March 5

March Newsletter

Deciding when to start receiving Old Age Security benefits

The Old Age Security program is the only aspect of Canada’s retirement income system which does not require a direct contribution from recipients of program benefits. Rather, the OAS program is funded through general tax revenues, and eligibility to receive OAS is based solely on Canadian residency. Anyone who is 65 years of age or older and has lived in Canada for at least 40 years after the age of 18 is eligible to receive the maximum benefit. For the first quarter of 2019 (January to March 2019), that maximum monthly benefit is $601.45.

For many years, OAS was automatically paid to eligible recipients once they reached the age of 65. However, since July 2013 Canadians who are eligible to receive OAS benefits have been able to defer receipt of those benefits for up to five years, when they turn 70 years of age. For each month that an individual Canadian defers receipt of those benefits, the amount of benefit eventually received would increase by 0.6%. The longer the period of deferral, the greater the amount of monthly benefit eventually received. Where receipt of OAS benefits is deferred for a full 5 years, until age 70, the monthly benefit received is increased by 36%.

It can, however, be difficult to determine, on an individual basis, whether and to what extent it would make sense to defer receipt of OAS benefits. Some of the difficulty in deciding whether to defer, and for how long, lies in the fact there are no hard and fast rules, and the decision is very much an individual one. Fortunately, however, there are a number of factors which each individual can consider when making that decision.

The first such factor is how much total income will be required, at the age of 65, to finance current needs. It is also necessary to determine what other sources of income (employment income from full-time or part-time work, Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits, employer-sponsored pension plan benefits, annuity payments, and withdrawals from registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) and registered retirement income fund (RRIFs)) are available to meet those needs, both currently and in the future, and when receipt of those income amounts can or will commence or cease. Once income needs and the sources and possible timing of each is clear, it is necessary to consider the income tax implications of the structuring and timing of those sources of income. The ultimate goal, as it is at any age, is to ensure sufficient income to finance a comfortable lifestyle while at the same time minimizing both the tax bite and the potential loss of tax credits.

In making those calculations, the following income tax thresholds and benefit cut-off figures are a starting point.

  • Income in the first federal tax bracket is taxed at 15%, while income in the second bracket is taxed at 20.5%. For 2019, that second income tax bracket begins when taxable income reaches $47,630.
  • The Canadian tax system provides (for 2019) a non-refundable tax credit of $7,494 for taxpayers who are over the age of 65 at the end of the tax year. That amount of that credit is reduced once the taxpayer’s net income for the year exceeds $37,790.
  • Individuals can receive a GST/HST refundable tax credit, which is paid quarterly. For 2019, the full credit is payable to individual taxpayers whose family net income is less than $37,789.
  • Taxpayers who receive Old Age Security benefits and have income over a specified amount are required to repay a portion of those benefits, through a mechanism known as the “OAS recovery tax”, or clawback. For the July 2019 to June 2020 benefit period, taxpayers whose income for 2018 was more than $75,910 will have a portion of their OAS benefit entitlement “clawed back”.

What other sources of income are currently available?

More and more, Canadians are not automatically leaving the work force at the age of 65. Those who continue to work at paid employment and whose employment income is sufficient to finance their chosen lifestyle may well prefer to defer receipt of OAS. Similarly, a taxpayer who begins receiving benefits from an employer’s pension plan when he or she turns 65, may be able to postpone receipt of OAS benefits.

Is the taxpayer eligible for Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits, and at what age will those benefits commence?

Nearly all Canadians who were employed or self-employed after the age of 18 paid into the Canada Pension Plan and are eligible to receive CPP retirement benefits. While such retirement benefits can be received as early as age 60, receipt can also be deferred and received any time up to the age of 70. As is the case with OAS benefits, CPP retirement benefits increase with each month that receipt of those benefits is deferred. Taxpayers who are eligible for both OAS and CPP will need to consider the impact of accelerating or deferring the receipt of each benefit in structuring retirement income.

Does the taxpayer have private retirement savings through an RRSP?

Taxpayers who were not members of an employer-sponsored pension plan during their working lives generally save for retirement through a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP). While taxpayers can choose to withdraw amounts from such plans at any age, they are required to collapse their RRSPs by the end of the year in which they turn 71, and to begin receiving income from those savings. There are a number of options available for structuring that income, and, whatever the option chosen (usually, converting the RRSP into a registered retirement income fund or RRIF, or purchasing an annuity) will mean that the taxpayer will begin receiving income amounts from those RRSP funds in the following year. Taxpayers who have significant retirement savings in RRSPs should, in determining when to begin receiving OAS benefits, consider that they will have an additional (taxable) income amount for each year after they turn 71.

The ability to defer receipt of OAS benefits does provide Canadians with more flexibility when it comes to structuring retirement income. The price of that flexibility is increased complexity, particularly where, as is the case for most retirees, multiple sources of income and the timing of each of those income sources must be considered, and none can be considered in isolation from the others.

Individuals who are facing that decision-making process will find some assistance on the Service Canada website. That website provides a Retirement Income Calculator, which, based on information input by the user, will calculate the amount of OAS which would be payable at different ages. The calculator will also determine, based on current RRSP savings, the monthly income amount which those RRSP funds will provide during retirement. To use the calculator, it is necessary to know the amount of Canada Pension Plan benefit which will be received, and the taxpayer can obtain that information by calling Service Canada at 1-800 277-9914.

The Retirement Income Calculator can be found at

When and how to file this year’s tax return

Each year, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) publishes a statistical summary of the tax filing patterns of Canadians during the previous filing season. Those statistics for the 2018 show that the vast majority of Canadian individual income tax returns — nearly 87%, or almost 26 million returns — were filed online, using one or the other of the CRA’s web-based filing methods. The remaining 13% of returns were, for the most part, paper-filed, and a very small percentage (0.1%) were filed using the File My Return service, in which returns are filed by telephone.

Each year, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) publishes a statistical summary of the tax filing patterns of Canadians during the previous filing season. Those statistics for the 2018 show that the vast majority of Canadian individual income tax returns — nearly 87%, or almost 26 million returns — were filed online, using one or the other of the CRA’s web-based filing methods. The remaining 13% of returns were, for the most part, paper-filed, and a very small percentage (0.1%) were filed using the File My Return service, in which returns are filed by telephone.

Clearly, electronic filing is the overwhelming choice of Canadian taxpayers, and those who choose electronic filing this year have two choices — NETFILE and E-FILE. The first of those — NETFILE, which was used last year by just under 30% of tax filers) — involves preparing one’s return using software approved by the CRA and filing that return on the Agency’s website, using the NETFILE service. E-FILE involves having a third party file one’s return online. Almost always, the E-FILE service provider also prepares the return which they are filing. And, it seems that most Canadians want to have little to do with the preparation of their own returns, as last year 57.3% of all the individual income tax returns filed came in by E-FILE.

The majority of Canadians who would rather have someone else deal with the intricacies of the Canadian tax system on their behalf can find information about E-FILE on the CRA website at That site will also provide a listing (searchable by postal code) of authorized E-FILE service providers across Canada, and that listing can be found at

Those who are able and willing to prepare their own tax returns and file online can use the CRA’s NETFILE service, and information on that service can be found at While there are some kinds of returns which cannot be NETFILED (for instance, a return for a non-resident of Canada, or for someone who declared bankruptcy in 2018 or 2019), the vast majority of Canadians who wish to do so will be able to NETFILE their return. As well, while it was once necessary to obtain an access code in order to NETFILE, that’s no longer the case. The CRA’s NETFILE security procedures can be satisfied by providing specific personal identifying information, including one’s social insurance number and date of birth.

A return can be filed using NETFILE only where it is prepared using tax return preparation software which has been approved by the CRA. While such software can be found for sale just about everywhere at this time of year, approved software which can be used free of charge is also available. A listing of free and commercial software approved for use in preparing individual returns for 2018 can be found on the CRA website at

Copies of the 2018 tax return and guide package can also be ordered online, at, to be sent to the taxpayer by regular mail. Taxpayers can also download and print hard copy of the return and guide from the CRA website at Finally, the CRA has made a “limited” number of tax packages available at Service Canada offices and post offices across the country.

Last year the CRA reinstated (for some taxpayers) a tax return filing option that was previously discontinued. For several years, taxpayers with simple returns had the option of filing their returns using a touch-tone telephone. That option, now called  File my Return service (FMR) will be available to eligible Canadians with low or fixed incomes whose situations remain unchanged from year to year, even if they have no income to report, so that they receive the benefits and credits to which they are entitled. The FMR option is, however, available only to taxpayers who are advised by the CRA of their eligibility, and those individuals will have been notified by letter during the month of February.

Finally, taxpayers who are not comfortable preparing their own returns, but for whom the cost of engaging a third party to do so is a financial hardship, have another option. During tax filing season, there are a number of Community Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinics where taxpayers can have their returns prepared free of charge by volunteers. A listing of such clinics (which is regularly updated during tax filing season) can be found on the CRA website at

While there are a number of filing options available to Canadian taxpayers, there’s no element of choice when it comes to the filing and payment deadlines for 2018 tax returns. All individual Canadians must pay the balance of any taxes owed for 2018 on or before Tuesday April 30, 2018, with no exceptions and, absent very unusual circumstances, no extensions.

