The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has promised there will be a Mac version of e-tax next year, but for your 2011-2012 tax return Windows is the only option. That has the odd consequence that you might be able to claim the cost of Windows and emulation software if you're planning to use e-tax to submit your return, but you will need to plan carefully and document your choices.
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As we reported last month, the ATO has said it will end its longstanding Windows-only policy with the e-tax 2013 release. That's good news for your next tax return, but it's no help with the current one.
You can run e-tax using a virtualisation platform such as Boot Camp, Parallels, Fusion or VirtualBox. It's not an officially supported approach — if there are any submission issues, that's your problem — but many users have reported running e-tax successfully this way.
One interesting quirk of the current approach is that it theoretically makes it possible to try and claim the cost of running a virtualised platform as a deduction, since it's effectively an expense you incurred to submit your tax (just as paying an accountant would be). Many of the most popular virtualisation/emulation solutions themselves are free — Wine for Linux falls into this category along with most of the Mac choices — but you still need to pay for a Windows licence to use them. As the ATO explains on its site, you might be able to claim those costs back:
The cost of software, such as emulation software or a Windows operating system, purchased and used to allow the completion and lodgment of your tax return via e-tax, is tax deductible. It is important to note that you can only claim that portion of the cost that is related to preparing and lodging your return or managing your tax affairs. If you use this software for other purposes you must apportion your claim.
It's not yet clear whether this policy might be changed when a Mac version becomes available. In practice, that seems unlikely: while the ATO might question unusual costs, it doesn't dictate that (for instance) all businesses must buy the cheapest laptop.
However, before you start salivating over the prospect of a deduction, remember three things. Firstly, a deduction doesn't mean you get the software for nothing: it simply lowers your taxable income, which might lower your total tax assessment.
Secondly, as the note above makes clear, if you use Windows on your Mac for purposes other than e-tax, you can't necessarily claim the entire cost; you're meant to apportion a reasonable amount.
If you're working as an IT professional, it won't be difficult to argue that you needed Windows for other purposes, and given the relatively small amounts involved, it seems unlikely the ATO would bother questioning that expense unless your deduction total is unusually large. But if you do get audited (and remember, IT professionals are a target occupation this year), you need to be able to justify the expense if questioned. (This rule is also why PC owners would struggle to claim the price of Windows as a cost of doing their tax; it's not convincing to argue you use a machine solely for that purpose.)
Thirdly, bear in mind you'll need to claim the cost in the income year where the expense was incurred. If you buy a copy of Windows now to submit your tax electronically, you won't be claiming that until the next return.
Check out our Tax Week 2012 coverage for updates on what's new this year in tax. As ever, if you need specific tax advice, speak to a qualified and accredited professional.
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