Five tips for filling out your self-assessment form

Get your online account sorted now and use HMRC handy Q&As and tips rather than trying to get through by phone.

You’ve only got a few weeks left to file your tax return or you’ll start racking up hundreds of pounds in fines. If you earn money outside of an employer’s PAYE system then you need to file a tax return before 31 January, if you don’t you’ll be hit by a £100 fine, with a further £10 added for every day after that up to 90 days, plus interest.

Here’s how to make the process of filling out your self-assessment form easier. For everything you need to know about self-assessment and whether you need to fill out a return, see the update below.

1. Get an online account

You’ve missed the deadline for filling out a paper tax return (it was 31 October) so you will have to fill out your return online now. That means you’ll need a log-in for the HMRC website.

If you’ve done this before you are fine as you’ll be already registered. But, if you haven’t registered before you need to do it fast. It takes up to seven working days to receive your activation code in the post and you can’t file your tax return without it.

2. Gather your paperwork

Before you start trying to fill out your form make sure you have all the paperwork you’ll need to hand. You will need: a P60 form from your employer showing your income and the tax you’ve paid on it; a P45 if you have left a job within the tax year; a P11D or P9D detailing benefits and expenses; plus details of interest on bank or building society accounts, dividends from investments and any other income you receive.

3. Don’t call HMRC

If you want to hold on to your sanity, avoid calling the taxman. Research from the Public Accounts Committee found that HMRC answered only 50 per cent of phone calls in the first half of 2015. Over a third of those people who’s calls were answered would have had to wait over five minutes for someone to pick up.

Avoid that stress by looking online for the answers to your queries. HMRC’s website should be able to answer most of your questions. It has videos explaining everything from how to register to working out your expenses.

4. Use an accountant

There are plenty of articles and websites out there that will list the ways you can make filling out your tax return pain free and easy, but there is only one way you can really avoid any stress and that’s to not fill out a form. Doing nothing at all will result in hefty fines so why not outsource the stress to an accountant? That way they can deal with sifting through your paperwork and making sure nothing has been missed and you can relax knowing your taxes are in the hands of an expert.

5. Learn from your mistakes

If you’ve spent hours hunting the house for essential paperwork, fretting about long forgotten savings accounts or worrying how you are actually going to pay the final bill take steps now to avoid the same stress next year. Put those lessons into practice now to make life easier next year.

Create a spreadsheet to detail your income and expenses and update it weekly or monthly.

Keep files full of bank statements, bills and important forms so you can find them easily. Finally, open a specific savings account for your taxes and regularly deposit a portion of your income so you’ll have enough money to pay your tax bill.

That account could end up delivering an unexpected perk. If there is money leftover after you pay your bill next year you could reward yourself with a treat ranging from a meal out to a holiday depending on how much you’ve saved.