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The sole trader’s guide to tax file numbers

Everything you need to know about TFNs

As a sole trader, you’re constantly juggling numbers. Profit margins, expense reports, invoices – the list goes on! And the ATO has thrown another critical set of digits into the mix – your tax file number (TFN).

It may not be as interesting as your sales figures but, a tax file number plays an essential role in managing your taxes and financial admin.

In this guide, we’ll break down what a TFN is, how it’s used, and why it’s as vital as your morning coffee. If you’ve lost yours, don’t worry! We know where to find it. And if you don’t have a tax file number, we’ll walk you through how to apply for one.Let’s get started.

What’s a tax file number?

Think of your tax file number as your ‘alter ego’ in the tax world. Sounds more interesting now, right?

A TFN is a unique string of 9 digits that’s yours for life – even if you change your name or job, move interstate, or even overseas. It’s the equivalent to a social security number in the US or a national insurance number in the UK.

Though you’re not legally required to have one, life without a TFN can be a rough ride. You can’t access certain government financial assistance programs, lodge your tax return online, or apply for an Australian business number (ABN). Without an ABN, businesses are technically obliged to withhold a whopping 47% in tax from payments they make to you. Ouch!

What a TFN is used for

Your TFN is how the government identifies you in the tax and superannuation system. It lets the Australian Tax Office (ATO), banks, and super funds know how much, if any, tax to withhold from you.

Essentially, your TFN keeps your tax situation tidy, ensuring you don’t pay more than your fair share. For example, want to open a business bank account? Without your TFN, the bank has to withhold tax at the highest marginal rate on any interest you earn. While you can claim a credit for the amount of tax withheld when you lodge your tax return, it’s easier to simply supply your TFN. Why pay more up front when you don’t have to?

Trust us, you’ll want to keep this number handy.

Where to find your tax file number

The good news is that, as a sole trader, you get to use your individual TFN rather than apply for a separate business TFN. So if you’ve previously been an employee, chances are you already have a tax file number.

Not sure how to find it?

Start with your myGov account if you have one:

  • Sign into myGov
  • Select ‘Australian Taxation Office’ from the ‘Services’ menu
  • Click on ‘‘Find my TFN’.

Alternatively you can usually find your TFN on:

  • your income tax notice of assessment if you’ve lodged a tax return
  • letters you’ve received from the ATO
  • a payment summary or income statement (if you were previously an employee)
  • your superannuation account statement.

Still no luck? If you use a registered tax agent, you can ask them for your TFN.

And if all else fails, you can call the ATO.

How to apply for a tax file number

If you don’t have a TFN, you can apply for one. The good news is it’s free to apply for one. Yay!

You can apply either online or using a paper form depending on your circumstances and residency status. Let’s take a look at your options:

Australian citizens with an Australian passport (beta)

This online TFN application process is currently in public beta, meaning it’s still being perfected.

Australian citizens with an Australian passport can apply for a tax file number online using myGovID, a digital identity app that verifies who you are.

You’ll receive your TFN immediately and you can also start accessing myGov and ATO online services.

To apply for a TFN online, you’ll need to:

  • Hold an Australian passport (up to 3 years expired is ok)
  • Be an Australian citizen
  • Have at least one other Australian identity document (such as a driver’s licence, Medicare card, birth certificate, or citizenship certificate)
  • Set up a Strong myGovID by:
    • downloading the myGovID app to your phone or smart device, 
    • entering your details, 
    • verifying your documents, and a photo of you.

Australian residents without an Australian passport

No passport? No problem! There are a few ways you can apply for your tax file number:

Through Australia Post:

  1. Complete the online form
  2. Print the application summary
  3. Book an interview at a participating outlet
  4. Attend your interview with the necessary documents, including your application summary
  5. Sign your application. 

You’ll receive your TFN within 28 days.

Through a Services Australia centre:

  1. Complete a paper TFN application form
  2. Present your relevant identity documents at a Services Australia centre.

By Post:

  1. Grab a copy of the paper application form online or by phone through the ATO Publication Ordering Service
  2. Send your completed TFN application and certified copies of your proof of identity documents to the address on the form.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander people can apply for a TFN using any of the above methods with or without an Australian passport. 

Individuals who don’t have enough identity documents can still apply for a TFN, using a specific form (NAT 1589), available online or by phone through the ATO Publication Ordering Service, or call the Indigenous helpline on 13 10 30.

You’ll need an authorised referee who has known you for 12 months or more to complete the proof of identity reference on page 7 of the form. You can lodge this form by post or at a Services Australia centre.

Foreign passport holders, permanent migrants and temporary visitors

If you’re in Australia with a valid visa, you can apply online for your TFN using Individual Auto Registration (IAR). Once you start the form, you’ll need to provide details of your identity as well as your travel documents and visa.

Those living outside Australia

Sole traders living abroad with Australian income may need to apply for a TFN. You can do this by downloading and completing a paper form, and sending in certified copies of your proof of identity documents.

Norfolk Island residents

Norfolk Island residents can apply for a TFN:

What if you work for overseas clients?

If you’re a proud Aussie working for overseas clients, possibly from the comfort of your home office (or verandah – we see you!), you might need to fill out a special tax form for them. It’s like their safety blanket, helping them comply with their country’s tax laws when they pay you.

You might see your TFN referred to as a ‘foreign TIN’ if you’re dealing with the US, where TIN stands for ‘tax identification number’. Many countries have tax treaties with Australia to prevent you from being taxed twice (phew!), so these forms require you to declare that you’re a resident of Australia for tax purposes.

Never think about tax again. Join Hnry today

Never think about tax again with Hnry

Hnry is an award-winning tax service designed by sole traders, for sole traders.

For just 1% (+GST) of your self-employed income, capped at $1,500 a year, Hnry will calculate and pay all your taxes, levies, and whatnot for you, including:

  • Income tax
  • GST
  • Medicare Levy
  • Student loan repayments
  • Super contributions

We also lodge your income tax and BAS returns for you, at no added cost. AND we handle all your financial admin, like:

  • claiming expenses, 
  • sending quotes and invoices, 
  • and chasing up late-paying customers (politely of course.)

Basically, you don’t have to go at it alone anymore. Hnry was designed by sole traders, for sole traders. We know exactly what you need to get the job done.

Join Hnry today!

DISCLAIMER: The information on our website is for general educational purposes only. It doesn't cover all situations and circumstances, and shouldn't be taken as direct tax advice. If you're looking for specific help with your taxes, join Hnry and our team of experts can provide you with assistance tailored to your business needs.

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