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Team Maddern
15/May/2022

This year’s Federal Budget was full of talk about one-off support for households in the form of tax offsets, but most people are a bit hazy on the difference between a tax offset and a tax deduction.

Both can help reduce the amount of tax you pay each year, but a tax offset generally results in a bigger dollar tax saving than a tax deduction of the same amount. The key difference is the point at which they are applied to your income when calculating the final amount of tax payable.

What is a tax deduction?

A tax deduction is one of the first things applied to your income when calculating your tax bill. It reduces your taxable income and hence the amount of tax you pay, potentially moving you into a lower tax bracket. Deductions are intended to ensure you only pay tax on income exceeding the costs associated with earning that income.

For a small business, deductions ensure it doesn’t pay tax if its running costs exceed its revenue. Common deductions include operating expenses such as stationery, and capital expenses such as equipment.

There are also temporary deductions, such as the additional 20 per cent deduction for costs related to digital adoption (like portable payment services and cyber security) and employee training expenditure announced in the 2022 Federal Budget.

Employees can claim deductions in a similar way. Personal deductions include work-related expenses like the cost of a computer if you have a home office, or supplies purchased for classroom use by a teacher. Other deductions include the cost of managing your tax affairs, donations and income protection insurance.

Offsets are similar but different

Tax offsets on the other hand, are deducted at the end of the calculation process and directly reduce the tax you pay.

Offsets are used by the government to encourage specific outcomes, such as uptake of health insurance through the Private Health Offset, or adding money to your spouse’s super through a contribution offset. They are also used to provide tax relief or financial support to certain groups in the community.

Calculating tax using offsets and deductions

The easiest way to understand the difference between an offset and a deduction is to walk through an example.

In the table below, we have two taxpayers. One person has an income of $30,000 a year paying tax of 19c on every dollar above the tax-free threshold of $18,200. This results in tax of $2,242 before any deductions or offsets. The other earns $130,000 a year, paying the top marginal tax rate of 37c in every dollar above $120,000, resulting in tax of $33,167.

As you can see in the table below, the impact of a $1,000 tax deduction provides a bigger tax saving of $370 for the higher income earner, compared with $190 for the lower income earner.

However, not only does a $1,000 tax offset provide both taxpayers with a bigger tax saving of $1,000 each, but it’s worth relatively more to the lower income earner at 3.3 per cent of $30,000 compared with less than one per cent of $130,000.

Impact of a $1,000 tax deduction and tax offset on tax owed

Assessable income Tax owed $1,000 tax deduction $1,000 tax offset
    Tax owed Tax saved Tax owed Tax saved
$130,000 $33,167 $32,797 $370 $32,167 $1,000
$30,000 $2,242 $2,052 $190 $1,242 $1,000

Source (with updated figures for 2021-22 financial year): ANU Tax and Transfer Policy Institute Tax Fact #6

How tax offsets affect the tax you pay

Unlike tax deductions, the ATO automatically applies most offsets to your tax payable when you lodge your tax return.

In general, tax offsets can reduce your tax payable to zero, but they can’t be used to generate a tax refund if you don’t pay tax. If your taxable income is $18,200 or less, an offset won’t reduce the tax you pay as your tax payable is already zero. If you have paid any tax on this amount, you receive the tax back as a refund, but no offset is applied.

Also, most tax offsets don’t reduce the Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge (if any) you are required to pay.

The amount of tax offset you receive also depends on the particular offset and your taxable income. For example, with the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset (LMITO) for 2021-22, if your taxable income is $37,0000 or less, you will receive a $675 offset on your tax payable when you lodge your tax return. If your income is $48,001 to $90,000, however, the offset is worth $1,500.