Tax File Number Guide

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What Every Taxpayer Should Know About Tax File Numbers

As Australians, we have a handful of essential numbers throughout our lives. Our birth dates and personal and emergency phone numbers are just some examples. However, there is one more that you should know about: your tax file number.

1. What is a Tax File Number?

A Tax File Number (TFN) is a unique number consisting of nine digits that serve as your identification with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). TFNs are distinct, so no one has the same number as another person.

Your TFN is just yours, and you retain it for the rest of your life. It does not matter whether you change jobs or your name. You also use the same TFN if you move to another location in the country. The number is yours to keep – even if you leave Australia and come back years later.

tax file numbers guide

2. Why is Your TFN Important?

The Tax File Number is a requirement to transact with the Australian Taxation Office. It is also useful to other organisations, particularly the government agencies in the country. Typically, you will have to provide your TFN for the following transactions:

  • You lodge your tax return with the ATO
  • You start working
  • You change jobs
  • You establish a business as a sole trader and apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN)
  • You apply for HECS-HELP
  • You wish to claim the Family Tax Benefit (FTB)
  • You make payments under PAYG, or you are the recipient
  • You want to apply for assistance from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs
  • You will submit an application for payments through Centrelink

tax return postcard

With all the transactions mentioned, you may automatically think that you should get a Tax File Number. In reality, having a TFN is not a necessity. You do not have to apply for a Tax File Number your whole life because the law does not require it.

There is a problem when you do not have a TFN though, especially if you are working. Your employer should take 47% of your salary and pay it in taxes. Additionally, any financial institution will deny 47% of interest earned.

Just the thought of paying more tax will encourage you to apply for a TFN. If you do not have this particular number, it will certainly stop you from filing your tax returns in the easiest possible way. You are not allowed to process your tax returns electronically. For most people, it becomes a burden to meet their tax obligations. It may also be challenging to get your money back – even if the government owes it to you.

Those who will need to apply for government benefits are required to have a Tax File Number. The TFN makes it easier for the tax office to search your records.

Meanwhile, if you wish to start a business, you cannot apply for an Australian Business Number without having a TFN first.

3.1 How to Apply for a TFN?

All residents of Australia can apply for a TFN, whether online or by paper.

There are two main ways to apply for a Tax File Number:

Over the past several years, TFN applications were incredibly difficult to complete. Thankfully, it has changed for the better. Both the Australian Taxation Office and the Australia Post have made the process simpler and faster.

You can apply online where you order the form first. Then, you can fill it out with the correct details. The third step is to visit a post office with the document. There are more than 460 retail outlets of the Australia Post all around the country. Bring your proof of identity as well.

Note that you can only apply within 30 days of ordering the document. Make sure that you are familiar with the exact location of your nearest Australia Post outlet. This way, you know where you should go.

The second method is through an ATO shopfront. Complete the TFN form online first. You can also call the ATO at 1300 720 092, or you can go to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs or Centrelink to obtain the form. The latter option is only applicable if you wish to be granted with a pension or a benefit.After filling out the form, you can then phone 13 28 61 to make an appointment with a shopfront. The office is available Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Once you have successfully made an appointment, show up on time on the specified date. There will be an interview, and you will receive your Tax File Number within 28 days. You should make sure that the postal address you have provided in your application is correct. It is where the ATO will mail the TFN.

3.2. Other Ways To Apply

Students, veterans, and other individuals may apply to get their TFNs through the following methods:

For students

The process for younger applicants is different but easier. Secondary school students can simply talk to their Careers Advisor or school office staff and get connected with the Secondary Schools TFN Program. They can also contact the ATO to obtain more details.

For retirees and veterans

Applicants who require support and benefits assistance may go to a Department of Veterans’ Affairs or Centrelink office. Complete the form (NAT 1432) there to get the Tax File Number. The document can also be ordered online through ATO’s website or by phoning 1300 720 092. It should be from Centrelink or the DVA. You should also mention it is for a pension or a government benefit, whichever applies.

You will then have to make an appointment with the DVA or the Department of Human Services (DHS). Bring proof of identity with you, along with the completed form. Expect to see your TFN in the mail within 28 days. To know how the form looks like, you can take a look at the sample form.

For foreign passport holders

Whether you are a temporary visitor in the country or you are a permanent migrant, the process is the same for both groups. Apply for a Tax File Number online after you have entered Australia. It does not necessarily have to be right away, but make sure you do not wait for a long time.

You can apply for a TFN if you meet all three requirements:

  • You are in Australia.
  • You have a permanent resident visa, a work visa, an overseas student visa, or one that allows you to stay in the country indefinitely. New Zealanders are given the last type of visa automatically.
  • You have a foreign passport, are a temporary visitor, or permanent migrant.

