June 8

May 2018 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.

Corporate:

Issue #44 Corporate

Personal:

Issue #44 Personal

Managing debt in a rising interest rate environment

For almost a decade now, Canadians have been living, and borrowing, in an ultra-low interest rate environment. As of the end of April 2018, the bank rate (from which commercial interest rates are derived) stood at 1.5%. The last time that the bank rate was over 1.5% was in December of 2008. Effectively, adult Canadians who are under the age of 30 have had no experience of managing their finances in high (or even, by historical standards, ordinary) interest rate environments.

The prolonged period of low interest rates which followed the financial crisis of 2008-09 coincided, not surprisingly, with an explosion in the amount of debt owed by both individual Canadians and by families. In the fall of 2005, the ratio of debt to disposable income for an average Canadian family stood at 93%. In the third quarter of 2017 that ratio stood at just less than double that amount, or 171%.

For several years financial advisers and government and banking officials have been sounding warnings that the debt loads which Canadians were carrying were likely sustainable only at the extremely low interest rates then in effect. Their concern was that when, inevitably, those rates returned to historically “normal” levels the burden of repaying, or even servicing those debts, would be unsustainable.

Whether those warnings were or weren’t heeded is becoming a moot question, as the era of reliably ultra-low interest rates is effectively coming to an end. The Bank of Canada has raised interest rates three times in the past 10 months, in July and September 2017 and again in January of 2018. Prior to July 2017, the last interest rate increase took place in September of 2010. As well, as the Bank has made clear in its regular announcements on the subject, the longer-term interest rate trend is an upward one.

When talking about debt, and debt management, it’s important to remember that not all debt is created equal. Specifically, it’s necessary to draw a distinction between secured and unsecured debt. Put simply, the former is debt which is secured by the value of an underlying asset and, if the debtor fails to make payments on the debt, the lender is entitled to seize that underlying asset and sell it to satisfy any outstanding debt amount owed. The type of secured debt most familiar to Canadians is, of course, a mortgage. Unsecured debt, on the other hand, is provided solely on the strength of the borrower’s promise to repay, and credit cards are the most common example of unsecured debt owed by Canadians.

While any type of debt can cause problems for borrowers, when interest rates go up it’s usually those who are carrying unsecured debt who are the first to feel the pinch. Not only is the rate of interest payable on unsecured debt always higher than that levied on secured debt, the interest rate on unsecured debt is usually a “variable” rate, meaning that it will go up every time interest rates increase, and the monthly minimum payment required will increase proportionately. And, of course, debtors whose debt is secured by an underlying asset and who find that such debt is no longer manageable always have the “out” of selling that asset and using the proceeds to retire the outstanding balance of the loan, while those who owe unsecured debt have no such option.

It’s easy to assume from the overall figures respecting the debt load of Canadians that having an outstanding balance on one or more credit cards or lines of credit is the norm. However, an Ipsos Global News year-end poll discloses some perhaps unexpected results, with both good and bad implications. Those survey results, which can be found on the Ipsos website at https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/2017-year-end-debt, was done in December of 2017. It found that the average unsecured (i.e., non-mortgage) debt held by individual Canadians was $8,539.50. However, the survey also found that nearly half of Canadians (46%) had no consumer debt whatsoever. Consequently, when it comes to debt, Canadians seem to fall about evenly into one of two very distinct and different groups. The minority (by a small percentage) are free of any unsecured debt – no line of credit debt and no credit card balances. But it’s a very different picture for the other 54% who are carrying, on average, around $15,000 in unsecured debt per person. And, for 12% of those surveyed, the amount of unsecured debt owed was more than $25,000.

For anyone who is carrying outstanding unsecured debt, the obvious advice is to get the debt paid down as quickly as possible, especially when interest rates are rising. That is, however, easier said than done, especially when the interest component of the debt, and consequently the required monthly minimum payments, are steadily increasing. Between 19% and 22% of respondents in the IPSO Global News poll indicated that they were “not very comfortable” or “not at all comfortable” with their ability to meet their current monthly debt payment obligations and/or their ability to pay down their debt in a timely manner.