For the majority of Canadians, the tax return for 2018 must also be filed on or before Tuesday April 30, 2019. Self-employed taxpayers and their spouses have until Monday June 17, 2018 to file their returns for 2018 (but they too must pay any 2018 taxes owing on or before April 30, 2019).

It’s tax filing – and tax scam – season

For many years now, there has been a persistent tax scam operating in Canada in which Canadians are contacted, usually by phone, by someone who falsely identifies himself or herself as being a representative of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The taxpayer is told that money — sometimes a substantial amount of money — is owed to the government. The identifier for this particular scam is that the caller insists that the money owed must be paid immediately (usually by wire transfer or pre-paid credit card) and, if payment is not made right away, significant negative consequences will follow, including immediate arrest or seizure of assets, confiscation of the taxpayer’s Canadian passport, or deportation.

For many years now, there has been a persistent tax scam operating in Canada in which Canadians are contacted, usually by phone, by someone who falsely identifies himself or herself as being a representative of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The taxpayer is told that money — sometimes a substantial amount of money — is owed to the government. The identifier for this particular scam is that the caller insists that the money owed must be paid immediately (usually by wire transfer or pre-paid credit card) and, if payment is not made right away, significant negative consequences will follow, including immediate arrest or seizure of assets, confiscation of the taxpayer’s Canadian passport, or deportation.

Of course, none of those consequences are remotely possible, even in circumstances where a legitimate tax debt is owed. However, the individuals or groups perpetrating this scam have, over the years, become both increasingly sophisticated — to the point of having a call display which shows the call as coming from the CRA — and increasingly successful, and many Canadians have suffered significant financial losses as a result.

To combat this, the CRA and other authorities have provided many warnings to taxpayers on how to avoid getting cheated, such that by now almost everyone has heard of this particular tax scam. However, there has also been an unintended result, as outlined by the CRA on its website:

Scammers posing as Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) employees continue to contact Canadians, misleading them into paying false debt. These persistent scammers have created fear among people who now automatically assume that any communication from someone representing the CRA is not genuine.”

As we move into tax filing season, it is more likely that the CRA will be in touch with taxpayers for legitimate reasons. This poses two potential problems. First, there is likely to be an increase in the activity of tax scammers, who are relying on the fact that taxpayers are more likely to expect contact from the CRA during tax filing season. Second, the tax administration process can’t function efficiently if taxpayers don’t respond to legitimate communications from the CRA out of fear that such communications are just in furtherance of another tax scam.

To address this problem, the CRA has provided comprehensive information on the methods by which it does and does not contact taxpayers, and what it will and will not ask for in communications with taxpayers. That information, which is posted on the CRA website, is as follows.


The CRA may

  • verify your identity by asking for personal information such as your full name, date of birth, address, account number, or social insurance number
  • ask for details about your account, in the case of a business enquiry
  • call you to begin an audit process

The CRA will never

  • ask for information about your passport, health card, or driver’s license
  • demand immediate payment by Interac e-transfer, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards, or gift cards from retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, or others
  • use aggressive language or threaten you with arrest or sending the police
  • leave voicemails that are threatening or give personal or financial information


The CRA may

  • notify you by email when a new message or a document, such as a notice of assessment or reassessment, is available for you to view in secure CRA portals such as My Account, My Business Account, or Represent a Client
  • email you a link to a CRA webpage, form, or publication that you ask for during a telephone call or a meeting with an agent (this is the only case where the CRA will send an email containing links)

The CRA will never

  • give or ask for personal or financial information by email and ask you to click on a link
  • email you a link asking you to fill in an online form with personal or financial details
  • send you an email with a link to your refund
  • demand immediate payment by Interac e-transfer, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards, or gift cards from retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, or others
  • threaten you with arrest or a prison sentence


The CRA may

  • ask for financial information such as the name of your bank and its location
  • send you a notice of assessment or reassessment
  • ask you to pay an amount you owe through any of the CRA’s payment options
  • take legal action to recover the money you owe, if you refuse to pay your debt
  • write to you to begin an audit process

The CRA will never

  • set up a meeting with you in a public place to take a payment
  • demand immediate payment by Interac e-transfer, bitcoin, prepaid credit cards, or gift cards from retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, or others
  • threaten you with arrest or a prison sentence

Text messages/instant messaging

The CRA never uses text messages or instant messaging such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp to communicate with taxpayers under any circumstance. If a taxpayer receives text or instant messages claiming to be from the CRA, they are scams!

Fraud isn’t new, and it isn’t going away any time soon. However, the speed and anonymity of electronic communication and the extent to which most people are now comfortable transacting their tax and financial affairs online or over the phone makes it easier in many ways for fraud artists to succeed. The best defence against becoming a victim of such scams is a healthy degree of caution, even skepticism, and a refusal to provide any personal or financial information, whether by phone, e-mail, text, or online, without first verifying the legitimacy of the request. The CRA suggests that anyone who is contacted by phone by someone claiming to be a CRA employee take the following steps:

  • Ask for or make a note of the caller’s name, phone number, and office location and tell them that you want to first verify their identity.
  • Check that the employee calling you about your taxes works for the CRA or that the CRA did contact you by calling 1-800-959-8281 for individuals or 1-800-959-5525 for businesses. If the call you received was about a government program such as Student Loans or Employment Insurance, call 1-866-864-5823.

What’s new on this year’s tax return?

While Canadian taxpayers must prepare and file the same form – the T1 Income Tax and Benefit Return – every spring, that return form is never the same from one year to the next. The one constant in tax is change, and every year taxpayers sit down to face a different tax return form than they dealt with the previous year.

While Canadian taxpayers must prepare and file the same form – the T1 Income Tax and Benefit Return – every spring, that return form is never the same from one year to the next. The one constant in tax is change, and every year taxpayers sit down to face a different tax return form than they dealt with the previous year.

First, there are “automatic” changes to the tax rules which are reflected on the return every year. The basic personal credits which can be claimed by most taxpayers increase every year, as do the income brackets which determine the tax rate which applies at each level of income, as both are changed to reflect the rate of inflation.

Changes in tax credit amounts or tax bracket figures are largely invisible to the average taxpayer, as they don’t require any change to the layout or organization of the tax return form, or the process of completing it. The more significant changes are those which provide new credits or deductions to qualifying taxpayers or, conversely, eliminate such credits or deductions which taxpayers might have claimed in previous years. What follows is a listing of such changes which taxpayers will find when completing their return for the 2018 tax year.

Climate Action Incentive

Perhaps the best news in the 2018 tax return, for taxpayers who are residents of Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, or New Brunswick, is the new Climate Action Incentive (CAI) – a refundable tax credit intended to help mitigate the impact of carbon taxes. The Incentive is extremely broad-based; it is, with few exceptions, claimable by any resident of one of those provinces who is 18 years of age or older, has a spouse or common law partner, or is a parent who lives with his or her child.

The CAI rates vary by province, with the basic incentive ranging from $128 in New Brunswick to $305 in Saskatchewan. An individual who has a spouse or common law partner, or a dependent, can claim an amount in respect of each, and a separate amount is claimable by a single parent in respect of each qualified dependent. As with the basic amount, the amounts claimable for spouses or common law partners and for qualified dependents will vary by province.

The amount of the CAI is increased for individuals who live in rural areas, where the impact of a carbon tax is likely to be greater. Such individuals can increase their basic CAI claim (as outlined above) by 10% to arrive at the total amount claimable. The definition of what constitutes “rural area” for purposes of the CAI has been defined by the tax authorities and a listing of locations in each province which do not qualify as a rural area can be found on the CRA website at

Finally, the CAI is a refundable credit, meaning that it is paid to the taxpayer even where no tax is payable for the year and, finally, there are no income restrictions when it comes to eligibility – all qualifying taxpayers receive the amounts outlined above, regardless of their income for the year.

Medical expense tax credit

The list of medical and para-medical expenses for which the medical expense tax credit can be claimed is long and detailed and subject to continual revision. This year, that list has been expanded to include a variety of expenses relating to service animals specially trained to perform specific tasks for a patient with a severe mental impairment.

Unfortunately, the two changes listed above are the only ones which are likely to put money in the taxpayer’s pocket this year. The other major changes which are effective for 2018 cancel existing credits or deductions which were formerly available.

First-time donor super-credit expires

In 2013, the federal government introduced a so-called “first time donor super credit”, which allowed individuals who had not claimed a charitable donation tax credit for a specified period to claim an enhanced credit for donations made in 2013 and the subsequent four years. The first-time super donor tax credit expired at the end of 2017 and consequently no such claim can be made on the 2018 return.

Employee home relocation loan deduction eliminated

Under general tax rules, employees who receive a loan from their employer are considered to have received a taxable benefit. Prior to 2018, preferential tax treatment in the form of a deduction was provided for employees who were required to relocate for work purposes and who received a loan from their employer to assist with related expenses. However, the employee home relocation loan deduction was eliminated as of January 1, 2018.

