Business Tax: Your Comprehensive Guide

May 29, 2024
7
minutes to read
by
Jelina Rosin
Table of Contents

As an entrepreneur, it doesn't just end with developing great products or services, creating a converting strategy or making your customers satisfied and happy. You also need to deal with business taxes -- the hidden foe that can trip up even the most successful businesses.

Whether you're a seasoned business owner, a budding entrepreneur launching your first venture or a newcomer to the Australian business scene, understanding business tax and its requirements is crucial.

Key concepts:

  • In Australia, how a business is taxed depends heavily on its structure (sole trader, partnership, company, trust). It significantly affects your tax rates, obligations, and reporting.
  • Meticulous records aren't just for the tax office. They help you claim deductions, track profitability, and make informed decisions. Think of it as your business's financial diary.
  • Different taxes apply to different businesses and activities. You might encounter Goods and Services Tax (GST), Pay As You Go (PAYG) instalments, and PAYG withholding. Understanding these is key.

Your tax obligations

All businesses operating in Australia are legally obligated to comply with tax laws and pay tax where required. Australia follows a self-assessment system, meaning you (or your tax professional) are responsible for calculating your tax obligations accurately and paying the correct amount to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) by the due date.

You'll need to maintain detailed records of your income and expenses to support your tax calculations. In Australia, the income tax year (also known as the 'financial year') runs from 1 July to 30 June.

The taxes that apply to your business (and any potential exemptions) will depend on your business's size, location, and industry. Both Commonwealth and state taxes may be relevant, so be sure to familiarise yourself with the requirements that pertain to your specific situation.

Managing receipts and invoices can be a nightmare, especially when tax time rolls around. Thriday makes this easy by building all the financial business tax tools you need into one platform to streamline processes like banking, expense management, invoicing and tax lodgment. This saves you significant time and reduces the risk of misplaced paperwork.

Registration requirements

Small businesses must ensure they are registered for the appropriate tax obligations. This typically starts with obtaining an Australian Business Number.

If the business has an annual turnover of $75,000 or more, it is also imperative to register for Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Assessable income

Assessable income for small businesses encompasses all ordinary income earned from business activities during the income year. It includes gross income minus any allowances and excludes non-taxable income. 

Annual turnover and tax rates

A business's annual turnover impacts its tax rates and eligibility for certain tax concessions. Taxable income refers to the amount left after deducting allowable business expenses.

The ATO has defined aggregated turnover as the total ordinary income of your business and that of any associated businesses.

  • Turnover under $10 million: Considered small business entities eligible for lower tax rates and specific concessions.
  • Turnover between $10 million and $50 million: Entitled to some tax concessions.
  • Turnover above $50 million: Subjected to general corporate tax rates.

Goods and services tax

Eligible businesses must register for GST, charging 10% Goods and Services tax on most goods and services sold or consumed in Australia.

The GST collected must be reported and paid to the ATO, usually through quarterly Business Activity Statements (BAS). Small business entities may be eligible for GST discounts or PAYG Withholding instalments based on their turnover.

Essential tax identifiers and documents

  • Tax File Number (TFN): The ATO issues this unique number essential for all tax-related matters. It's yours for life, even if you change jobs or move. Businesses (partnerships, trusts, companies) also have their own TFN.
  • Australian Business Number (ABN): This 11-digit number identifies your business to the government and the community. It's required for GST registration and other business tax purposes. You'll need to quote your ABN on invoices, even if you're not registered for GST. Apply online at the Australian Business Register (abr.gov.au).
  • Business Activity Statement (BAS): This is the primary document you'll use to report and pay most of your business taxes, including GST, PAYG instalments, fuel tax credits, and more. Your BAS is personalised and can be lodged quarterly, monthly, or annually (for voluntary GST registration).

