IT STARTS with who must file a return. The fact that you may be below the tax threshold (R57000 for 2012 for taxpayers under 65 years old) is of no consequence. The exception to the tax return submission requirement is if a taxpayer earns less than R120000 a year from one employer - then no return is required. The moment two IRP5 certificates are issued, a tax return must be submitted.
Use e-filing. You can still fill out the form and submit manually, but in my experience there are more problems with manual submissions. If you are not a computer nerd it is worth your while to seek help. Or, if you cannot afford help, then visit the SARS help desk. They don't bite.
Check the personal particulars on page one of the return document before signing it.
Searching for deductions for anything other than retirement annuity contributions and medical expenses is generally a waste of time for employed taxpayers. These expenses, although real, are specifically excluded from deduction unless the taxpayer is genuinely working from home or conducting an independent trade.
Don't even try a travel allowance deduction unless you are in receipt of a travel allowance and have maintained an accurate logbook. The logbook also applies to those who try reducing the company car fringe benefit.
Always base a medical expense claim on records. Estimates often get caught.
If you are a provisional taxpayer, complete the statement of assets and liabilities at the back of the return. There is nothing worse than trying to reconstruct a balance sheet when SARS audits later.
Today, tax returns are "pre-populated" with IRP5 details. Thus, if you are an employed taxpayer with no other income and deductions, the filing of a tax return should take minutes, not hours.
Don't think that the occasional capital gain will be missed by SARS. And if the capital asset was acquired pre-October 1 2001, get assistance to ensure that the calculations are correctly performed.
Don't just accept that a tax nerd has filed your return. Ask for a receipt and a copy of the return.
• Lester is a professor at Rhodes Business School. See www.criticalthought.co.za.
* This article was first published in Sunday Times: Money & Careers