Getting on top of tax is crucial

HOW TO . . . . . . handle GST, with Paul Drum, of CPA Australia.

. . . handle GST, with Paul Drum, of CPA Australia.

AS A small business owner, should you charge GST?

With less than $75,000 in annual turnover, you don't have to charge GST, giving you a kind of competitive advantage from a price point of view over those that do have to charge it.

However, many small businesses like to charge GST anyway because they intend getting bigger and do not want to have to raise prices, or they want to appear larger than they actually are.

If you're not charging GST, the market immediately knows you're very small, probably operating out of somebody's living room. It doesn't send a confident signal that you have the organisational backing to do whatever the client wants.

Also, some large businesses won't deal with you unless you're registered for GST because it's too difficult for them to deal with suppliers if some of them charge GST and some do not.

Large retailers might have tens of thousands of different line items, and it's complicated for them to be claiming back input tax credits on some suppliers and not on others.

Should you hold collected GST in a separate bank account?

No. Part of the beauty of collecting GST is that you actually have the use of that money until you have to pay it on. So if you're just sticking it into an old sock somewhere, I really question whether you're running your business properly because you should be using it to your advantage. Of course, you have to make sure you have the money when you need to pass it on to the Tax Office.

What's the best payment cycle?

If your turnover is $20 million or more, you have to pay monthly. If you're below, you can go quarterly. Very small companies can pay annually. The longer you have the use of the money the better. For most small businesses I would say quarterly or monthly is generally the way to go.

But it's important to remember that GST is not a tax on business, but on the ultimate consumer. In business, when you buy items and they have GST on them, you get a refund. So whether you lodge monthly, quarterly or annually might depend on how much your refunds are going to be. If you've got a lot of input tax credits to come back, you might want to be lodging more regularly.

Paul Drum is head of business and investment policy at CPA Australia.

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