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Tax Alerts

Virtually no one looks forward to dealing with the need to file a tax return each spring, and while some of that reluctance is undoubtedly due to the complexity of our tax system, there’s another factor at work.

Many (even most) taxpayers don’t know, until they have actually completed their return for the year, whether additional taxes will be owed. And, no matter what the taxpayer’s financial circumstances, finding out that money is owed to the tax authorities is bad news.


The reach of Canada’s system is broad – residents of Canada are taxed on their world-wide income, and the income or capital amounts that escape the Canadian tax net are few and far between.

One of the most significant of those exceptions, particularly for individual Canadian taxpayers, is the “principal residence exemption”. Plainly put, when a Canadian taxpayer sells his or her home, the proceeds of sale are not included in his or her income for the year (and therefore not taxed), no matter how much that home has appreciated in value since it was acquired. And, of course, given the real estate market conditions that have prevailed in recent years, especially in some urban centers, the difference between the original cost of the family home and its later sale price can be very substantial.


While everyone knows that the best results are obtained when tax and financial planning take place on an ongoing basis, the reality is that most Canadians focus on their tax situation only once a year, at tax filing time. And the harsher reality is that, by then, the opportunity to take steps which will make a significant difference in one’s tax liability for 2017 is lost.


The rules surrounding income tax are complicated and it can seem that for every rule there is an equal number of exceptions or qualifications. There is, however, one rule which applies to every individual taxpayer in Canada, regardless of location, income, or circumstances. That rule is that income tax owed for a year must be paid, in full, on or before April 30 of the following year. This year, that means that individual income taxes owed for 2017 must be remitted to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on or before Monday, April 30, 2018. No exceptions and, absent extraordinary circumstances, no extensions.


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


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


The baby boom generation, which is now in or near retirement, has always been able to factor receiving Old Age Security benefits, once they turn 65, into their retirement income plans. While receipt of such benefits can be still be assumed by the vast majority of Canadian retirees, the age at which such income will commence is no longer a fixed number. Rather, retirees are now faced with a choice about when they want those benefits to start. For the past four years, Canadians have had the option of deferring receipt of their Old Age Security benefits, for months or for years past the age of 65, and that election to defer continues to be available. The difficulty that can arise is how to determine, on an individual basis, whether it makes sense to defer receipt of OAS benefits and, if so, for how long. It’s a consequential choice and decision, since any election made to defer is irrevocable.


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.


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.


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.


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.


The Canadian income tax system, as it applies to individuals, operates on a calendar year basis. While there are a few exceptions (RRSP contributions and pension income splitting being the important ones), the general rule is that, in order to be effective for a particular taxation year, tax planning strategies must be implemented before the end of that year.


Old Age Security (or OAS) is one the two main components of Canada’s government-sponsored retirement income system—the other being the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). There are also federal and provincial supplements which are available to lower-income seniors. While many retired Canadians receive both OAS and CPP benefits every month, the two plans are quite different. The only determinants of the amount of Canada Pension Plan benefits receivable are one’s contribution amount and the age at which one elects to begin receiving benefits; other sources of available income or one’s overall income level are not considered. Eligibility for OAS, on the other hand, is based on Canadian residency. Essentially, a person aged 65 and older who has lived in Canada for at least forty years after the age of 18 is eligible for full OAS benefits. Where the length of Canadian residency after age 18 is less than forty years, a partial pension is earned at the rate of 1/40th of the full monthly pension for each full year lived in Canada. OAS benefits are fully indexed to inflation.


Most Canadians are aware that the deadline for contributing to one’s registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) is 60 days after the calendar year end. Many also know that contributions to a tax-free savings account (TFSA) can be made at any time during the year. Consequently, when Canadians start thinking about year-end tax planning or saving strategies, RRSPs and TFSAs aren’t often top-of-mind. The fact is, however, that there are some situations in which planning strategies involving TFSAs and RRSPs have to be put in place by the end of the calendar year; some of those are outlined below.