You will also need to have a valid passport or any useful travel documents. The ATO will first have to verify your identity with the Department of Home Affairs before you send the required documents.

For Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders

There is an online form to complete. Once done, you can print the summary and take it to Australia Post. You may need your application reference number, so be sure to take note of it. At the Australia Post outlet, an interview will be conducted with you. Provide all the necessary documents, including your proof of identity and the summary of the application. You will sign a paper when you have finished the interview.

Another method is to get the paper form, which is the NAT 1589, from the Indigenous helpline 13 10 30.

Some people may not have enough documents that will help identify them. If you have the same problem, you can ask a council chairperson, school principal, doctor, community manager, or any authorised referee to fill out the seventh page of the application for you. A government officer may also fill in the form, such as Centrelink agent or a police officer.

For non-residents

Typically, non-residents of the country apply for a TFN for tax reasons. You can get your Tax File Number using the form for NAT 2628, which is the enquiry for people living outside Australia. Get the form online, print it, and fill it in thoroughly before sending it to the ATO.
tax file numbers application

4. Tips for a Successful TFN Application

Students, veterans, and other individuals may apply to get their TFNs through the following methods:

Download the correct form

There are different types of application forms for TFN. They depend on the purpose of the application:

  • For individuals: NAT 1432
  • For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: NAT 1589
  • For non-residents: NAT 2628
  • When visiting a Centrelink or DVA office, ask for the correct form.

Complete the form correctly

When filling in the form, you should only use a black or dark blue pen – unless you have the online version. Place an X on the appropriate boxes. When writing, use block letters or capitalise each letter with one character in one box.

All the questions should be answered; otherwise, the ATO will contact you to get more information. Some of the enquiries you should expect are:

  • Your full name
  • Purpose of the TFN
  • Postal address
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Marital status
  • Spouse’s details, if applicable
  • Contact details

If you make a mistake, you should not cover it with stickers or even correction fluid. Simply correct the error and place your signature next to it.

Accompany the printed or mailed form with proof of ID

In Section E of the application form, you will have to provide the supporting documents that you will bring with you in the interview. For those aged 16 and over, they will need to bring three documents where one is a primary document. For those below 16 years old, two documents are required with one primary.

Accepted primary documents are:

  • Australian birth certificate (in full)
  • Australian passport
  • Foreign passport
  • Australian citizenship certification
  • Extract from Register of Citizenship by Descent

Meanwhile, the secondary materials to choose from are:

  • Medicare card
  • Firearm licence in Australia
  • Account statement from any Australian bank
  • Credit union statements
  • Building society statements
  • Student identification card with photo
  • Driver’s licence
  • Learner’s permit
  • Proof of age card from the government
  • Photo card from the government (state or territory)

If you will use an account statement from the bank, credit union, or building society, the document should be at least six months old. The details should match the ones you have provided in your application, including your name and address.

For applicants who are under 16 years old, they can submit any of the secondary documents below:

  • Record of achievement
  • Report from an examination
  • Examination certificate

Applicants should never bring the original documents with them. The office may not give you back the copies. Instead, you should provide a clear, certified copy of the required documents.

Arrive for your interview on time

You will book an interview, and you may be provided with a specific date and time. Do not arrive late and make sure you have all the needed documents with you. This way, you do not have to re-book an appointment if you failed to bring proof of identity or even the completed TFN application form.

Copy your application reference number & wait

You should receive your TFN in 28 days. If a month has passed and you have not heard back from the ATO in the mail, you may contact the agency. Provide the application reference number, so the officer can figure out what may have happened to your TFN.

The processing period may take a while. You may have to wait longer than a month in some rare instances. You must wait patiently and avoid lodging another application just because you have not received your TFN. If you have any problems, contact the ATO right away.

tip for tax file numbers application

5. Where Do You Find Your TFN?

A common problem for those who have their Tax File Numbers for quite a period is that they misplace it. They did not save the number anywhere, which can be bothersome if they require the TFN right away. You may need the TFN when you start a new job, so you will have to fill out a declaration to get it.

It is a good thing you can get your missing TFN in a few distinct places, such as the following:

  • Check the Notice of Assessment of your income tax from the previous year.
  • If you have made any correspondence with the Australian Taxation Office over the years since you have had your TFN, you will usually find it in any ATO-related document.
  • If you have any issued PAYG Payment Summary from your employer or Centrelink and other government agencies, you can also find the TFN in those documents.
  • If you have created a myGov account online and it is linked to the ATO, you can locate your Tax File Number.
  • Your member statement for your superannuation also bears your TFN.

If the mentioned places do not have your TFN, the best thing to do now is to contact the ATO directly at 13 28 61.

your tax file numbers place