Income tax and business tax: How they intersect

While "business tax" is a broad term encompassing various taxes relevant to businesses, income tax is a specific type of tax that plays a central role. Here's how they relate:

  • Business Income = Personal Income (for some): The business's income is not taxed separately in sole proprietorships and partnerships. Instead, it flows through to the owner(s) and is taxed as part of their individual income tax return. This means the business's profits and losses directly impact the owner's personal tax liability.
  • Companies and Trusts: Separate Taxpayers: Companies and trusts are considered separate legal entities from their owners. They have their own tax rates and lodge their own tax returns. The income these entities earn is taxed at the corporate tax rate, and any distributions to owners (dividends or trust distributions) may be subject to further tax.

How income tax is collected

In Australia, income tax is collected in two primary ways:

  1. Pay As You Go (PAYG): Most businesses are required to make quarterly PAYG instalments to the ATO. These payments are based on your estimated income for the year and help you manage your tax liability throughout the year.
  2. Annual Income Tax Returns: At the end of the financial year (30 June), you'll need to lodge an income tax return. This return reconciles your actual income and expenses with your PAYG instalments. You'll be refunded if you've paid too much throughout the year. You'll need to pay the remaining balance if you haven't paid enough.

Your taxable income, which you pay tax on, is calculated by subtracting any allowable deductions from your assessable income. This is where good record-keeping becomes invaluable, ensuring you claim all the deductions you're entitled to and minimising your tax bill.

How tax works for different business structures

Your chosen business structure significantly influences your tax obligations. Let's explore how tax applies to each type:

Sole Trader

  • Simplicity and Personal Liability: As a sole trader, you are the business. This means all business income is treated as your personal income, and you are personally liable for any business debts or liabilities.
  • Tax Treatment: Your business income is taxed at your individual income tax rates, which are progressive (the more you earn, the higher the rate). However, you benefit from the tax-free threshold (currently $18,200 for the 2023-2024 financial year), meaning you don't pay tax on income below that amount.
  • Record-Keeping and Reporting: You'll need to keep meticulous records of your income and expenses and report them on your individual tax return.

Partnership

  • Shared Responsibility and Liability: Partnerships involve two or more people operating a business together. You share profits, losses, and liabilities with your partners based on your partnership agreement.
  • Tax Treatment: While the partnership lodges its own tax return, it doesn't pay income tax as an entity. Instead, each partner includes their share of the partnership's net income on their individual tax return and pays tax accordingly.
  • Flexibility: Partnership agreements offer flexibility in allocating profits and losses, which can be advantageous for tax planning.

Company

  • Separate Legal Entity: A company is a separate legal entity from its owners (shareholders). This means it has its own tax file number (TFN) and Australian Company Number (ACN) and is liable for its debts and liabilities.
  • Tax Treatment: Company profits are taxed at the company tax rate, which is currently a flat 30% for most companies (25% for small business entities with aggregated turnover under $50 million).
  • Dividends: If the company makes a profit, it can distribute a portion of this to shareholders as dividends. These dividends are then included in the shareholders' individual income and taxed accordingly.

Trust

  • Asset Protection and Flexibility: A trust is a relationship where a trustee holds assets or income for the benefit of beneficiaries. Trusts can offer asset protection and flexibility in income distribution.
  • Tax Treatment: The tax treatment of a trust can be complex, depending on the type of trust (e.g., discretionary trust, unit trust) and how income is distributed to beneficiaries. Generally, beneficiaries pay tax on the income they receive from the trust.

Deductions and concessions

Capital Gains Tax concessions

When a small business sells assets like property or shares, Capital Gains Tax (CGT) comes into play. However, various CGT concessions can significantly reduce or even eliminate CGT liabilities. These concessions, such as the Small Business CGT concessions, can be a game-changer for eligible businesses.

  • Key Concessions:
    • 15-year exemption
    • 50% active asset reduction
    • Retirement exemption
    • Rollover
  • Eligibility:
    • Meet the $6 million maximum net asset value test.
    • Have an aggregated turnover of less than $2 million.