Even where repayment of the debt over the short term isn’t a realistic expectation, such individuals are not without options. The best strategy to be pursued by those carrying significant amounts of unsecured debt which can’t be paid off over the short-term would be to try to lower the interest rate on such debt. There are a couple of ways in which that can be done.

If the debtor owns an asset (usually a house) against which he or she can borrow, turning the debt from unsecured to secured, the interest rate payable on such borrowing will certainly be lower than the rate currently being paid. Where there is no such asset, the debtor can seek a consolidation loan from a financial institution, in which all of the outstanding debts from every source are combined into a single loan at a lower rate of interest, and a fixed repayment schedule. Much unsecured debt owed by Canadians is in the form of credit card debt, which carries some of the highest interest rates around.

If neither of those options are available, then the next step would be to try to obtain a lower credit card interest rate. If the debt is in good standing – that is, payments have been made on time and in at least the minimum amount – the credit card company may be willing to reduce the interest rate imposed, especially if it is clear that the borrower will not be able to continue to make payments at higher rates. If the credit card company is unwilling to do so, the debtor may be able to seek out better rates elsewhere. Credit card companies regularly seek to bring in new business by offering the opportunity to transfer in balances from other cards and to have those balances benefit from a very low (or even 0%) rate of interest for a period of time – usually 6 months to a year. Where a new card with a much lower interest rate can be obtained, regular payments made will reduce the outstanding balance more quickly, since less of that payment is going to meet interest charges.

Each of these options assumes a willingness and an ability on the part of the individual to make debt repayment a priority, working on his or her own. For some, that’s not easy, or even possible. As well, some individuals are already in financial difficulty – unable to make the minimum monthly required payment, or having missed payments and being pursued by collection agencies. In both those situations, obtaining help to deal with the debt repayment process is likely needed. That help is 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 http://creditcounsellingcanada.ca/.

 

Claiming a deduction for summer child care costs

The arrival of warmer weather signals both the start of spring and the approaching end of the school year. For many families, it also means the need to begin researching the availability of suitable child care or summer daytime or overnight camp arrangements for the summer months. There are many such options available to parents, but what each of those options have in common is a price tag – sometimes a steep one. Some options, like day camps provided by the local recreation authority or municipality can be relatively inexpensive, while the cost of others, like summer-long residential camps or elite level sports or arts camps, can run to the thousands of dollars.

The good news for families which must incur such expenditures is that in many cases a deduction for all or part of the costs incurred can be claimed on the tax return for the year. And, since eligible expenditures can be deducted from income on a dollar-for-dollar basis, that means that income used to pay eligible child care expenses is effectively not subject to income tax. The bad news is that some of the deductions or credits which could be claimed in recent years are no longer available.

This year, any offset provided by the tax system with respect to summer child care costs can only be claimed through the general deduction provided for child care costs. That deduction, which is not specific to summer child care costs but is available for such costs incurred year-round, allows parents who must incur child care costs in order to work (whether in employment or self-employment) or, in some cases to attend school, to deduct those costs from income, within specified limits.

The calculation process set out on Form T778, which is used to determine the amount of any allowable deduction from income for child care expenses incurred can seem quite complex. However, at the end of the day, the amount of child care expenses which can be deducted is the least of three numbers, and only one of those numbers requires a calculation. The steps involved in doing so are as follows.

First, the amount of any deduction for child care expenses is limited to two-thirds of the taxpayer’s “earned income” for the year. The income figure used to calculate the two-thirds figure is, generally, the amount shown on Line 150 of the annual tax return. Where the family incurring child care expenses is a two-income family, and both spouses are working, the claim is made by the spouse with the lower net income, and consequently his or her net income is used to determine the two-thirds of income figure.

