If you haven't filed your Self Assessment tax return for 2015/16, then you're almost out of time. You're not alone, either. Each year, millions of people in the UK leave their tax returns until the last minute. A lot of them end up regretting it, though, with fines starting at £100 and getting worse from there. It doesn't have to be a huge hassle to get your return in on time, especially if you've got RIFT's help. Here are a few pointers to get you on the right track.

1) Remember you don't have to do it all at once.

If you're filing online (you've already missed the October 31st deadline for paper submissions anyway), the system saves your progress as you go along. Don't put off working on your return because you think you'll need several uninterrupted hours. You can always do a bit now and come back to it later. Just make sure you do come back, though.

2) Do some preparation.

The most important thing to do, if you haven't already, is get yourself registered on the Self Assessment system. That means a visit to the HMRC website, where you'll apply for a login. If you haven't already got this done, it's now urgent. Getting your account set up can take a week or more. HRMC will send you a UTR number that you will need to complete your self assessment or to give to your agent to do it for you.

Assuming you're already set up, you need to get your records together. Tax returns mean giving HMRC quite a lot of detailed information. If you're employed, you'll need your P60 for the last tax year.

If you've got a P11D showing your benefits and expenses, dig that out, too. If you're self-employed, grab all your records of expenses and income. However you work, fish out your bank statements if you're getting interest on your money.

3) Know what you can claim tax relief for.

If you're self-employed, you probably already know how to track your work expenses. A lot of people still miss out on tax relief they're entitled to, though. Working from home, for instance, allows you to claim a portion of your household bills against your taxable profits. That can mean energy bills, phone charges, or even rent and insurance. You need to be careful, though. There are limits on what you can claim for, and you need to be sure it's only business use you're counting. Talk to RIFT if you're not certain where you stand here.

Remember there's a less complicated option for claiming some common expenses. If you're a Sole Trader or a partnership with no companies as partners, the Simplified Expenses scheme may work for you. There are flat rates you can claim for things like vehicle use and working from home. You might not get everything you're entitled to, but it does cut down on the paperwork.

4) If you miss a deadline, have a good reason.

Sometimes, the unexpected wrecks even the most carefully drawn-up plan. HMRC hears an awful lot of excuses for late filing or payment every year. However, the fact that they've heard it all before doesn't mean that they won't still listen. Problems with HMRC's website, for instance, might well be a valid reason for blowing the January 31st deadline.

Other reasonable explanations include unexpected medical emergencies, software failures or bereavement. Don't count on getting a deadline extension just because it slipped your mind, though. The taxman won't let you off the hook with a "dog ate your homework" type of story - and yes, that one has actually been tried...

5) Get help from RIFT.

As always, our best advice is to come to us. If you're having trouble with the Self Assessment system, we can take care of the whole thing for you.

RIFT are the UK's leading tax experts, and we can do a whole lot more than crunch your numbers. Even if you're already in hot water with the taxman, we could still be able to limit the damage. We're on great terms with HMRC, and can even act as your "agent, speaking to them on your behalf, getting all letters and handling all your paperwork so you never have to deal with them again.

Call or email us to talk your situation over, or shoot us a Facebook message to get things rolling.