Depreciation and temporary full expensing

Depreciation allows businesses to claim deductions for the wear and tear of assets over time. The Temporary Full Expensing measure is a recent enhancement that permits eligible businesses to immediately deduct the total cost of eligible new depreciating assets and improvements to existing assets. This measure is designed to stimulate investment and boost productivity.

  • Eligibility:
    • Assets must be acquired and first used or installed ready for use between 7:30 pm (AEDT) on 6 October 2020 and 30 June 2023.

Immediate deductions for small businesses

Small businesses with a turnover under $10 million can benefit from immediate deductions. This includes the ability to instantly write off trading stock and motor vehicles up to a certain value. The Instant Asset Write-off allows for immediate deductions on various capital assets purchased, reducing taxable income for the given tax year.

  • Eligibility:
    • Business with an aggregated turnover of less than $10 million.
    • Eligible assets acquired and first used or installed ready for use between 1 July 2023 and 30 June 2024.

Specific deductions for business assets

Different business assets have specific deduction rules. For instance, computers and technological equipment are subject to specific depreciation rules. Tax breaks and immediate write-offs can also be applied to business assets, lowering taxable income.

Managing and reporting business tax

Effective business tax management and reporting are crucial for Australian small businesses to remain compliant with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) regulations. Precision in record keeping and timely lodgement of tax documents help businesses avoid penalties and take advantage of available tax concessions.

Business records and documentation

Small businesses must maintain accurate records and documentation. These records should reflect all financial transactions and must be kept for at least five years.

Good record-keeping assists with the correct calculation of taxable income and deductible expenses. Managing payroll tax obligations and supporting claims made in their income tax return is essential.

Lodging tax returns and compliance

The lodging of income tax returns annually is mandatory for all small businesses.

The chosen business structure, whether a sole trader, partnership, company, or trust, determines the specific tax obligations and reporting requirements.

To comply with Australian tax law, they must include all assessable income and report it through the correct channels.

Business Activity Statement (BAS)

Business Activity Statements (BAS) are critical for reporting and paying goods and services tax (GST), pay-as-you-go (PAYG) instalments, PAYG withholding tax, and other tax obligations.

A BAS should be lodged monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the business size and registration requirements. Accurate BAS lodgement ensures compliance and can streamline tax reporting processes.

Tax planning and strategies

Effective tax planning and strategies are imperative for Australian small businesses to maximise profitability and ensure compliance with taxation laws. Focusing on Fringe Benefits Tax, capitalising on available deductions and credits, and maintaining audit readiness can lead to significant tax savings.

Fringe benefits tax strategies

Businesses should employ strategies to reduce their Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) liability.

For example, investing in solar systems can provide tax advantages as environmental sustainability is encouraged through government incentives.

While providing expensive cars as part of an employment package can attract FBT, certain strategies can minimise the tax impact. These include using employee contribution methods and the statutory formula method to calculate FBT on those luxury cars.

Optimising deductions and credits

Ensuring that all entitled deductions and credits are claimed is key to effective tax planning.

Businesses can deduct expenses related to the cost of running the business, which might include costs associated with maintaining an investment portfolio.

They can also explore specific tax credits for small businesses to save money and improve cash flow.

  • Maintain thorough records of all expenses
  • Understand specific industry-related deductions
  • Review eligibility for small business tax offsets
Automated expense reconciliation to help minimise tax
Automated expense reconciliation to help minimise tax

Preparing for audits and avoiding mistakes

Receipts get lost, transactions go uncategorised, and crucial deductions slip through the cracks. This disorganisation can lead to significant problems during an audit. With organised records, responding to an audit request can be a smooth process. You'll be frantically searching for documents, potentially delaying the process and incurring penalties.

Thriday seamlessly integrates with your bank accounts and categorises transactions automatically.

