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TFN – Why your tax file number is important

Building blocks spelling tax on paper

Another number that’s as important throughout your life as your birthdate is your tax file number (TFN).

Your TFN is the one, unique number, which links all your investments, superannuation and taxation to your identity. Assigned to you by the Taxation Commissioner, it applies for the rest of your life and its usage is protected by Government legislation.

Protect your TFN

The usual warnings about keeping it in a safe place, destroying any documentation instead of throwing it in the bin, make sense. Think of all the investments which are linked to your TFN – bank accounts, superannuation funds, Centrelink payments etc., – and the risks of identity theft. It could also be used for marketing purposes, which can upset your sense of privacy and your inbox.

The ATO is going to use TFNs to centralise and minimise the number of super funds we all accumulate

Who can ask for your TFN?

There are strict protocols under the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth) (TA Act) for protecting TFNs (remember this Act; it can be handy in a dispute). Only certain organisations are allowed to ask for it, such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), your employer, your bank, financial institution(s), Centrelink and your superannuation fund(s), who can only ask when you:

• lodge a tax return

• apply for income assistance or support payments, such as Centrelink or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs benefits

• start a new job or change jobs

• earn income from savings and investments e.g. interest or dividends

• receive a payment under the Higher Education Loan Program

• join a super fund.

It can’t be used for identification or to cross match other personal information.

When to say ‘no’

Never give your TFN to anyone unless they are authorised to ask for it. If they insist, report them to the Australian Information Commissioner (if you’re unsure of their status, check with the ATO or APRA). In fact, it’s a criminal offence for an unauthorised party to ask.

What if I’m asked?

There is no law which forces you to give your TFN.

If someone does ask, they are required to explain:

1. why they require it – which includes explaining which laws they are authorised under (usually the TA Act)

2. the repercussions if you don’t (e.g. no-TFN contribution tax or witholding tax will apply) and

3. that it is not an offence not to supply it.

If they don’t, be wary. You’ll find those who are genuine will give you this information upfront.

You’ll soon be hearing good examples of how your TFN can help you keep track of your super. Expect to hear from your super fund(s) offering to help you consolidate your super. Even if they already have your TFN, they may still ask for on-going permission to check with the ATO if you have any lost or inactive funds. Give it a whirl – the ATO is going to use TFNs to centralise and minimise the number of super funds we all accumulate.

And just like your birthday, your TFN could be a number that still delivers some unexpected gifts.


This article has been prepared by Colonial First State Investments Limited ABN 98 002 348 352, AFS Licence 232468 (Colonial First State) based on its understanding of current regulatory requirements and laws as at 1 Sept 2013. The article is not advice and provides information only. It does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. You should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement available fromColonial First State carefully and assess whether the information is appropriate for you and consider talking to a financial adviser before making an investment decision.

Copyright © 2013 Colonial First State Investments Limited. All rights reserved.

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