Updated 9th November 2023

Australian Tax Office (ATO) debt can be a highly disrupting factor in any business’s cash flow management and can interrupt daily operations in a serious way.

Companies facing a debt to the ATO may face relatively few financial options to both repay the debt and ensure enough access to working capital to maintain ongoing business.

Invoice Finance is a fast, flexible and effective funding solution to help businesses of all sizes and across all sectors repay the money they owe to the tax office in a sustainable way.

Why is paying ATO debt so important?

Recent figures indicate that of the $50.2 billion owed to the tax office over the last 4 years, $33 billion of that is owed from small and medium sized businesses. Over the past few years, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ATO allowed for greater leniency in businesses deferring payments, engaging in payment plans, and providing exceptions in penalties and interest.

However, with the surge of 89 per cent in collectible debt, the ATO is taking a far more proactive approach in collecting outstanding debt from the 40,000 businesses across Australia. This approach can include everything from stricter criteria for penalty exceptions, tighter payment plans, court action, wind-up notices and even reporting businesses to credit rating agencies.

For many businesses, it made a certain amount of sense why they would choose to de-prioritise payment of tax and super and ensure their cash flow is focused on covering operational expenses and business growth. However, this was always a suboptimal, ill-advised and short-term solution. With the lenient ATO approach now going by the wayside, businesses with debts of $100,000 or more and/or debts that are more than two years old are in the line of fire from the tax office. 

How Does ATO Debt Work?

Money owed to the ATO can come from payroll tax, outstanding superannuation fringe benefits tax, and unpaid GST. In addition to the original amount owed, tax debt incurs interest so not making payment promptly can end up costing much more to your business.

If your business owes the ATO tax, debt collectors will contact you in an attempt to recover the funds. While strategies and approaches may vary, if the debt collectors are unsuccessful, the ATO itself may turn your debt over to an external debt collector for recovery or follow any of the following procedures.

1. Official Claim

The first possibility comes in the form of the filing of an official claim or summons of your business.

2. Bankruptcy

If you are unable to repay the debt, you may have to file a creditor’s petition and declare bankruptcy.

3. Repayment

You could be forced to repay the entirety of the debt within 21 days as a result of a statutory demand.

4. Payment Plan

Alternatively, the statutory demand could force you to enter into a payment plan until the debt is entirely paid off.

5. Business Closure

With no other recourse to recover their owed funds, the ATO could initiate a process to close your business.

Why Should You Repay the ATO on Schedule?

There are a few core reasons why paying the ATO any debt owed to them on schedule is a good idea for the longevity and success of your business.

1. Avoiding Interest Charges

The unfortunate reality of ATO debt is that it accrues interest. Thus, the longer you take to repay your debt the more money you’ll have to pay and the amount compounds. The ATO’s general interest charge (GIC) is a percentage of the amount currently owned and is calculated daily. In other words, considering the effects of compounding, your debt can balloon considerably if it is not paid in a timely fashion.

2. Interest Exemptions

Interestingly, some businesses can apply for an exemption from the GIC. The ATO has numerous criteria that they consider during application processes. We highly recommend that you do not rely on the possibility of an interest exemption when weighing the pros and cons of your ATO debt strategy, especially in light of the tax office’s announcements of tighter eligibility criteria and reduction in interest exemptions being handed out.

3. Negative Impact on Credit

As mentioned above, there can even be credit implications regarding your ATO debt. As of the legislative changes passed half a decade or so ago, reporting agencies can now be made aware of outstanding debt to the tax office. This can seriously impact your ability to borrow money or set up financial solutions for your business, especially if you haven’t even entered into a payment plan either.

4. Access to Tax Refunds

Many tax accountants and business advisors make the most of taxation laws and policies to maximise the amount  of tax refunds, credit and deductions. If you owe the ATO money, those refunds will be reduced or completely recovered by the tax office to help pay off your debt. 

Dealing with ATO Debt

Consolidating debt in general is one of the most important business finance solutions for a growing, start-up or struggling company. 

If your business is either unable to pay off your ATO debt in full or unwilling to take on a payment plan, Invoice Finance could be the solution you need.

Invoice Finance – Helping You Pay Off ATO Debt

Invoice Finance is a financial facility provided to businesses to ensure quick access to working capital. By using the outstanding invoices owed to a business (which could be one of the factors that contributed to ATO debt in the first place) as collateral, a loan of up to 95% of the value of those invoices can be provided to the business.

Importantly, the invoices that are raised and issued by a business to customers or clients and then submitted for financing remain the property of the business and thus it is still the responsibility of the borrower to collect accounts receivable. 

Why use Invoice Finance?

Invoice Finance is a flexible and fast solution to businesses suffering from cash flow gaps or limited access to working capital. Instead of having to wait the extended terms associated with invoices, they can access the majority of the value owed to them now and then the rest once the invoices are all settled (less any fees associated with the loan).

The Benefits of Invoice Finance

1. Speed

Invoice Finance can be approved in as little as 24 hours. This makes it very easy and very fast for businesses with ATO debt to access working capital as soon as possible to pay down the amount they owe in tax.

Again, considering the interest accruable and the other negative implications of ATO debt, this can be critically beneficial. 

2. Control

Compared to other forms of finance, such as traditional bank loans or conventional overdrafts, Invoice Finance allows for significantly more control and independence. 

When you enter into a repayment plan for your ATO debt, you’ll need access to reliable capital which otherwise may be tied up in your customers/clients lack of punctual payment. With Invoice Finance, you can control how much working capital you need to access and when you need to access.

3. Eligibility

Bank loans and other forms of credit often require extensive application processes and strict eligibility criteria in the form of creditworthiness and/or trading history. 

Comparatively, Invoice Finance is far more flexible, straightforward and easy to apply for. In instances where there is ATO debt to be paid off sooner rather than later, this can be very important. 

4. Emergencies

ATO debt – like other emergency funding needs – can often come out of nowhere. Invoice Finance allows you to access emergency funding to meet repayment obligations within as little as 24 hours.

With the right flexible funding solution, your business won’t find itself financially compromised by either paying the debt off or by setting up a financial facility. 

How to Use Invoice Finance to Repay ATO Debt

Invoice Finance depends on your invoice or invoices’ value. The higher the value of outstanding invoices, the more working capital you are able to access. (Of course, settled invoices provide you with cash flow directly as well! Think of Invoice Finance as cash in advance.)

That working capital can then be used to fund the ATO’s required repayments without you having to wait the 30 days (or more) that it can take for businesses to settle your invoices. In that time, your ATO debt interest and negative credit implications could cause greater long term damage to your business’s finances.

With Invoice Finance, the inherent flexibility and control allows your business to continue growing and scaling smoothly without being unduly burdened by ATO debt or other liabilities for that matter.

Get ahead of tax debt with ScotPac – Australia’s trusted financial solutions partner

How can you unlock the additional working capital available in your outstanding invoices to pay down ATO debt? By contacting the ScotPac team today.

We have been providing trusted financial solutions to businesses of all sizes across Australia for over 35 years. 

With an unrivalled breadth and depth of capability and an approach towards clients as partners rather than transactions, we’ve become the largest non-bank lender in the country. If your business is saddled with ATO debt or other liabilities and you’d like to find out more about our fast, flexible and seamless Invoice Finance offering, make sure to contact us today for an obligation-free consultation with one of our lending specialists!