The second figure to be determined is the amount actually paid for eligible child care costs during the year. While virtually any licensed child care arrangement will qualify, more informal arrangements may not. Specifically, no deduction is available for amounts paid to most family members to provide child care. So, it’s not possible for a working spouse to pay the stay-at-home parent to provide child care, nor is it possible to pay an older sibling who is under the age of 18 to provide such services, and to claim a deduction for those expenses incurred. As well, where a claim is made for a deduction for child care expenses on the annual return, the claimant must obtain (and be prepared to provide to the tax authorities) the social insurance number of the individual providing the care as well as a receipt showing the amounts paid, whether to an individual or an organization.

The third figure to be determined is the one which requires some calculation. Basically, the rules governing the deduction of child care expenses impose a maximum deduction per child per year (referred to as the “basic limit”), with that basic limit dependent on the age and health of the particular child. As well, where expenses are incurred for overnight camps or boarding schools, the amount deductible for such costs is similarly capped.

For 2018, the following overall limits apply:

  • $5,000 in costs per year for a child who was born from 2002 to 2011;
  • $8,000 in costs per year for a child who was born in 2012 or later;
  • $11,000 in costs per year for a child who was born in 2018 or earlier, for whom the disability amount can be claimed.

Similar restrictions are placed on the amount of costs which can be deducted for overnight camp or boarding school fees, and those are as follows:

  • $125 per week for a child who was born from 2002 to 2011;
  • $200 per week for a child who was born in 2012 or later; and
  • $275 per week for a child who was born in 2018 or earlier, for whom the disability amount can be claimed.

Taking all of these figures into account, the computation of a deduction for child care expenses for a typical Canadian family would look like this.

A two-income family has two children and both parents are employed. One spouse earns $60,000 per year, while the other earns $45,000. In 2018, one child is nine years old and the other is five. Neither child is disabled. Both children are in full-day school and so, during the school year, the family pays $400 per month for each child for after-school care. During the eight weeks of summer school vacation, both of the children attend a local full-day summer camp, for which the cost is $250 per week per child.

  • The first step is to determine the two-thirds of income figure. Since it is the lower-income spouse who must make the deduction claim, that figure is two-thirds of $45,000, or $30,000. Consequently, any deduction for child care expenses for the year cannot exceed $30,000.
  • The second calculation is the total amount of child care expenses paid for each child:
    • $400 per month for 10 months of after-school care, or $4,000
    • $250 per week for eight weeks of summer camp, or $2,000.

Total child care expenses for the year for each child is therefore $6,000.

  • The last step is to determine the basic limit for child care expenses for each child, as follows:

The basic limit for the five-year-old (who was born in 2012 or later) is $8,000, and so the entire $6,000 in child care expenses incurred can be deducted.

The basic limit for the nine-year-old (who was born between 2002 and 2011) is $5,000, and so only $5,000 of the $6,000 in expenses incurred can be deducted for the year.

The total deduction available for child care expenses incurred for the 2018 tax year will therefore be $5,000 plus $6,000, or $11,000. That deduction is calculated on Form T778 and the deduction amount transferred to Line 214 of the tax return filed by the lower-income spouse for 2018 year, reducing his or her taxable income from $45,000 to $34,000, and resulting in a federal tax savings of about $1,650. The same deduction is claimed as well for provincial tax purposes, and the amount of provincial tax saved will depend on the tax rates imposed by the province in which the family lives.

In previous years, parents were also able to claim two other federal tax credits – the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit and the Children’s Arts Tax Credit – in respect of qualifying costs incurred. Unfortunately, those credits were reduced as of the start of the 2016 tax year and were entirely eliminated as of the beginning of 2017. Consequently, no such credits can be claimed for formerly eligible costs which are incurred during 2018.