Thriday's AI technology can transform your audit preparedness by:

  • Automated record-keeping: Thriday seamlessly integrates with your bank accounts and categorises transactions automatically. No more lost receipts or uncategorised expenses!
  • Easy access and retrieval: All your financial data is stored securely in the cloud, allowing you to access any document or report the ATO might request instantly.
  • AI-powered deduction identification: Thriday's smart AI engine analyses your spending patterns and identifies potential tax deductions you might have missed. This ensures you claim everything you're entitled to and minimises your tax liability.

Using Thriday, you can transform the audit process from a stressful ordeal into a streamlined exercise. You'll have peace of mind knowing your records are organised, deductions are maximised, and you're fully prepared to face any audit confidently.

Wrap up

Understanding and managing business tax is crucial to running a successful small business in Australia. Small business owners should know their tax obligations, including Income Tax, Goods and Services Tax (GST), and other pertinent tax regulations.

Businesses can leverage available tax concessions and adhere to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) benchmarks to minimise tax liabilities and avoid penalties.

Small businesses with an annual turnover exceeding $75,000 must register for GST. Registering for an Australian Business Number (ABN) is also essential in formalising a business and ensuring proper tax handling.

Experts can help streamline meeting these tax obligations, ensuring businesses operate efficiently and comply with the law.

Businesses must file their taxes accurately and on time, possibly with reliable tax software or professional advisors. This ensures entitlement to all legitimate tax deductions and avoids unnecessary audits or legal issues.

Frequently asked questions

I'm just starting a business. What tax registrations do I need?

You'll likely need an Australian Business Number (ABN) as a sole trader. This essential number identifies your business and allows you to register for Goods and Services Tax (GST).  If your projected annual business turnover exceeds $75,000, you become obligated to register for GST.  With an ABN, you can collect GST on sales and claim it back on business purchases.

How do I keep track of business income and expenses for tax time?

Staying organised with your finances is key. Consider using accounting software or a simple spreadsheet to record all your income (sales, fees) and expenses (rent, equipment, travel). Opt for a cloud-based solution or software that integrates with a tax receipt scanner app or invoice software like Thriday.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) also recommends separating your business and personal finances. Opening dedicated bank accounts for business transactions simplifies record-keeping and demonstrates clear financial boundaries come tax time.

Can I claim deductions for working from home in Australia?

Yes, you can claim a portion of expenses for a dedicated workspace used regularly and exclusively for business purposes. The ATO offers various methods to calculate deductions, such as the "shortcut method."  However, claiming expenses for a shared workspace or for general household utilities becomes more complex. Consulting a tax agent can ensure you follow the ATO guidelines and maximise your deductions.

What are some tax benefits available to Australian sole traders?

The Australian government offers several tax benefits to help small businesses like sole traders. The Instant Asset Write-off allows you to claim the full cost of eligible assets (up to a certain threshold) in the year you purchase them, boosting your cash flow. Additionally, depending on your business income, you might qualify for Small Business Concessions. These concessions can include tax offsets that reduce your tax liability and simplified reporting requirements, easing the administrative burden.

What happens if I make a mistake on my tax return?

Don't panic! The ATO allows lodgment of amended returns if you discover errors after submitting your tax return. However, it's best to identify and rectify mistakes immediately. Consulting a registered tax agent can guide you through the amendment process and ensure your return reflects your accurate income and deductions.

Do I need to pay tax on benefits I receive from my business (e.g., car or phone)?

Yes, fringe benefits you receive from your business, such as using a business car for personal trips or having a business-funded mobile phone, may be taxable. The ATO website provides information on valuing and reporting fringe benefits to ensure you fulfil your tax obligations.

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DISCLAIMER: Team Thrive Pty Ltd ABN 15 637 676 496 (Thriday) is an authorised representative (No.1297601) of Regional Australia Bank ABN 21 087 650 360  AFSL 241167 (Regional Australia Bank).  Regional Australia Bank is the issuer of the transaction account and debit card available through Thriday. Any information provided by Thriday is general in nature and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether Thriday is appropriate for you.

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