Changes to the Return, Schedules, and Guide

It’s not news to anyone that our tax system is complex, and that complexity is reflected in the annual tax return form, and in the guide which is intended to provide assistance to taxpayers in completing that return. The income tax return is composed of a four-page return form (the T1) and a number of schedules. Each of those schedules is used to calculate a particular amount – usually a tax credit or tax deduction amount, which is then transferred to a particular line on the return form. Anyone who has ever prepared a tax return is familiar with the sometimes frustrating process of moving back and forth from the return to the schedules to the guide (and back again!), searching for the information needed to figure out just how to complete a particular line or lines of the return.

This year, the Canada Revenue Agency has made some changes in the return, the schedules, and the guide, which are intended to streamline and simplify that process. Specifically, instructions and information which are needed to complete a particular schedule have been moved from the guide and included on that schedule. As well, there are a number of schedules for which it is necessary to first complete some calculations on a worksheet. This year, such calculations, instead of being included in the guide, are incorporated with the worksheet for the particular schedule. Overall, the changes seek to gather in one place all of the information, instructions, and calculations needed to complete a particular schedule, hopefully reducing or eliminating the frustrating need to search through the entire guide for the needed information.

February 28

February 2019 Newsletter

New Quarterly Newsletters

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. They can be accessed below.


Issue #47 Corporate


Issue #47 Personal

More debt … and more interest

The fact that debt levels of Canadian households have been increasing over the past decade and a half can’t really be called news anymore. In particular, the ratio of debt-to-household-income, which stood at 93% in 2005, has risen steadily since then and, as of the third quarter of 2018, reached (another) new record of 177.5%. In other words, the average Canadian household owed $1.78 for every dollar of disposable (after-tax) income. (The Statistics Canada publication reporting those findings can be found on the StatsCan website at

Repeated announcements of yet another increase in the average debt-to-household income ratio have become almost routine over the past 15 years — the latest statistics are reported in the media and concern is expressed by financial planners and, sometimes, government and banking officials, but there has not been any sustained change in consumer behavior. Starting a year and a half ago, however, something did change. Debt didn’t just get bigger, it got more expensive — five successive times. In June of 2016 the Bank Rate set by the Bank of Canada, on which financial institutions base their lending rates, was 0.75%, and had not changed in the previous two years. Starting in July 2016, that rate was increased in five separate announcements over the next 18 months and, as of January 2019, it stands at 2%.

Like most economic events, the explosive growth in the average debt of Canadian households over the past fifteen years can’t be attributed to a single cause. What’s undeniable however, is that two of the major causes of that growth in debt were first, interest rates which were the lowest on record since before the Great Depression and second, a remarkable run-up in Canadian residential real estate values. Money was cheap and, when debt was secured against home equity, it was frequently incurred in the belief that the increased amount of such debt would soon be covered, or outstripped, by an increase in the value of the underlying real estate. And, since interest rates were so low, the cost of carrying that increased debt was very manageable.

To some extent, both those circumstances have changed. Canadian real estate values are still high by historic standards and, while those values have softened in some areas of the country, there has been nothing like the “crash” in such real estate prices which happened in the late 1980s. However, the era of ultra-cheap money seems to be over, and interest rates are clearly on the increase. While it’s impossible to say how high interest rates will go, and how quickly, it’s prudent to assume at least that rates won’t be going down any time soon.

As the Bank of Canada has announced successive increases in the bank rate, financial institutions have inevitably responded by increasing the interest rates charged on all forms of borrowing. In other words, even if the amount of debt carried by Canadian families hasn’t changed in the last 18 months, the cost of carrying that debt has certainly gone up. The effect of such change is measurable: as noted by the credit reporting agency Equifax, the proportion of Canadians who pay off their credit cards in full each month has declined (as measured on a year-over-year basis) each month since August 2017.

There is no instant fix for anyone who has taken on debt and is now finding that repaying (or even servicing) that debt has become more difficult, or even impossible. There are, however, steps which can be taken to get that debt under control and even, eventually, to be become debt-free. And, there is help available through debt and credit counselling provided by any number of non-profit agencies. Those agencies work with individuals, and with their creditor(s), to create both a realistic budget and a manageable debt repayment schedule. More information on the credit counselling process, and a listing of such non-profit agencies can be found at


Responding to a tax instalment reminder from the CRA

Sometime during the month of February, millions of Canadians will receive mail from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). That mail, a “Tax Instalment Reminder”, will set out the amount of instalment payments of income tax to be paid by the recipient taxpayer by March 15 and June 17 of this year.

Receiving an “Instalment Reminder” from the CRA won’t be a surprise for many recipients who have paid tax by instalments during previous tax years. For others, however, the need to make tax payments by instalment is a new and unfamiliar concept. That’s because for most Canadians — certainly most Canadians who earn their income through employment — the payment of income tax throughout the year is an automatic and largely invisible process, requiring no particular action on the part of the employee/taxpayer. Federal and provincial income taxes, along with Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions and Employment Insurance (EI) premiums, are deducted from each employee’s income and the amount deposited to an employee’s bank account is the net amount remaining after such taxes, contributions and premiums are deducted and remitted on the employee’s behalf to the CRA. While no one likes having to pay taxes, having those taxes paid “off the top” in such an automatic way is, relatively speaking, painless. Such is not, however, the case for the sizeable minority of Canadians who pay their income taxes by way of tax instalments

The CRA’s decision to send an Instalment Reminder to certain taxpayers isn’t an arbitrary one. Rather, an Instalment Reminder is generated when sufficient income tax has not been deducted from payments made to that taxpayer throughout the year. Put more technically, an instalment reminder will be issued by the CRA where the amount of tax which was or will be owed when filing the annual tax return is more than $3,000 in the current (2019) tax year and either of the two previous (2017 or 2018) tax years. Essentially, the requirement to pay by instalments will be triggered where the amount of tax withheld from the taxpayer’s income throughout the year is at least $3,000 less than their total tax owed for 2019 and either 2017 or 2018. For residents of Quebec, that threshold amount is $1,800.

Such obligation arises on a regular basis for those who are self-employed, or course, and generally for those whose income is largely derived from investments. The group of recipients of a tax instalment reminder often also includes retired Canadians, especially the newly retired, for two reasons. First, while most employees have income from only a single source – their paycheque – retirees often have multiple sources of income, including Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) payments, private retirement savings and, sometimes, employer-provided pensions. And, while income tax is deducted automatically from one’s paycheque, that’s not the case for most sources of retirement income. Relatively few new retirees realize that it’s necessary to make arrangements to have tax deducted “at source” from either their government source income (like CPP or OAS payments) or private retirement income like pensions or registered retirement income fund withdrawals, and to make sure that the total amount of those deductions is sufficient to pay the total tax bill for the year. It is that group of individuals, who may be surprised and puzzled by the arrival of an unfamiliar “Instalment Reminder” from the CRA. However, no matter what kind of income a taxpayer has received, or why sufficient tax has not been deducted at source, the options open to a taxpayer who receives such an Instalment Reminder are the same.

First, the taxpayer can pay the amounts specified on the Reminder, by the March and June payment due dates. Choosing this option will mean that the taxpayer will not face any interest or penalty charges, even if the amount paid by instalments throughout the year turns out to be less than the taxes actually payable for 2019. If the total of instalment payments made during 2019 turn out to more than the taxpayer’s total tax liability for the year, he or she will of course receive a refund when the annual tax return is filed in the spring of 2020.

Second, the taxpayer can make instalment payments based on the amount of tax which was owed for the 2018 tax year. Where a taxpayer’s income has not changed significantly between 2018 and 2019 and his or her available deductions and credits remain the same, the likelihood is that total tax liability for 2019 will be slightly less than it was in 2018, as the result of the indexation of both income tax brackets and tax credit amounts.

Third, the taxpayer can estimate the amount of tax which he or she will owe for 2019 and can pay instalments based on that estimate. Where a taxpayer’s income will decrease significantly from 2018 to 2019, such that his or her tax bill will also be substantially reduced, this option can make the most sense.

A taxpayer who elects to follow the second or third options outlined above will not face any interest or penalty charges if there is no tax payable when the return for the 2019 tax year is filed in the spring of 2020. However, should instalments paid have been late or insufficient, the CRA will impose interest charges, at rates which are higher than current commercial rates. (The rate charged for the first quarter of 2019 — until March 31, 2019 — is 6%.) As well, where interest charges are levied, such interest is compounded daily, meaning that on each successive day, interest is levied on the previous day’s interest. It’s also possible for the CRA to levy penalties for overdue or insufficient instalments, but that is done only where the amount of instalment interest charged for the year is more than $1,000.

Most Canadian taxpayers are understandably disinclined to pay their taxes any sooner than absolutely necessary. However, ignoring an Instalment Reminder is never in the taxpayer’s best interests. Those who don’t wish to involve themselves in the intricacies of tax calculations can simply pay the amounts specified in the Reminder. The more technical-minded (or those who want to ensure that they are paying no more than absolutely required, and are willing to take the risk of having to pay interest on any shortfall) can avail themselves of the second or third options outlined above.