Parents wishing to find out more about the child care expense deduction, and perhaps to calculate the maximum deduction which will be available to them for the 2018 tax year should consult Form T778 E (17). That form, which includes detailed information on the rules governing the deduction and how to make the claim, can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/forms/t778.html.

 

Avoiding (or minimizing) the OAS clawback

There are a number of income sources available to Canadians in retirement. Those who participated in the work force during their adult life will have contributed to the Canada Pension Plan and will be able to receive CPP retirement benefits as early as age 60. Earning income from employment or self-employment will also have entitled those individuals to contribute to a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP). A shrinking minority of Canadians will be able to look forward to receiving benefits from an employer-sponsored pension plan.

Each of those income sources requires that an individual has made contributions during his or her working life in order to receive benefits in retirement. The fourth major source of retirement income for Canadians – the Old Age Security (OAS) program – does not. Entitlement to OAS is based solely on the number of years of Canadian residence, and individuals who have been Canadian residents for 40 years after the age of 18 can receive full OAS benefits, as early as age 65. As of the second quarter of 2018, those eligible for full OAS benefits receive $589.59 per month.

The OAS program is distinct from other sources of retirement income in another, less welcome way, in that it is the only such income source for which the federal government can require repayment by the recipient. That repayment requirement comes about through the OAS “Recovery Tax”, which is universally known as the OAS “clawback”.

While the rules governing the administration of the clawback can be confusing, the concept is a simple one. Anyone who receives OAS benefits during the year and has income for that year of more than $75,910 (for 2018) must repay a portion of those benefits. That repayment, or clawback, is administered by requiring repayment when the tax return for that year is filed the following April.

For example, an individual who receives full OAS during 2017 and has net income for the year of $82,000 will be subject to the clawback. He or she must repay OAS amounts received at a rate of 15 cents (or 15%) of every dollar of income over the clawback income threshold, as in the following example for the 2017 tax year:

Total OAS benefit for the year — $6,900

Total income for the year — $82,000

OAS income clawback threshold for 2017 — $74,788

Income over clawback threshold — $7,212 × 15% = $1081.80

Repayment amount required — $1081.80

The federal government becomes aware of an individual’s income for 2017 only once the tax return for that year is filed, usually by April 30 of 2018. Consequently, the required repayment amount of $1081.80 will become apparent when the return for the year is prepared, and will be included in any amount which must be paid on filing. As well, in the following benefit year (which will run from July 2018 to June 2019), OAS benefits received will be reduced by the same amount as the OAS repayment from the previous year. In the case of the above example, the monthly reduction of benefits would be $90.15 ($1081.80 divided by 12 months).

As of 2018, the OAS clawback affects only individuals who have an annual income of at least $75,000, and it’s arguable that at such income levels, the clawback requirement is unlikely to impose significant financial hardship. Nonetheless, the OAS clawback is a perpetual irritant to those affected, perhaps because of the sense that they are being penalized for being disciplined savers, or good managers of their finances during their working years, in order to ensure a financially comfortable retirement.

While any sense of grievance can’t alter the reality of the OAS clawback, there are strategies which can be put in place to either minimize or, in some cases, entirely eliminate one’s exposure to that clawback. Some of those planning considerations are better addressed earlier in life, prior to retirement: however, it’s not too late, once one is already receiving OAS, to make arrangements to avoid or minimize the clawback.

In all cases, no matter what strategy is employed, the goal is to “smooth” one’s income from year to year, so that net income for each year comes in under the OAS clawback threshold and, not incidentally, minimizes exposure to the higher federal and provincial income tax rates which apply once taxable income approaches the six-figure mark.

The starting point, for taxpayers who are approaching retirement, is to determine how much income will be received from all sources during retirement, based on CPP and OAS entitlement, any savings accrued through an RRSP and any benefits which will be received from an employer-sponsored pension plan.

