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10 things you need to know about tax returns including auto-assessments

Remember: different methods of filing your tax return have different deadlines

20 July 2021
7 minute read

Worried you might leave something out on your tax return and not qualify for a refund? We’ve got all the information you need to know about tax returns – from filing and auto-assessments to deductions and objections.

These 10 things will help you file your tax return, accurately and on time, with confidence.

*Note: This article deals with tax returns for ordinary taxpayers. Provisional taxpayers may have additional obligations and different timelines. Ordinary taxpayers are those who earn a salary from an employer. Provisional taxpayers have multiple sources of income such as a salary and commission, or are business owners or self-employed, including freelancers and contract workers.

1. When do I need to start paying tax?

If you are younger than 65 years old, you only need to pay tax in the 2020/2021 tax year (12 months ending 28 February 2021) if your income is more than R83 100 per year. Remember that your income is any money you earn – from your job, but also from other activities like renting out a room in your home, or working after hours, as well as any interest you’ve earned on investments.

This starting taxation amount changes each year, so be sure to check what the threshold is on the SARS website.

For the 2020/2021 tax year, if you are older than 65, the tax threshold increases to R128 650, and if you are older than 75, the threshold is R143 850.

2. How do I register to pay tax?

There are three ways to register :

  • On eFiling at www.sars.co.za – click on ‘Register’
  • With your employer – ask your HR department or payroll to assist
  • At a SARS branch – always check before you go so you know when the branch is open and whether you need an appointment

You will need supporting documents including your ID and proof of residence.

When you are registered, you will receive a tax number, usually via email. This tax number is yours for life and will be quoted in any future dealings you have with SARS.

If you are not sure whether you have been registered, you can call the SARS Contact Centre on 0800 007 277 to find out.

3. How do I pay my taxes?

Your employer should deduct Pay As You Earn (PAYE) from your salary each month and pay that to SARS on your behalf, in line with these tax tables. If you have any other sources of income – like rental or interest earned on investments – you will have to declare those to SARS when you do your tax return.

After your return has been assessed, you may have to pay additional tax to SARS, who will then inform you of their banking details, or you may receive a tax refund.

4. Filing tax returns and SARS auto-assessments

Auto-assessment
SARS auto-assesses a number of taxpayers every year, which means they complete your tax return for you using information they receive from your employer, medical aid, pension fund and other financial institutions you have accounts and investments with. 

SARS will notify you in an SMS of your auto-assessment and you can choose to accept or reject the assessment.

Must I file a return?
No, if:

  • You accept an auto-assessment
  • You earn less than R500 000 a year from a salary only and don’t receive an auto-assessment. But, remember you may qualify for a refund based on your deductions. If SARS doesn’t know about these deductions, you will miss out on a refund. If you file a return with all the deductions, your refund should be paid to you.

Yes, if:

  • You reject the SARS auto-assessment and want to claim deductible expenses SARS has no record of such as home office expenses (see a list below)
  • You earn more than R500 000 a year and don’t receive an auto-assessment
  • SARS asks you to file a return

5. How do I file a tax return?

If you reject an auto-assessment, don’t receive one and earn more than R500 000, or are asked to file a return there are a number of different ways you can file:

  • You can complete and submit your return online at SARS eFiling  or on the SARS MobiApp.
  • Post your tax return to SARS.
  • Take the documentation listed below to your nearest SARS branch  for assistance.
  • Use the assistance your employer offers – some employers provide staff with support for completing tax returns.
  • Hire a tax consultant or accountant to complete your return for you.
  • Use an online tax consultant such as TaxTim, which offers online support and takes you through the different steps of filing your return.

These are the documents you need to submit:

  • Your IRP5/IT3 certificate, which you will receive from your employer.
  • Medical aid certificates as well as details of any other medical expenses that weren’t covered by your medical aid.
  • Pension and retirement annuity certificates.
  • Your banking details.
  • Travel logbook (if you receive a travel allowance).
  • Tax certificates that you received in respect of investment income (IT3(b)).
  • Completed confirmation of diagnosis of disability (ITR-DD), where applicable.
  • Any other documentation relating to income you received or deductions you want to claim.

Remember that different methods of filing your tax return have different deadlines. Be sure to check the SARS website so you know when your return is due each tax season. Pay on time to avoid penalties.

Top tip: SARS YouTube channel has a number of videos and webinar recordings that explain the various tax requirements and rules, and show taxpayers how to complete and file returns.

6. What expenses can I deduct?

This is a list of costs that are deductible, according to SARS :

  • Pension fund contributions
  • Retirement annuity fund contributions
  • Provident fund contribution (only from 1 March 2016)
  • Legal costs – under certain qualifying circumstances
  • Wear-and-tear – in respect of certain assets
  • Donations – to approved bodies
  • Repayable amounts – payments, or payments in kind, received from an employer that you have to pay back, such as a paid sick leave taken that is later deemed unpaid sick leave and has to be repaid
  • Bad and doubtful debts (amounts owed to you that you don’t think will be paid), and employment related debts such as salaries or a contract fee that aren’t paid, or look like they won’t be paid
  • Certain home office expenses

7. How soon will I get my refund?

SARS can pay refunds as quickly as one day later, most often within 72 hours. Some taxpayers may experience delays. If you have submitted a return but haven’t heard anything at all from SARS within a few weeks, contact their Contact Centre on 0800 007 277 to find out why.

8. What if I get audited?

When you fill out your tax return, you provide all the information relating to your income and expenditure over the tax year to SARS. If they are in some way dissatisfied, they can request an audit, which means that you are required to provide them with all original documents that prove the numbers you have quoted.

Although an audit is a painful experience to go through because of the admin involved, if you have been honest in your return and kept track of the correct documentation, you should have nothing to worry about.

Remember to keep your supporting documentation for FIVE YEARS, because SARS can request it at any time.

9. What if I think that SARS has treated me unfairly?

If you have any concerns about your tax assessment, you can contact the Tax Ombudsman. The Tax Ombud deals with procedural, administrative and systemic issues taxpayers experience in their dealings with SARS. This includes documentation submitted but not reflecting on your profile, or SARS not following the process they advertise, such as deducting an amount from your bank account before serving a final demand. You must first exhaust the SARS complaints procedure before approaching the Ombud for their assistance.

10. How do I avoid being scammed?

Unfortunately, scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and it is now common for taxpayers to receive emails that say they are from SARS, announcing a tax refund, and requesting your banking details to process the payment. You can visit the SARS website  for updated information on any new scams, but always remember that SARS will never request your banking details over email or SMS.

Get on top of your tax!

Paying your taxes isn’t fun, but you can take comfort in the fact that you are doing the right thing and contributing to building our nation. Be honest and do your tax return on time.

Want more info?

SARS has a comprehensive list of FAQs that answer taxpayers questions, including how to accept, reject and query auto-assessments, how long refunds take and what the codes and error messages mean.


Original article published on: 8th May 2015
Updated on: 12th August 2020

Updated on: 20th July 2021

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