RRSPs and TFSAs — making the annual contribution

For most taxpayers, the annual deadline for making an RRSP contribution comes at a very inconvenient time. At the end of February, many Canadians are still trying to pay off the bills from holiday spending, the first income tax instalment payment is due two weeks later on March 15 and the need to pay any tax balance for the year just ended comes just 6 weeks after that, on April 30. And, while the best advice on how to avoid such a cash flow crunch is to make RRSP contributions on a regular basis throughout the year, that’s more of a goal than a reality for the majority of Canadians.

Whether convenient or not, the deadline for making RRSP contributions which can be claimed on the return for 2018 is Friday March 1, 2019. The maximum allowable current year contribution which can be made by any individual taxpayer for 2018 is 18% of that taxpayer’s earned income for the 2017 year, to a statutory maximum of $26,230.

Those are the basic rules governing RRSP contributions for the 2018 tax year. For most Canadians, however, those rules are just the starting point of the calculation, as millions of Canadian taxpayers have what is termed “additional contribution room” carried forward from previous taxation years. That additional contribution room arises because the taxpayer either did not make an RRSP contribution in each previous year, or made one which was less than his or her maximum allowable contribution for the year. For many taxpayers that additional contribution room can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, and the taxpayer is entitled to use as much or as little of that additional contribution room as he or she wishes for the current tax year.

It’s apparent from the forgoing that determining one’s maximum allowable contribution for 2018 will take a bit of research. The first step in determining one’s total (current year and carryforward) contribution room for 2018 is to consult the last Notice of Assessment which was received from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Every taxpayer who filed a return for the 2017 taxation year will have received a Notice of Assessment from the CRA, and the amount of that taxpayer’s allowable RRSP contribution room for 2018 will be summarized on page 2 of that notice. Taxpayers who have discarded (or can’t find) their Notice of Assessment can obtain the same information by calling the CRA’s Telephone Information Phone Service (TIPS) line at 1-800-267-6999. An automated service at that line will provide the required information, once the taxpayer has provided his or her social insurance number, month, and year of birth and the amount of income from his or her 2017 tax return. Those who don’t wish to use an automated service can call the CRA’s Individual Income Tax Enquiries Line at 1-800-959 8281, and speak to a client services agent, who will also request such identifying information before providing any taxpayer-specific data. Finally, for those who have registered for the CRA’s My Account service, the needed information will be available online.

One question that doesn’t often get asked by taxpayers is whether it actually makes sense to make an RRSP contribution. The wisdom of making annual contributions to one’s RRSP has become an almost unquestioned tenet of tax and retirement planning, but there are situations in which other savings vehicles — particularly the Tax-Free Savings Account, or TFSA — may be the better short-term or long-term option or even, in some cases, the only one available.

When it comes to making a contribution to one’s TFSA, the good news is the timelines and deadlines are much more flexible than those which govern RRSP contributions. A contribution to one’s TFSA can be made at any time of the year, and contributions not made during the current year can be carried forward and made in any subsequent year.

On the other hand, determining one’s total TFSA contribution room is significantly more complex than figuring out one’s allowable RRSP contribution amount, for two reasons. First, the maximum TFSA amount has changed several times (increasing and decreasing) since the program was introduced in 2009. Second, and more important, individuals who withdraw funds from a TFSA can re-contribute those funds, but not until the year following the one in which the withdrawal is made. Especially where a taxpayer has several TFSA accounts, and/or a history of making contributions, withdrawals and re-contributions, it can be difficult to determine just where that taxpayer stands with respect to his or her maximum allowable TFSA contribution for 2019.

In this case, there’s no help to be had from a Notice of Assessment, as the CRA no longer provides TFSA contribution information on that form. Information on one’s current year TFSA contribution limit can, however, be obtained from the CRA website, from the TIPS line at 1-800-267-6999 or its Individual Income Tax Enquiries line at 1-800-959-8281, as outlined above. It should be noted, however, that information on one’s 2019 TFSA contribution limit won’t be available through the TIPS line until mid-February 2019.

Determining which savings vehicle is the better option for a particular taxpayer will depend, for the most part, on the taxpayer’s current and future tax situation, the purpose for which the funds are being saved, and the taxpayer’s particular sources of retirement income.

Taxpayers who are saving toward a shorter-term goal, like next year’s vacation or even a down payment on a home should direct those savings into a TFSA. While choosing to save through an RRSP will provide a tax deduction on that year’s return and, possibly, a tax refund, tax will still have to be paid when the funds are withdrawn from the RRSP in a year or two. And, more significantly from a long-term point of view, repeatedly using an RRSP as a short-term savings vehicle will eventually erode one’s ability to save for retirement, as RRSP contributions which are withdrawn cannot be replaced. While the amounts involved may seem small, the loss of contribution room and the compounding of invested amounts over 25 or 30 years or more can make a significant dent in one’s ability to save for retirement.

Taxpayers who are expecting their income to rise significantly within a few years (e.g., students in post-secondary or professional education or training programs) can save some tax by contributing to a TFSA while they are in school and their income (and therefore their tax rate) is low, allowing the funds to compound on a tax-free basis, and then withdrawing the funds tax-free once they’re working, when their tax rate will be higher. At that time, the withdrawn funds can be used to make an RRSP contribution, which will be deducted from income which would be taxed at that higher tax rate. And, if a need for funds should arise in the meantime, a tax-free TFSA withdrawal can always be made.

Taxpayers who are currently in the work force and who are members of a registered pension plan (RPP) may find that saving through a TFSA is their only practical option. As outlined above, the starting point for calculating one’s current year contribution limit maximum amount which can be contributed to an RRSP and deducted on the tax return for 2018 is calculated as 18% of earned income for 2017. However, the maximum allowable contribution is reduced, for members of RPPs, by the amount of benefits accrued during the year under that pension plan. Where the RPP is a particularly generous one, RRSP contribution room may, as a result, be minimal, and a TFSA contribution the logical savings alternative.

Canadians aged 71 and older will find the RRSP vs. TFSA question irrelevant, as the last date on which taxpayers can make RRSP contributions is December 31st of the year in which they turn 71. Many of those taxpayers will, however, have converted their RRSP savings to a registered retirement income fund (RRIF) and anyone who has done so is required to withdraw (and be taxed on) a specified percentage of those RRIF funds every year. Particularly where required RRIF withdrawals exceed the RRIF holder’s current cash flow needs, that income can be contributed to a TFSA. Although the RRIF withdrawals made must still be included in income for the year and taxed as such, transferring the funds to a TFSA will allow them to continue compounding free of tax and no additional tax will be payable when and if the funds are withdrawn. And, unlike RRIF or RRSP withdrawals, monies withdrawn in the future from a TFSA will not affect the planholder’s eligibility for Old Age Security benefits or for the federal age credit.

RRSPs and TFSAs are the most significant tax-free or tax-deferred savings vehicles available to Canadian taxpayers, and both have a place in most financial and retirement plans. To help taxpayers to make informed choices about their savings options, the CRA provides a number of dedicated webpages about both RRSPs and TFSAs, and those can be found on the CRA website at and and

Taking advantage of pension income splitting

Income tax is a big-ticket item for most retired Canadians. Especially for those who are no longer paying a mortgage, the annual tax bill may be the single biggest expenditure they are required to make each year. Fortunately, the Canadian tax system provides a number of tax deductions and credits available only to those over the age of 65 (like the age credit) or only to those receiving the kinds of income usually received by retirees (like the pension income credit), in order to help minimize that tax burden. And, in most cases, the availability of those credits is flagged, either on the income tax form which must be completed each spring or on the accompanying income tax guide.

There is, however, another income tax saving strategy which is not nearly as well-known. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the benefits of that strategy (and the ease with which it can be accomplished) aren’t readily apparent from either the tax return form or the annual income tax guide. That tax saving strategy is pension income splitting, and it’s likely the case that many taxpayers who could benefit aren’t familiar with the strategy, especially if they are not receiving professional tax planning or tax return preparation advice.

That’s a particularly unfortunate reality because pension income splitting has the potential to generate more tax savings among taxpayers over the age of 65 (and certainly those over the age of 71, for whom RRSP contributions are no longer possible) than just about any other tax planning strategy available to retirees. In addition, it’s one of the very few tax planning strategies which require no expenditure of funds on the part of the taxpayer, and which can be implemented after the end of the tax year, at the time the return for that tax year is filed.

When described in those terms, pension income splitting can sound like one of those “too good to be true” tax scams, but that’s not the case. Essentially, what pension income splitting offers is a government-sanctioned opportunity for Canadian residents who are married (and, usually, where recipient spouse is aged 65 or older) to make a notional reallocation of private pension income between them on their annual tax returns, and to benefit from a lower overall family tax bill as a result.

Pension income splitting, like all forms of income splitting, works because Canada has what is called a “progressive” tax system, in which the applicable tax rate goes up as income rises. For 2018, the federal tax rate applied to about the first $47,000 of taxable income is 15%, while the federal rate applied to the next $46,000 of such income is 20.5%. So, an individual who has $90,000 in taxable income would pay federal tax of about $15,900: if that $90,000 was divided equally between such individual and his or her spouse, each would have $45,000 in taxable income and the total federal family tax bill would be $13,500.

