highly recommended that you get a TFN. You will need it in order to
- lodge an Australian tax return
- ask the ATO a question about your taxes
- apply for income assistance or support payments
- claim the Family Tax Benefit
- use PAYG withholding
- start a new job, which includes filling out a Tax file number declaration or Withholding declaration
- earn income from a savings account or investment
- receive a HELP payment
- join a superfund
Australian nonresidents should note that they don’t need a TFN to earn interest from an Australian bank account, dividends from Australian shares, or royalty payments.
How can I find my tax file number?
If you’ve lodged an Australian tax return before, you have a TFN. But if you aren’t sure if you have one or can’t find it anywhere, try looking in these documents:
- an income tax notice of assessment
- any correspondence from the ATO
- a payment summary
- a superannuation member statement
If none of these sources yield an answer, you can phone the ATO on 13 28 61.
Can I apply for my tax file number online?
Yes, most people can apply for a tax file number online. Individuals living outside Australia are the one exemption – they must use the old paper form. Note that there is a different process for applying for a TFN for different types of taxpayers.
Permanent migrants and temporary visitors can apply online for a TFN anytime after they enter the country. To use this application you must be
- a working holiday-maker
- a New Zealander automatically granted a visa upon arrival
- an overseas student whose visa has been amended to allow you to work
- a person with a valid visa allowing you to stay in Australia indefinitely
- a person with a business visa
In order to apply for a TFN online you will need your passport and other relevant travel documents. Furthermore you must be
- authorized to work in Australia by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) or have a valid overseas student visa
- allowed to remain here indefinitely
- in Australia when you lodge your application
Australian residents for tax purposes can also apply for a TFN online now. However, you can only submit your application online. You must still take the required documents to a participating Australia Post retail outlet in order to confirm your identity. To apply online, find a list of participating outlets, and find a list of acceptable proof of identity documents, refer to this page on the ATO website.
Individuals living outside Australia may also need a TFN, but only in select circumstances. You should apply for a TFN if you
- receive rental income from an Australian property
- receive income from Australian business interests
- have a spouse who is an Australian resident and applying for the Australian family tax benefit
- are a member of an Australian super fund
- need to lodge an Australian income tax return
- want to apply for an Australian business number (ABN)
Unfortunately this is the only group of taxpayers who cannot apply for a TFN online. If you fall into this group you must download the form Tax file number – application or enquiry for individuals living outside Australia.
How long will it take?
According to the ATO, you should receive your TFN within 28 days of completing of your application and providing the required documents. However anyone acquainted with the ATO will know that promptness is not always their strong suit. They ask that you don’t contact them or lodge another application during the processing period. However if you absolutely need to contact them, you can find the info here.
Just applying for a tax file number can be complicated enough, preparing an actual return can be even worse. That’s why most people choose to visit a tax agent. But there’s a way to get the same expert advice without even leaving home. When you file Australian tax online with E-Lodge, the wisdom of a tax professional is only a call, live chat, or email away. And you don’t even have to get off the couch.
Photo via Helga Weber on Flickr.