Anyone who has an RRSP must begin receiving income from that RRSP in the year after that person turns 71. However, it’s possible to begin receiving income from an RRSP at any time. Similarly, an individual who is eligible for CPP retirement benefits can begin receiving those benefits anytime between age 60 and 70, with the amount of monthly benefit receivable increasing with each month receipt is deferred. The same calculation applies to OAS benefits, which can be received as early as age 65 or deferred up until age 70.

Once the amount of annual income is determined, strategies to smooth out that income can be put in place. Those strategies can include receiving income from an RRSP prior to the required withdrawal date of age 72, so as to reduce the total amount within the RRSP and so thereby reduce the likelihood of having a large “bump” in income when required withdrawals kick in at age 72.

Taxpayers are sometimes understandably reluctant to take steps which they view as depleting their RRSP savings, but receiving income from an RRSP doesn’t mean spending that income. While tax has to be paid on any withdrawals (whether the taxpayer is under or over the age of 71), after-tax amounts received can be contributed to the taxpayer’s tax-free savings account (TFSA), where they can compound free of tax. And, when the taxpayer has need of those funds, in retirement, they can be withdrawn free of tax, and they won’t count towards income for purposes of the OAS clawback.

Taxpayers who are married can “even out” their income by using pension income splitting, so that neither of them has sufficient income to be affected by the clawback. Using pension income splitting, the spouse who has qualifying income over the OAS clawback threshold can notionally re-allocate the “excess” income to his or her spouse on the annual return. That income is then considered to be income of the recipient spouse, for purposes of both income tax and the OAS clawback. To be eligible for pension income splitting, the income to be reallocated must be private pension income, which is generally income from an RRSP or registered retirement income fund (RRIF), or from an annuity or an employer-sponsored pension plan. More information on the kinds of income eligible for pension income splitting, and the mechanics of the process, can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/topics/pension-income-splitting.html.

It is not at all uncommon now for Canadians to continue to work full-time or, more commonly, part-time, past the age of 65. Where that’s the case, it may make sense to defer receipt of OAS benefits for a few years, until the individual leaves the workforce. That’s especially the case where income received from employment, together with other sources of income, pushes the taxpayer’s annual income over the OAS clawback threshold. And, where receipt of such OAS benefits is deferred, the monthly amount received will go up, meaning that the eventual OAS benefits can go further toward making up the difference when income from employment ceases.

Finally, as outlined above, where a taxpayer must repay OAS benefits on filing his or her return for the previous year, any such benefits paid in the current benefit year are automatically reduced by the same amount. That practice is based on the assumption that income will not vary significantly from year to year. Where that’s not the case, and the taxpayer‘s income for a particular year is significantly higher because of a one-time event (e.g., the taxable sale of property or investments), the taxpayer can take action to avoid having monthly OAS benefit payments reduced in the following year. To do so, he or she must file a Request to Reduce OAS Recovery Tax at Source (T1213 (OAS) E (17)), which can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/cra-arc/formspubs/pbg/t1213_oas/t1213oas-17e.pdf. On that form, the taxpayer will provide information about his or her income sources and deductions for the current year, to show that he or she will not be subject to the OAS recovery tax for the year (or that such tax well be lower than the previous year’s). Once the Request is submitted, and it is approved by the CRA, it takes about two months for the change to be reflected in monthly benefit payments.

Fixing a mistake in your tax return

By the end of April 2018, more than 20 million individual income tax returns for the 2017 tax year will have been filed with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). And, inevitably, some of those returns will contain errors or omissions that must be corrected – last year the CRA received about 2 million requests for adjustment(s) to an already-filed return.

Most Canadians now prepare their returns (or have those returns prepared by a tax professional) using tax return preparation software. The use of such software significantly reduces the chance of making a clerical or arithmetical error, like entering an amount on the wrong line or adding a column of figures incorrectly. However, no matter how good the software, it can work only with the information that is provided to it. Sometimes taxpayers prepare and file a return, only to later receive a tax information slip that should have been included on that return. It’s also easy to make an inputting error when transposing figures from an information slip (a T4 from one’s employer, for instance) into the software. Whatever the cause, where the figures input are incorrect or information is missing, those errors or omissions will be reflected in the final (incorrect) result produced by the software.