The general rule with respect to pension income splitting is that a taxpayer who receives private pension income during the year is entitled to allocate up to half that income (without any dollar limit) to his or her spouse for tax purposes. In this context, private pension income means a pension received from a former employer and, where the income recipient is age 65 or older, payments from an annuity, a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or a registered retirement income fund (RRIF). Government source pensions, like the Canada Pension Plan or Old Age Security payments do not qualify for pension income splitting, regardless of the age of the recipient.

The mechanics of pension income splitting are relatively simple. There is no need to transfer funds between spouses or to make any change in the actual payment or receipt of qualifying pension amounts, and no need to notify a pension administrator. Taxpayers who wish to split eligible pension income received by either of them must each file Form T1032, Joint Election to Split Pension Income for 2018, with their annual tax return. That form, which is not included in the annual tax return package, can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website at or can be ordered by calling 1-800-959 8281.

On the T1032, the taxpayer receiving the private pension income and the spouse with whom that income is to be split must make a joint election to be filed with their respective tax returns for 2018. Since the splitting of pension income affects the income and therefore the tax liability of both spouses, the election must be made and the form filed by both spouses — an election filed by only one spouse or the other won’t suffice. In addition to filing the T1032, the spouse who is actual recipient of the pension income to be split must deduct from income the pension income amount allocated to his or her spouse. That deduction is taken on Line 210 of his or her 2018 return. And, conversely, the spouse to whom the pension income amount is being allocated is required to add that amount to his or her income on the return, this time on Line 116. Essentially, to benefit from pension income splitting, all that’s needed is for each spouse to file a single form with the CRA and to make a single entry on his or her 2018 tax return.

By the end of February or early March, taxpayers will have received (or downloaded) the information slips which summarize the income received from various sources during 2018. At that time, couples who might benefit from this strategy can review those information slips and calculate the extent to which they can make a dent in their overall tax bill for the year through a little judicious income splitting.

Those wishing to obtain more information on pension income splitting than is available in the 2018 General Income Tax and Benefit Guide should refer to the CRA website at where more detailed information is available

December 11

December 2018 Newsletter

The 2018 Fall Economic Statement – some good news for business

While there weren’t a great number of tax measures included in the 2018 Fall Economic Statement brought down by the Minister of Finance on November 21, 2018, the tax changes that were announced represented good news for Canadian businesses.

Perhaps most notably, several of the measures announced include tax changes which will benefit Canadian businesses of all sizes and operating in all sectors of the economy. Generally, those changes involved enhancements to the existing rules which will provide businesses with accelerated write-offs of assets which are acquired after the Budget date.

The Canadian tax system enables taxpayers to deduct (or write off) a specified percentage of the cost of newly-acquired capital property each year, through the capital cost allowance (CCA) system. In the year of acquisition, that deduction is, for most classes of assets, limited to one-half the usual percentage deduction (known as the “half-year rule”). The changes announced in the statement provide businesses with enhanced deductions under the existing capital cost allowance system – in some cases, allowing the entire cost of the property to be deducted in the year it is acquired.

The most broad-based of the changes announced in the statement – the Accelerated Investment Incentive, or AII – will effectively suspend the half-year rule for eligible property, meaning that a full CCA deduction could be taken in the year that eligible property is acquired. In addition, the allowance claimable for that year will be calculated by applying the prescribed CCA rate for that class of property to one-and-a-half times the cost of the property acquired.

For example, the combined effect of those changes is that where a property has a write-off rate of 20% per year, that write off will, under the AII, be equal to 30% of the cost of the property in the year the property is put in use. Significantly, such preferential treatment is not restricted to particular kinds or types of businesses or property. Rather, as stated in the statement, the AII will be available to “businesses of all sizes, across all sectors of the economy, that are making capital investments”. Such property, in order to be fully eligible for the AII, must be acquired and put in use by the taxpayer after November 20, 2018 and before 2024.

The second significant change will allow taxpayers to fully deduct, in the year of acquisition, the cost of machinery and equipment acquired for use in Canada primarily in the manufacturing and processing of goods for sale or lease. Such machinery and equipment, in order to qualify, must be acquired after November 20, 2018, and be available for use before 2024. The enhanced 100% deduction will be phased out for otherwise qualifying property which becomes available for use between 2023 and 2028.

Finally, clean energy equipment acquired by taxpayers in any industry already qualifies for preferential capital cost allowance treatment. That preferential treatment will be enhanced by a measure announced in the Statement which will provide a 100% deduction for such equipment which is acquired after November 20, 2018 and is available for use before 2024. Again, that enhanced deduction will be phased out where the otherwise qualifying property becomes available for use between 2023 and 2028.

While the basics of the three CCA measures announced in the Update are fairly straightforward, the application of those measures, as with any tax change, involves more detailed rules and restrictions. Those rules and restrictions are summarized in an Annex to the 2018 Fall Economic Statement, and that Annex can be found on the Finance Canada website at

Year-end planning for your RRSP and TFSA

Most Canadians know that the deadline for making contributions to one’s registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) comes after the end of the calendar year, around the end of February. There are, however, some instances an RRSP contribution must be (or should be) made by December 31st, in order to achieve the desired tax result, as follows.

When you need to make your RRSP contribution on or before December 31st

Every Canadian who has an RRSP must collapse that plan by the end of the year in which he or she turns 71 years of age – usually by converting the RRSP into a registered retirement income fund (RRIF) or by purchasing an annuity. An individual who turns 71 during the year is still entitled to make a final RRSP contribution for that year, assuming that he or she has sufficient contribution room. However, in such cases, the 60-day window for contributions after December 31st is not available. Any RRSP contribution to be made by a person who turns 71 during the year must be made by December 31st of that year. Once that deadline has passed, no further RRSP contribution is possible.

Make spousal RRSP contributions before December 31

Under Canadian tax rules, a taxpayer can make a contribution to a registered retirement savings plans (RRSP) in his or her spouse’s name and claim the deduction for the contribution on his or her own return. When the funds are withdrawn by the spouse, the amounts are taxed as the spouse’s income, at a (presumably) lower tax rate. However, the benefit of having withdrawals taxed in the hands of the spouse is available only where the withdrawal takes place no sooner than the end of the second calendar year following the year in which the contribution is made. Therefore, where a contribution to a spousal RRSP is made in December of 2018, the contributor can claim a deduction for that contribution on his or her return for 2018. The spouse can then withdraw that amount as early as January 1, 2021 and have it taxed in his or her own hands. If the contribution isn’t made until January or February of 2019, the contributor can still claim a deduction for it on the 2018 tax return, but the amount won’t be eligible to be taxed in the spouse’s hands on withdrawal until January 1, 2022. It’s an especially important consideration for couples who are approaching retirement who may plan on withdrawing funds in the relatively near future. Even where that’s not the situation, making the contribution before the end of the calendar year will ensure maximum flexibility should there be an unforeseen need to withdraw funds.

Accelerate any planned TFSA withdrawals into 2018

Each Canadian aged 18 and over can make an annual contribution to a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) – the maximum contribution for 2018 is $5,500. As well, where an amount previously contributed to a TFSA is withdrawn from the plan, that withdrawn amount can be re-contributed, but not until the year following the year of withdrawal.

Consequently, it makes sense, where a TFSA withdrawal is planned within the next few months, perhaps to pay for a winter vacation or to make an RRSP contribution, to make that withdrawal before the end of the calendar year. A taxpayer who withdraws funds from his or her TFSA before December 31st, 2018 will have the amount which is withdrawn added to his or her TFSA contribution limit for 2019, which means it can be re-contributed as early as January 1, 2019. If the same taxpayer waits until January of 2019 to make the withdrawal, he or she won’t be eligible to replace the funds withdrawn until 2020.

The tax year is ending – some planning steps to take before December 31st

For individual Canadian taxpayers, the tax year ends at the same time as the calendar year. And what that means for individual Canadians is that any steps taken to reduce their tax payable for 2018 must be completed by December 31, 2018. (For individual taxpayers, the only significant exception to that rule is registered retirement savings plan contributions, which can be made any time up to and including March 1, 2019, and claimed on the return for 2018.)

While the remaining timeframe in which tax planning strategies for 2018 can be implemented is only a few weeks, the good news is that the most readily available of those strategies don’t involve a lot of planning or complicated financial structures – in many cases, it’s just a question of considering the timing of steps which would have been taken in any event. What follows is a listing of the steps which should be considered by most Canadian taxpayers as the year-end approaches.

Charitable donations

The federal government and all of the provincial and territorial governments provide a tax credit for donations made to registered charities during the year. In all cases, in order to claim a credit for a donation in a particular tax year, that donation must be made by the end of that calendar year – there are no exceptions.

