Money Editor for NZ Herald

Tamsyn Parker: Are you owed a tax refund?

How to know if you are owed money by the tax man?
How to know if you are owed money by the tax man?

I've been watching the number of tax refund companies bombard my tv with advertising in the last couple of months wondering why anyone with a simple tax return would pay a company to get their tax back.

I remember as a child my parents going through the process of filling out a tax return every year.

Back before the year 2000 everyone earning money had to do it.

But a law change stopped that and now there's a whole generation of people who have never had to fill out the form - and a plethora of companies which have sprung up to step into the gap.

So how do you know if you are owed money by the tax man?
Most people who have worked for the same employer for the full tax year - April 1 2013 to March 2014 - won't be owed tax.

But if you haven't worked a whole year, have changed employers, have expenses you can claim for or qualify for the independent earner tax credit it's worth investigating.

Find out here if you qualify for the IETC.

Applying via the Inland Revenue costs nothing and if you need help it's just a free phone call away.

Consumer New Zealand money writer Kate Sluka says many people turn to the tax refund companies because they think it is easier.

"We all hear tales about how awful it is to contact the IRD - waiting on the phone for hours and talking to four different people.

"It can be like that."

But she believes it has got better and if people have a simple tax return they should try the direct route first.

Where to start?
Inland Revenue spokeswoman Sarah-Lee Ryan says it's simple to check whether you are due a refund by going to the IRD website and logging into your myIR secure online account.

Setting up an account requires entering in some details and then a call to the tax department to verify it.

If you have forgotten your user ID and password you can apply to have them resent.

Ryan says logging into the account allows you to check your income details are correct and then calculate your refund using the work out your tax filing options calculator.

"Once you have completed that you will be able to request your personal tax summary (PTS)."

From mid-June people can then log back into their myIR account and confirm their personal tax summary.

Ryan says those owed money should receive their tax refund within five working days.

Sluka says in her experience the steps are well explained online and if you need to call up the staff are helpful and will talk you through what you need to know.

Can't be bothered?
If you don't want to spend your time applying for it directly there are always the tax refund companies.

Consumer New Zealand research found there are 12 major companies offering this service but they come with a cost.

Three charged fixed fees, one had a sliding scale depending on the amount of the refund and the other eight charged a percentage fee ranging from 12 per cent plus GST up to 19.5 per cent of the tax owed.

Sluka says people need to be aware that for most of the companies once they are signed up the company will continue to act as your tax agent unless you ask them not to be.

If you don't want them to continue in this role you need to notify the company or the tax department after you have received the refund.

If you sign up and find out you are owed a refund but then pull out of using the company they could also charge a cancellation fee.

Sluka says consumers should be wary of advertising promises.

While you might be able to find out if you are owed tax within minutes it's likely to take much longer to get the money.

Many of the companies start advertising in April but the IRD does not confirm personal tax summaries until mid-June.

The deadline?
July is the due date for filing income tax returns if you don't have a tax agent with a valid extension of time.

- NZ Herald

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Money Editor for NZ Herald

Tamsyn Parker is the NZ Herald's Money Editor. A business journalist for ten years, she has worked in the UK and NZ for the New Zealand Herald, the National Business Review and a specialist publication on investment products for financial advisors. She is passionate about helping readers learn more about to make their money work for them.

Read more by Tamsyn Parker

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