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Chartered Professional Accountants and Licensed Public Accountants

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Tax Alerts

Tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs) have been part of the Canadian tax system now for nearly a decade, and millions of Canadians utilize them as a savings vehicle, whether for short-term or long-term purposes.

Of all of the tax-deferral or tax-savings plans available to Canadians, TFSAs undoubtedly provide the greatest flexibility, as the TFSA rules allow taxpayers to both carryover allowable contribution room to future years and to re-contribute amounts withdrawn. However, that very flexibility (especially the ability to re-contribute previous withdrawals) also has the potential to cause taxpayers to run afoul of the rules by getting into an inadvertent overcontribution position, resulting in the imposition of penalty taxes.


As the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) notes on its website, new tax scams are devised every single day of the week. And, despite the cautionary tales which appear frequently in the media and the warnings posted by the CRA on its website, Canadians continue, with regularity, to fall victim to each new (and old) tax scam and tax fraud.


The variety of amounts and kinds of income, deductions taken, and credits claimed on individual income tax returns filed by Canadians each spring is almost limitless. Each of those returns, however, has one thing in common, and that is that each will be assessed by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), which will then issue a Notice of Assessment summarizing the Agency’s conclusions with respect to the information filed by the taxpayer. Most important, from the taxpayer’s point of view, the CRA will communicate the amount of federal and provincial tax it believes the taxpayer is required to pay for the tax year just passed.


By now, halfway through the 2017 tax year, almost all Canadian individual taxpayers will have filed their income tax return for 2016, and most will have received the Notice of Assessment which summarizes their tax situation for that year – income, deductions, credits, and tax payable.


In recent years, it seems that the arrival of spring has coincided with a natural or man-made disaster somewhere in Canada. Spring is also, of course, tax return preparation and filing season for most Canadian taxpayers, but it’s likely taxes were the last thing on the minds of families and individuals affected by this spring’s floods. And, in most cases, those families and individuals will not be penalized for failing, in such circumstances, to fulfill their tax obligations in a timely way.


For many years, post-secondary students have financed their educations in part through private savings and often in part through government student loans, which are generally interest-free while the student is in school. As well, the bulk of costs incurred to attend post-secondary education (or to finance it) have been eligible for a tax deduction or credit, at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels. Beginning in 2017, however, changes to that regime at both the federal level and in some provinces will mean changes to the way students (and their parents) pay for post-secondary education.  


If spring is the season for real estate sales in Canada, then summer is the time when all those real estate buyers and sellers pack up their belongings and move to their newly purchased homes. And, while buying a new home and making that move is usually something home buyers are doing by choice, that doesn’t make the actual process of moving any less stressful or costly.


Once they’ve completed and filed their 2016 tax return, most Canadians give a sigh of relief that the dreaded annual chore is done, and that income taxes will be out of sight and out of mind until the next filing deadline rolls around.

If all goes as planned, that is how events will unfold. In the best case scenario, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will issue a Notice of Assessment which indicates that the Agency agrees with the taxpayer’s summary of his or her income, deductions, credits, and taxes payable for the past year, and that it has no further questions or concerns. And, for the vast majority of Canadians, that is exactly how things will unfold. For many others, however, there will be a few more questions to be answered or steps to be taken before the tax filing and assessment process for the year is finally completed.


Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues.


Older taxpayers who have recently completed and filed their tax returns for 2016 may face an unpleasant surprise when that return is assessed. The unpleasant surprise may come in the form of a notification that they are subject to the Old Age Security “recovery tax” – known much more familiarly to Canadians as the OAS clawback.


As just about everyone knows, individual income tax returns for the 2016 tax year must be filed, by most Canadians, and any tax balance owed must be paid by all individual Canadians, on or before May 1, 2017. And, most Canadians do file that return, and pay any tax balance owed, on or before the deadline. As of April 24, 2017, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) had received just over 18 million individual income tax returns for the 2016 tax year. There are, however, a significant minority of Canadians who don’t file a return, or pay taxes owed (or both) by the annual deadline. The reasons for that are as varied as the individuals involved. In some cases, taxpayers are unable to pay a tax balance owing by the deadline and they think (wrongly) that there’s no point to filing a return where taxes owed can’t be paid. They may even think that they can fly “under the radar” and escape at least the immediate notice of the tax authorities by not filing the return. In other cases, it is just procrastination – virtually no one actually likes completing their tax return, especially where there’s the possibility of a tax bill to be paid once that return is done.


The Canadian tax system is in a constant state of change and evolution, as new measures are introduced and existing ones are “tweaked” through a never-ending series of budgetary and other announcements. However, even by normal standards, 2017 is a year in which there are larger than usual number of tax changes affecting individual taxpayers. And, unfortunately, most of those changes involve the repeal of existing tax credits which are claimed by millions of Canadian taxpayers.