There is, however, another reason to ensure donations are made by December 31st. The credit provided by each of the federal and provincial or territorial governments is a two-level credit, in which the percentage credit claimable increases with the amount of donation made. For federal tax purposes, the first $200 in donations is eligible for a non-refundable tax credit equal to 15% of the donation. The credit for donations made during the year which exceed the $200 threshold is, however, calculated as 29% of the excess. Where the taxpayer making the donation has taxable income (for 2018) over $205,843, charitable donations above the $200 threshold can receive a federal tax credit of 33%.

As a result of the two-level credit structure, the best tax result is obtained when donations made during a single calendar year are maximized. For instance, a qualifying charitable donation of $400 made in December 2018 will receive a federal credit of $88 ($200 × 15% + $200 × 29%). If the same amount is donated, but the donation is split equally between December 2018 and January 2019, the total credit claimable is only $60 ($200 × 15% + $200 × 15%), and the 2019 donation can’t be claimed until the 2019 return is filed in April 2020. And, of course, the larger the donation in any one calendar year, the greater the proportion of that donation which will receive credit at the 29% level rather than the 15% level.

It’s also possible to carry forward, for up to 5 years, donations which were made in a particular tax year. So, if donations made in 2018 don’t reach the $200 level, it’s usually worth holding off on claiming the donation and carrying forward to the next year in which total donations, including carryforwards, are over that threshold. Of course, this also means that donations made but not claimed in any of the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, or 2017 tax years can be carried forward and added to the total donations made in 2018, and the aggregate then claimed on the 2018 tax return.

When claiming charitable donations, it is possible to combine donations made by oneself and one’s spouse and claim them on a single return. Generally, and especially in provinces and territories which impose a high-income surtax – currently, Ontario and Prince Edward Island – it makes sense for the higher income spouse to make the claim for the total of charitable donations made by both spouses. Doing so will reduce the tax payable by that spouse and thereby minimize (or avoid) liability for the provincial high-income surtax.

Timing of medical expenses

There are an increasing number of medical expenses which are not covered by provincial health care plans, and an increasing number of Canadians who do not have private coverage for such costs through their employer. In those situations, Canadians have to pay for such unavoidable expenditures – including dental care, prescription drugs, ambulance trips, and many other para-medical services, like physiotherapy, on an out-of-pocket basis. Fortunately, where such costs must be paid for partially or entirely by the taxpayer, the medical expense tax credit is available to help offset those costs. Unfortunately, the computation of such expenses and, in particular, the timing of making a claim for the credit, can be confusing. In addition, the determination of what expenses qualify for the credit and which do not isn’t necessarily intuitive, nor is the determination of when it’s necessary to obtain prior authorization from a medical professional in order to ensure that the contemplated expenditure will qualify for the credit.

The basic rule is that qualifying medical expenses (a lengthy list of which can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website at over 3% of the taxpayer’s net income, or $2,302, whichever is less, can be claimed for purposes of the medical expense tax credit on the taxpayer’s return for 2018.

Put in more practical terms, the rule for 2018 is that any taxpayer whose net income is less than $76,750 will be entitled to claim medical expenses that are greater than 3% of his or her net income for the year. Those having income over $76,750 can claim qualifying expenses which exceed the $2,302 threshold.

The other aspect of the medical expense tax credit which can cause some confusion is that it’s possible to claim medical expenses which were incurred prior to the current tax year, but weren’t claimed on the return for the year that the expenditure was made. The actual rule is that the taxpayer can claim qualifying medical expenses incurred during any 12-month period which ends in the current tax year, meaning that each taxpayer must determine which 12-month period ending in 2018 will produce the greatest amount eligible for the credit. That determination will obviously depend on when medical expenses were incurred so there is, unfortunately, no universal rule of thumb which can be used.

Medical expenses incurred by family members – the taxpayer, his or her spouse, dependent children who were born in 2001 or later, and certain other dependent relatives – can be added together and claimed by one member of the family. In most cases, it is best, in order to maximize the amount claimable, to make that claim on the tax return of the lower income spouse, where that spouse has tax payable for the year.

As December 31st approaches, it is a good idea to add up the medical expenses which have been incurred during 2018, as well as those paid during 2017 and not claimed on the 2017 return. Once those totals are known, it will be easier to determine whether to make a claim for 2018 or to wait and claim 2018 expenses on the return for 2019. And, if the decision is to make a claim for 2018, knowing what medical expenses were paid and when will enable the taxpayer to determine the optimal 12-month waiting period for the claim.

Finally, it is a good idea to look into the timing of medical expenses which will have to be paid early in 2019. Where those are significant expenses (for instance, a particularly costly medication which must be taken on an ongoing basis), it may make sense, where possible, to accelerate the payment of those expenses to December 2018, where that means they can be included in 2018 totals and claimed on the 2018 return.

Reviewing tax instalments for 2018

Millions of Canadian taxpayers (particularly the self-employed and retired Canadians) pay income taxes by quarterly instalments, with the amount of those instalments representing an estimate of the taxpayer’s total liability for the year.

The final quarterly instalment for this year will be due on Monday December 17, 2018. By that time, almost everyone will have a reasonably good idea of what his or her income and deductions will be for 2018 and so will be in a position to estimate what the final tax bill for the year will be, taking into account any tax planning strategies already put in place, as well as any RRSP contributions which will be made before March 2, 2019. While the tax return forms to be used for the 2018 year haven’t yet been released by the CRA, it’s possible to arrive at an estimate by using the 2017 form. Increases in tax credit amounts and tax brackets from 2017 to 2018 will mean that using the 2016 form will likely result in a slight over-estimate of tax liability for 2018.

Once one’s tax bill for 2017 has been calculated, that figure should be compared to the total of tax instalments already made during 2017 (that figure can be obtained by calling the CRA’s Individual Income Tax Enquiries line at 1-800-959-8281). Depending on the result, it may then be possible to reduce the amount of the tax instalment to be paid on December 15 – and thereby free up some funds for the inevitable holiday spending!

The potential tax costs of holiday gifts and celebrations

The holiday season is usually costly, but few Canadians are aware that those costs can include increased income tax liability resulting from holiday gifts and celebrations. It doesn’t seem entirely in the spirit of the season to have to consider possible tax consequences when attending holiday celebrations and receiving gifts; however, our tax system extends its reach into most areas of the lives of Canadians, and the holidays are no exception. Fortunately, the possible negative tax consequences are confined to a minority of fact situations and relationships, usually involving employers and employees, and are entirely avoidable with a little advance planning.

During the month of December, it’s customary for employers to provide something “extra” for their employees, by way of a holiday gift, a year-end bonus or an employer-sponsored social event. And it’s certainly the case that employers who provide such extras don’t intend to create a tax liability for their employees. Unfortunately, it is the case that a failure to properly structure such gifts or other extras can result in unintended and unwelcome tax consequences to those employees.

It’s even possible to feel some sympathy toward the tax authorities who have to deal with the tax treatment of employer-provided holiday gifts, as they are in something of a no-win situation. On an individual or even a company level, the amounts involved are usually nominal, and the range of situations which must be addressed by the related tax rules are virtually limitless. As a result, the cost of drafting and administering those rules can outweigh the revenue generated by the enforcement of such rules, to say nothing of the potential ill will generated by imposing tax on holiday gifts and celebrations. Notwithstanding, the potential exists for employers to provide what would otherwise be taxable remuneration in the guise of holiday gifts, and it’s the responsibility of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to ensure that such situations are caught by the tax net.

There is, as a consequence, a detailed set of rules which outline the tax consequences of gifts and awards provided by the employer, and even in relation to annual holiday celebrations sponsored (and paid for) by an employer.

The starting point for the rules is that any gift (cash or non-cash) received by an employee from his or her employer at any time of the year is considered to constitute a taxable benefit, to be included in the employee’s income for that year. However, the CRA makes an administrative concession in this area, allowing an unlimited number of non-cash gifts (within a specified dollar limit) to be received tax-free by an employee over the course of the tax year.

In sum, the CRA’s administrative policy is simply that non-cash gifts to an arm’s length employee, regardless of the number of such gifts, will not be taxable if the total fair market value of all such gifts to that employee is $500 or less annually. Where the total fair market value of such gifts is more than $500, the amount over that $500 limit will be a taxable benefit to the employee, and must be included on the employee’s T4 for the year, and on which income tax must be paid.

It’s important to remember the “non-cash” criterion imposed by the CRA, as the $500 per year administrative concession does not apply to what the CRA terms “cash or near-cash” gifts and all such gifts are considered to be a taxable benefit and included in income for tax purposes, regardless of the amount or frequency of the gifts. For this purpose, the CRA considers anything which could easily be converted to cash as a “near-cash” gift. Even a gift or award which cannot be converted to cash will be considered to be a near-cash gift if it, in the words of the CRA, “functions in the same way as cash”. So, a gift card or gift certificate which can be used by the employee to purchase his or her choice of merchandise or services would be considered a near-cash gift, and taxable as such.

This time of year, the tax treatment of the annual employee holiday party also must be considered. The CRA’s current policy in this area is that no taxable benefit will be assessed in respect of employee attendance at an employer-provided social event, where attendance at the party was open to all employees, and the cost per employee was $100 or less. The $100 cost is meant to cover the party itself, not including any ancillary costs, such as transportation home, taxi fare, or overnight accommodation. Where the total cost of the event itself exceeds the $100 per person threshold, the CRA will assess the employee as having received a taxable benefit equal to the entire per person cost (i.e., not just that portion of the cost that exceeds $100.)

