Newsletters

Tax Alerts

Planning for – or even thinking about – 2018 taxes when it’s not even mid-December 2017 may seem more than a little premature. However, most Canadians will start paying their taxes for 2018 with the first paycheque they receive in January, and it’s worth taking a bit of time to make sure that things start off – and stay – on the right foot.


For most Canadians, registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) don’t become top of mind until near the end of February, as the annual contribution deadline approaches. When it comes to tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs), most Canadians are aware that there is no contribution deadline for such plans, so that contributions can be made at any time. Consequently, neither RRSPs nor TFSAs tend to be a priority when it comes to year-end tax planning.


As the 2017 calendar year winds down, the window of opportunity to take steps to reduce one’s tax bill for the 2017 tax year is closing. As a general rule, tax planning or tax saving strategies must be undertaken and completed by December 31st, in order to make a difference to one’s tax liability for 2017. (For individual taxpayers, the only significant exception to that rule is registered retirement savings plan contributions. Such contributions can be made any time up to and including March 1, 2018, and claimed on the return for 2017.)


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 state of the Canadian real estate market, and whether real estate values are headed up or down in 2018.  For many retired Canadians, those two issues are very much interlinked.


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


Just about any financial or investment transaction can now be carried out online, and many Canadians conduct most or all of their financial affairs in an online environment, whether through their financial institution’s web-based banking and investment services or by using mobile apps. The shift to managing one’s financial matters online has extended to dealing with income tax matters, and that’s a trend which has been both aided and encouraged by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).


As the days shorten and temperatures drop into the single digits, the thoughts of many Canadians turn to the idea of spending at least some part of the upcoming Canadian winter somewhere much warmer — most often, in one of the southern US states. And, while the less than robust state of the Canadian dollar relative to US currency has required Canadians to downsize some of those plans, it is still the case that thousands of Canadian “snowbirds” fly south during the worst of the Canadian winter.


The fiscal cycle of the federal government follows a predictable annual path. Each spring, the Minister of Finance brings down a budget outlining the government’s revenues and expenditures and its surplus or deficit projections for the fiscal year which runs from April 1 to March 31. That budget also includes the announcement of any changes to the tax system which the government wishes to implement.


The fact that Canadian households are carrying a significant amount of debt — in fact, debt loads which seem to continually set new records — isn’t really news anymore. For several years, both private sector financial advisers and federal government banking and finance officials have warned of the risks being taken by Canadians who took advantage of historically low interest rates by continuing to increase their secured and unsecured debt.


News about another successful cyberattack, on government or on a private company, in a single country or worldwide, is now almost routine. What such events usually have in common is a desire by the hackers who perpetrate the attacks to profit by it — either by demanding payment from the entity whose systems have been compromised, or by obtaining confidential personal information (especially identifying or financial information) about individuals, which the hackers can then use fraudulently or sell to others who wish to do so.


The end of summer means back to school for students of all ages. For parents of elementary and secondary school students the focus is on obtaining back to school clothes and supplies and starting the process of enrollment in after-school activities for the fall. For those already in (or starting) post-secondary education, choosing courses, finding a place to live and paying the initial bills for tuition and residence are more likely to be on the immediate agenda.


Although they aren’t usually thought of in such terms, Canadian charities, as measured by the amount of money they receive and administer, can be big businesses. However, because they collect and disperse that money in order to support and advance causes which create a public benefit, charities are accorded special status under our tax laws. Our tax system effectively subsidizes the activities of charitable organizations by providing a tax deduction or tax credit to companies and individuals that contribute to those organizations and by exempting the charities themselves from the payment of income tax.


Most Canadians approaching retirement know that they will be able to receive retirement income from the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security programs. Many, however, are unaware that there is a third federal program — the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) — which provides an additional monthly income amount to eligible individuals who already receive Old Age Security. That lack of knowledge is particularly unfortunate because, while there is no need for an individual to apply in order to receive an Old Age Security benefit, anyone who wishes to receive the GIS must apply to do so. (Automatic enrollment in GIS is something that is planned for future implementation, but is not yet in place.). Finally, while the OAS benefit is a standard amount for most recipients, the rules governing eligibility for GIS, and the amount which a particular individual will receive, are more complex.


The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) doesn’t publish information or statistics on the number of individual taxpayers who owe it money in the form of back taxes, interest, or penalties. Nonetheless, it’s a safe assumption that some percentage of the 28 million or so Canadians who filed a tax return this past spring either couldn’t pay their 2016 taxes when due or still owe money from past years, or both. Being unable to pay one’s bills on time and as due obviously isn’t desirable, no matter who the creditor is. There are, however, a number of reasons why owing money to the tax authorities is a particularly bad idea.


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


Sometime around the middle of August, millions of Canadians will receive unexpected mail from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and that mail will contain unfamiliar and unwelcome news. Specifically, the enclosed form will advise the recipient that, in the view of the CRA, he or she should make instalment payments of income tax on September 15 and December 15th of this year – and will helpfully identify the amounts which should be paid on each date.


The traditional idea of retirement – working full-time until age 65 and then leaving the workforce completely to live on government-sponsored and private sources of retirement income – has undergone a lot of changes over the past couple of decades, and Canada’s government-sponsored retirement income system has evolved in response. Generally, the changes to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) programs have increased the flexibility of those programs and, in particular, have given individuals a greater range of choices with respect to, especially, the timing of their receipt of CPP and OAS.


While Canadians typically think of taxes only in the spring when the annual return must be filed, taxes are a year-round business for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The CRA is busy processing and issuing Notices of Assessment for individual tax returns during the February to June filing season. To date, in 2017, the CRA has received and processed just under 28 million individual income tax returns. That volume of returns and the CRA’s self-imposed processing turnaround goals (two to six weeks, depending on the filing method) mean that the CRA cannot possibly do an in-depth review of each return filed prior to issuing the Notice of Assessment.


The Bank of Canada’s recent decision to raise interest rates generated a lot of media attention, for the most part because while the increase itself was only one quarter of a percentage point, it was the first move made by the Bank of Canada to increase rates in the past seven years. Much of the media coverage of the rate change centered around the effect that change might or might not have on the current real estate market. One of the issues under discussion was whether this or future increases in interest rates (and therefore mortgage rates) would act as a barrier to those seeking to get into the housing market. And a phrase that was prominent in that discussion — the mortgage financing “stress test” — is likely one that is unfamiliar to most Canadians, even those who are affected by it.


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.