For the majority of Canadians, the due date for filing of an individual tax return for the 2016 tax year is May 1, 2017. (Self-employed Canadians and their spouses have until June 15, 2017 to get that return filed.) In the best of all possible worlds, the taxpayer, or his or her representative, will have prepared a return that is complete and correct, and filed it on time, and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will issue a Notice of Assessment indicating that the return is “assessed as filed”, meaning that the CRA agrees with the information filed and tax result obtained by the taxpayer. While that’s the outcome everyone is hoping for, it’s a result which can be “short-circuited” in a number of ways.


Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues.


At the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), taxes are a year-round business. During the spring and early summer, the CRA is busy processing the millions of individual tax returns filed by Canadians for the previous tax year. The volume of returns filed and the Agency’s self-imposed processing turnaround goals mean that the CRA cannot possibly do an in-depth review of each return filed. Once the season of processing and assessing tax returns is for the most part complete, however, the CRA moves to the next phase of its activities – specifically, the start of its annual post-assessment tax return review process.


Having access to mobile communication is useful and practical for any number of reasons and Canadians who don’t have a cell or smart phone are likely now the exception rather than the rule. It’s also the case, however, that cell phone rates payable by Canadians are among the highest in the world, and so having an employer provide that cell phone (and pay the associated costs) is consequently a valued employment benefit. That said, Canadians who enjoy such an employment benefit should be aware that, while they may not have to pay a monthly cell phone bill, there still can be a cost in the form of a taxable benefit which must be reported on the annual return. 


When it comes to questions around personal finance, two issues tend to dominate current discussions. The first is whether and to what extent Canadians are financially prepared for retirement, and the second is the seemingly inexorable increase in the value of residential real estate. For many retired Canadians, those two issues are very much interlinked.


While our health care system is not without its problems, Canadians are fortunate to benefit from a publicly funded system in which individuals are not required to pay personally for the cost of necessary medical care. Generally speaking, acute care provided in a hospital setting is covered by that system, as is more routine care provided by physicians in their offices.

Canadians who, as the result of illness or accident, require care in our medical system are nonetheless often surprised to find that there is a long and ever-increasing list of expenses which are not covered by government-sponsored health care, or for which the individual is required to make at least a partial payment. In some cases, individuals will have private health care coverage to help offset those costs but for most, such costs must be paid on an out-of-pocket basis. For those who must bear such costs personally, some recovery of costs incurred is possible by claiming a medical expense tax credit on the annual return. The federal medical expense tax credit is equal to 15% of the cost of qualifying medical expenses claimed, and each of the provinces and territories also provide for a medical expense tax credit, at varying rates.


Each spring, Canadians are required to fulfill two tax obligations. The first is the requirement to file an individual income tax return providing details of income earned, deductions and credits claimed, and the amount of income tax payable for the previous calendar year. The second such obligation is to pay any amount of income tax owed for that year which is still outstanding. And although the Canadian tax system is for the most part a voluntary self-reporting and self-assessing one, most Canadians do comply with those two obligations in a timely way.


Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues.


Home renovations are big business right now in Canada, as many homeowners opt to make changes and/or additions to their current residences rather than try to find a new home in the current real estate market. And, while the cost of renovating one’s home is usually considered a personal expense which doesn’t qualify for any tax credit or deduction, starting this year there is an exception to that rule.


The fact that the cost of residential real estate in Canada’s largest cities has reached unaffordable levels for most Canadians, especially young families, isn’t really news any more. What’s relatively new, however, is that significant price increases are now being seen in cities which are within daily driving range of those major cities, presumably as individuals and families move further and further out in search of affordable housing. The trade-off for moving further from work in order to be able to purchase an affordable home is, of course, the daily commute. And, while gas prices aren’t currently at the levels seen a year or two ago, commuting is never inexpensive, leading many to wonder whether our tax system provides any relief for unavoidable commuting costs incurred.


For most of the year, taxpayers live quite happily without any contact with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). During and just following tax filing season, however, such contact is routine – tax returns must be filed, Notices of Assessment are received from the CRA and, on occasion, the CRA will contact a taxpayer seeking clarification of income amounts reported or documentation of  deductions or credits claimed on the annual return. Consequently, it wouldn’t necessarily strike taxpayers as unusual to be contacted by the CRA with a message that a tax amount is owed or, more happily, that the taxpayer is owed a refund by the Agency. Consequently, it’s the perfect time for scam artists posing as representatives of the CRA to seize the opportunity to defraud taxpayers.