It may seem nearly impossible to plan for employee holiday gifts and other benefits without running afoul of one or more of the detailed rules surrounding the taxation of such gifts and benefits. However, designing a tax-effective plan is possible, if a few basic principles are kept in mind.

  • If the employer is planning to hold a holiday party, dinner or other social event, it is imperative that such event be open to all employees. Restricting attendance in any way will mean that the CRA’s concession with respect to the non-taxable status of such events does not apply. The cost of the event must, as well, be kept below $150 per person. While the CRA’s policy doesn’t specify, it seems reasonable to calculate that amount based on the number of employees invited to attend the event, rather than on the actual attendance, which can’t be accurately predicted in advance.
  • Any cash or near-cash gifts should be avoided, as they will, no matter how large or small the amount, create a taxable benefit to the employee. Although gift certificates or pre-paid credit cards are a popular choice, they aren’t a tax-effective one, as they will invariably be considered by the CRA to create a taxable benefit to the employee.
  • Where non-cash holiday gifts are provided to employees, gifts with a value of up to $500 can be received free of tax. The employer must be mindful of the fact that the $500 limit is a per-year and not a per-occasion limit. Where the employee receives non-cash gifts with a total value of more than $500 in any one taxation year, the portion over $500 is a taxable benefit to the employee.
October 10

October 2018 Newsletter

Whether (and when) to stop contributing to the Canada Pension Plan

When the Canada Pension Plan was put in place on January 1,1966, it was a relatively simple retirement savings model. Working Canadians started making contributions to the CPP when they turned 18 years of age and continued making those contributions throughout their working life. Those who had contributed could start receiving CPP on retirement, usually at the age of 65. Once an individual was receiving retirement benefits, he or she was not required (or allowed) to make further contributions to the CPP. The CPP retirement benefit for which that individual was eligible therefore could not increase (except for inflationary increases) after that point.

Retirement looks a lot different in 2018 than it did it 1966, and the Canada Pension Plan has evolved and changed to recognize those differences. What that means for the average Canadian is much more flexibility in determining how to structure both their contributions to the CPP and the receipt of CPP retirement benefits.

While greater flexibility in retirement income planning is always a good thing, having more choices brings with it the need to determine which choices are the right ones in one’s particular circumstances. And, when it comes to CPP, many Canadians must make a decision on when it makes sense to keep making CPP contributions.

The need to make that choice arises where a decision is made to continue to stay in the work force, whether part time or full time, even after beginning to receive CPP retirement benefits. While it has always been possible to work while receiving such benefits, it was, until 2012, not possible to make CPP contributions related to that work. A change made in that year, however, allowed individuals who continued to work while receiving the CPP retirement benefit to also continue to contribute to the Canada Pension Plan and, as a result, increase the amount of CPP retirement benefit they received each month. That benefit is the CPP Post-Retirement Benefit or PRB.

The rules governing the PRB differ, depending on the age of the taxpayer. In a nutshell, an individual who has chosen to begin receiving the CPP retirement benefit but who continues to work will be subject to the following rules:

  • Individuals who are 60 to 65 years of age and continue to work are required to continue making CPP contributions.
  • Individuals who are 65 to 70 years of age and continue to work can choose not to make CPP contributions. To stop contributing, such an individual must fill out Form CPT30, Election to stop contributing to the Canada Pension Plan, or revocation of a prior election. A copy of that form must be given to the individual’s employer, and the original sent to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). An individual who has more than one employer must make the same choice (to continue to contribute or to cease contributions) for all employers and must provide a copy of Form CPT30 to each.
  • A decision to stop contributing can be changed, and contributions resumed, but only one change can be made per calendar year. To make that change, the individual must complete section D of Form CPT30, give one copy of the form to his or her employer, and send the original to the CRA.
  • Individuals who are over the age of 70 and are still working cannot contribute to the CPP.

Overall, the effect of these new rules is that CPP retirement benefit recipients who are still working and who are under age 65, as well as those who are between 65 and 70 and choose not to opt out, will continue to make contributions to the CPP system and will continue, therefore, to earn new credits under that system. As a result, the amount of retirement benefits which they are entitled to will increase with each year’s additional contributions.

Where an individual makes CPP contributions while working and receiving CPP retirement benefits, the amount of any CPP PRB earned will automatically be calculated by the federal government, and the individual will be advised of any increase in that monthly CPP retirement benefit each year. The PRB will be paid to that individual automatically the year after the contributions are made, effective January 1 of every year. Since the federal government needs information about employer contributions made, the first annual payment of the PRB is usually issued in early April and includes a lump sum amount representing benefits back to January of that year. Thereafter, the PRB is paid monthly and the PRB amount is added to the individual’s CPP retirement benefit amount and issued as a single payment.

While the rules governing the PRB can seem complex (and certainly the actuarial calculations are), the individual doesn’t have to concern himself or herself with those technical details. For CPP retirement benefit recipients who are under age 65 or over 70, there is no decision to be made. For the former, CPP contributions will be automatically deducted from their paycheques and for the latter, no such contributions are allowed.

Individuals in the middle group — aged 65 to 70 — will need to make a decision about whether it makes sense, in their individual circumstances, to continue making contributions to the CPP. Some assistance in making that decision is provided on the federal government website at, which shows the calculations which would apply for individuals of different ages and income levels.

More information on the PRB generally is also available on that website at

Current rules on getting mortgage financing

For all but a very fortunate few, buying a home means having to obtain financing for the portion of the purchase price not covered by a down payment. For most buyers, especially first-time buyers, that means taking out a conventional mortgage from a financial institution.

For all but a very fortunate few, buying a home means having to obtain financing for the portion of the purchase price not covered by a down payment. For most buyers, especially first-time buyers, that means taking out a conventional mortgage from a financial institution.

The rules governing eligibility or such home financing have been in somewhat a state of flux over the past ten years. For a number of reasons, mortgage and home equity borrowing practices never reached the unsustainable levels recorded south of the border, and Canada was spared the catastrophic housing crash which occurred in the U.S. in 2008 and 2009. However, in the years after the financial crisis which followed that housing crash, interest rates hit historic lows. Those ultra-low rates, in combination with rising real estate values, resulted in a record level of borrowing as first-time buyers took advantage of the low rates to purchase more home than they might otherwise have been able to afford, and existing homeowners borrowed against their ever-increasing home equity.

Canadian government and banking officials were sufficiently concerned with the level of borrowing, and the potential exposure of borrowers, that several sets of changes were made between 2008 and 2017 to tighten home financing and mortgage lending rules. What follows is an outline of the rules which now apply to prospective purchasers of residential property across Canada.

The first such rule requires prospective buyers to put down a minimum down payment, which is set at a percentage of the property cost. The applicable percentage depends on the cost of the property to be acquired, as follows:

Purchase price of the home                                           Minimum required down payment

$500,000 or less                                                              5% of the purchase price

$500,000 to $999,999                                                 5% of the first $500,000; and 10% of the portion of the purchase price over $500,000

$1,000,000 or more                                                        20% of the purchase price

Whatever the purchase price of the home, where the down payment made is less than 20% of that purchase (or, put another way, the mortgage amount is greater than 80% of the purchase price), that mortgage is characterized as a high-ratio mortgage. In that case, additional requirements are imposed.

Basically, where a mortgage is a high ratio mortgage, the prospective home owner must obtain (and pay for) mortgage default insurance, usually through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Such insurance means that, should the home owner default on the mortgage, CMCH will pay the remaining outstanding balance of that mortgage to the financial institution which provided the mortgage financing. CMHC mortgage loan insurance premiums range from 0.6% to 4.50% of the amount of the mortgage, depending on the size of the down payment (although mortgage default insurance is not available where the purchase price of a home is $1,000,000 or more). Home buyers who take mortgage default insurance can pay those premiums upfront, or can add them to the mortgage amount and pay them over the life of that mortgage.

Prospective home buyers, having put together funds for a down payment, are often most concerned about whether they will be able to qualify for a mortgage. Those concerns are often well-founded, as the rules which govern such qualifications have recently become more stringent.

Everyone who applies for a mortgage (whether or not that mortgage is a high-ratio mortgage) from a federally-regulated financial institution (which includes all of the major Canadian banks), must pass a “stress test”. That test, which measures the borrower’s debt repayment obligations as a percentage of income, is intended to ensure that the applicant will be able to meet his or her mortgage payment obligations, both at the current low rates, and in the almost certain event that those rates will increase.

In making that determination, lenders use two measures — the gross debt service (GDS) and total debt service (TDS) ratios. GDS is essentially a measure of the borrower’s cost of housing, including mortgage payments, property tax payments, the cost of heating and, in the case of condominium purchasers, 50% of condo fees. In all cases, the total of such costs should not be more than 32% of the applicant’s gross income. The TDS represents all of the applicant’s debt servicing costs, including both housing costs and the cost of servicing credit card, student loan, car loan, line of credit, and other debt. When it comes to TDS, lenders want total debt servicing costs to be less than 40% of the applicant’s gross income.

Essentially, then, in applying the stress test, lenders look at the total housing cost and total debt servicing costs which the applicant will have if the mortgage is approved, to see whether the GDS and TDS ratios fall within the acceptable percentage limits.

Lenders are now required to run that stress test using the higher of two rates, as shown below, and the applicant must, using the GDS and TDS ratios, qualify at the higher rate.

The Bank of Canada’s current conventional 5-year mortgage rate is 5.34%.

The need to qualify for a mortgage at a rate higher than current rates, and higher than the mortgage interest rate which is actually being provided will undoubtedly affect prospective borrowers. In some cases, borrowers may have to “downsize” their home purchase budget to accommodate the new rules while in other instances, those hoping to get into the housing market may be forced to wait until they can accumulate a large down payment so as to reduce the amount of mortgage financing needed.  In all cases, however, the intent of the new rules is to ensure that, once the home purchase is made, the new homeowners will be in a position to meet the financial obligations that home ownership involves, over both the short and the long term.

Getting tax assistance for education costs

The month of September marks both the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year for millions of Canadian children, teenagers, and young adults. And, whatever the age of the student or the grade level to which he or she is returning, there will inevitably be costs which must be incurred in relation to the return to school. Those costs can range from a few hundred dollars for school supplies for grade school and high school students to thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars for the cost of post-secondary or professional education.

The month of September marks both the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year for millions of Canadian children, teenagers, and young adults. And, whatever the age of the student or the grade level to which he or she is returning, there will inevitably be costs which must be incurred in relation to the return to school. Those costs can range from a few hundred dollars for school supplies for grade school and high school students to thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars for the cost of post-secondary or professional education.

Unfortunately for those students (and their parents!) the kinds of assistance which can be obtained through our tax system to help offset those costs has been eroded over the past few years, as previously available tax credits were withdrawn.

At the grade school and high school levels, there are really no credits or deductions which can be claimed for education-related costs. Formerly, two tax credits (the fitness credit and the arts credit) were available to help offset the cost of extra-curricular activities for children under the age of 16, but both such credits were cancelled as of the end of 2016.

Parents who work outside the home and consequently need to arrange for and pay for after-school care for their children can, however, deduct the costs of that care, within specified limits. Those limits are based on the age of the child and the amount of family income for the year. Details of that child care tax deduction are outlined on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website at

Once children reach an age to pursue post-secondary education, costs escalate. In recognition of that fact, post-secondary students (and their parents) have benefited for many years from an “assist” through our tax system, which provides deductions and credits for some of the many associated costs. However, two of those credits are also not available for 2018 or subsequent years.

For many years post-secondary students were able to claim the education tax credit and the textbook tax credit. Both, unfortunately, were eliminated as of the end of 2016. It’s important to remember, however, that where education and textbook credits have been earned but not claimed in years before 2017, however, they are still available to be claimed by the student as carryover credits in 2017, 2018, or later years.

The good news is that a tax credit continues to be available for the single largest cost associated with post-secondary education — the cost of tuition. Any student who incurs more than $100 in tuition costs at an eligible post-secondary institution (which would include most Canadian universities and colleges) can still claim a non-refundable federal tax credit of 15% of such tuition costs. The provinces and territories also provide students with an equivalent provincial or territorial credit, with the rate of such credit differing by jurisdiction. At both the federal and provincial levels, the credit acts to reduce tax otherwise payable. Where a student doesn’t have tax payable for the year, as is often the case, credits earned can be carried forward and claimed by the student in a future year, or transferred (within limits) in the current year to a spouse, parent, or grandparent.

While the cost of living, whether in a student residence or off campus, can be significant, there is no federal deduction or credit provided for such expenses. Such costs are characterized as personal and living expenses, for which no tax deduction or credit has ever been allowed.

Most post-secondary students in Canada must incur some amount of debt in order to complete their education, and repayment of that debt is typically not required until after graduation. Once repayment starts, a tax credit can be claimed for the amount of interest being paid on such debt, in some circumstances. Students who are still in school and arranging for loans should, however, be mindful of the rules which govern that student loan interest tax credit. While all interest paid on a qualifying student is eligible for the credit, only some types of student borrowing will qualify. Specifically, only interest paid on government-sponsored (federal or provincial) student loans will be eligible for the deduction. It’s not uncommon (especially for students in professional programs, like law or medicine) to be offered lines of credit by a financial institution, often at advantageous or preferential interest rates. As well, financial institutions sometimes offer, once a student has graduated and begun to repay a government-sponsored student loan, to consolidate that student loan with other kinds of debt, also at advantageous interest rates. However, it should be kept in mind that interest paid on that line of credit (or any other kind of borrowing from a financial institution to finance education costs) will never be eligible for the student loan interest tax credit. As explained in the CRA publication on the subject, “ [I]f you renegotiated your student loan with a bank or another financial institution, or included it in an arrangement to consolidate your loans, you cannot claim this interest amount”. Students who are contemplating borrowing from a financial institution rather than getting a government student loan (or considering a consolidation loan which incorporates that student loan amount) must remember, in evaluating the benefit of any preferential interest rate offered by a financial institution, to take into account the loss of the student loan interest deduction on that borrowing in future years.

There are, as well, a number of credits and deductions which, while not specifically education-related, are frequently claimed by post-secondary students (for instance, moving expense deductions). The CRA publishes a very useful guide that summarizes most of the income rules which may apply to post-secondary students. That guide, entitled Students and Income Tax, was updated in August 2018 to include recent changes, and that current version is now available on the CRA website at

Charities and political activities – new developments

The administrative policy of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) with respect to charities has been that no more than 10% of a registered charity’s resources can be allocated to non-partisan political activity. Where the CRA views a charity as having exceeded that threshold it may impose sanctions, up to and including revocation of a charity’s charitable registration status.

The administrative policy of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) with respect to charities has been that no more than 10% of a registered charity’s resources can be allocated to non-partisan political activity. Where the CRA views a charity as having exceeded that threshold it may impose sanctions, up to and including revocation of a charity’s charitable registration status.

Earlier this year, an Ontario court decision effectively struck down the rules limiting the involvement of charities in non-partisan political activity, including the CRA’s 10% ceiling rule, declaring those rules to be invalid and of no effect. That change was effective as of the date of the Court’s ruling, which was July 16, 2018.

Needless to say, that Court decision created considerable uncertainty in the charitable sector with respect to the current or future involvement by charities in any non-partisan political activities. The CRA has now made two announcements intended to alleviate that uncertainty.

First, the CRA has announced that it will be appealing the Court’s decision, which it believes contains “significant errors of law”. The hearing and decision in that appeal is at least several months away.

The CRA has, however, also announced that changes will be made, not just to its policy with respect to the permitted political activities of charities, but to the Income Tax Act provisions governing the permitted activities of registered charities. According to the CRA’s press release, which can be found on its website at, the planned changes will allow charities to pursue their charitable purposes by engaging in non-partisan political activities and in the development of public policy. Charities will still be required to have exclusively charitable purposes, and restrictions against partisan political activities will remain.

Significantly, the CRA will implement the planned changes through amendments to the Income Tax Act, with the intention of introducing amending legislation in the fall of 2018. Consequently, the new rules governing political activities of charities will be, not simply administrative policy on the part of the CRA, but legal requirements under the Income Tax Act. As well, the planned legislative changes will apply retroactively, including to the audits and objections of registered charities which are currently suspended. Such suspensions will be lifted when the planned legislation is passed by Parliament.

The CRA’s announcement of the planned changes did not include a detailed outline of the planned changes. However, the Agency did indicate in its press release that such changes would be “consistent with” Recommendation #3 found in the report of the Agency’s Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities. That Recommendation is as follows:

“The Panel recommends that amendments:

  1. retain the current legal requirement that charities must be constituted and operated exclusively for charitable purposes, and that political purposes are not charitable purposes;
  2. fully support the engagement of charities in non-partisan public policy dialogue and development in furtherance of charitable purposes, retiring the term “political activities” which tends to be understood in common parlance as partisan and is therefore confusing, and clearly articulating the meaning of “public policy dialogue and development” to include: providing information, research, opinions, advocacy, mobilizing others, representation, providing forums and convening discussions; and
  3. retain the prohibition on charities’ engaging in “partisan political activities” with the inclusion of “elected officials” (i.e. charities may not directly support “a political party, elected official or candidate for public office”) and the removal of the prohibition on “indirect” support, given its subjectivity.”

The full Report of the Panel is available on the CRA website at

There is an important caveat: the CRA has indicated that its planned legislative amendments would be “consistent with” the Panel Recommendation, and not that they would reflect that Recommendation in every respect. Consequently, the content of the amendments may well differ in one or more ways from the Panel Recommendation.

The CRA has indicated as well that, once the legislative amendments are in place, it will be providing ”supporting guidance”, in collaboration with the charitable sector, presumably through plain language publications outlining both the legislative changes and how the CRA intends to implement and administer those changes going forward. Stay tuned.