When the error or omission is discovered in a return which has already been filed, the question is how to make things right. The first impulse of many taxpayers is to file another return, in which the complete and correct information is provided, but that’s not the right answer. There are, however, several ways in which a mistake or omission on an already-filed tax return can be corrected. And this year, taxpayers have more options than were previously available to them in doing so.

The vast majority of Canadians either file their return online, using the CRA’s NETFILE service, or engage a tax return preparer to file the return using the Agency’s EFILE service. Last year, fully 86% of individual tax returns were filed using one or the other of those methods.

This year, taxpayers who filed online, whether through NETFILE or EFILE, can advise the CRA of an error or omission in an already-filed return electronically, using the Agency’s ReFILE service. That service, which can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/e-services/e-services-businesses/refile-online-t1-adjustments-efile-service-providers.html, allows taxpayers to make corrections to an already-filed return online, using the CRA website.

Essentially, taxpayers whose returns have been filed online (through NETFILE or EFILE) can file a correction to that already-filed return, using the same tax return preparation software that was used to prepare the return. Those taxpayers who used NETFILE to file their return can file an adjustment to a return for 2017 or 2016. Where the return was filed using EFILE, the EFILE service provider can file adjustments for returns filed for the 2017, 2016, or 2015 tax years.

There are limits to the ReFILE service. The online system will accept a maximum of 9 adjustments to a single return, and ReFILE cannot be used to make changes to personal information, like the taxpayer’s address or direct deposit details. There are also some types of tax matters which cannot be handled through ReFILE, like applying for a disability tax credit or child and family benefits.

It’s also possible to make a change or correction to a return using the CRA’s “My Account” service (through the “Change My Return” option), but that choice is available only to taxpayers who have already registered for the My Account service. As well, the changes/corrections which can be made using ReFILE are the same as those which can be done through My Account, without the need to become registered for My Account, a process which takes a few weeks.

Taxpayers who wish to make changes or corrections which cannot be made through ReFILE or My Account (or those who just don’t wish to use the online option) can paper-file an adjustment to their return. The paper form to be used is Form T1-ADJ E (2018), which can be found on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pbg/tf/t1-adj/README.html. Those who are unable to print the form off the website can order a copy to be sent to them by mail by calling the CRA’s individual income tax enquiries line at 1-800-959-8281. There is no limit to the number of changes or corrections which can be made using the T1-ADJ E (2018) form.

The use of the actual T1-ADJ form isn’t mandatory – it’s also possible to file an adjustment request by sending a letter to the CRA – but using the prescribed form has two benefits. First, it makes clear to the CRA that an adjustment is being requested and two, filling out the form will ensure that the CRA is provided with all the information needed to process the requested adjustment. And, whether the request is made using the T1 Adjustment form or by letter, it’s necessary to include any relevant documents – the information slip summarizing the income not reported, or the receipt for an expense inadvertently not claimed.

Hard copy of a T1-ADJ (or a letter) is filed by sending the completed document to the appropriate Tax Center, which is the one to which the tax return was originally mailed. A listing of Tax Centres and their addresses can be found on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/cntct/prv/txcntr-eng.html. A taxpayer who isn’t sure any more which Tax Centre his or her return was sent to can go to www.cra-arc.gc.ca/cntct/tso-bsf-eng.html on the CRA website and select his or her location from the listing found there. The address for the correct Tax Centre will then be provided. Similar information is also provided on the T1ADJ form.

Where a taxpayer discovers an error or omission in a return already filed, the impulse is to correct that mistake as soon as possible. However, no matter which method is used to make the correction – ReFILE, My Account, or the filing of a T1-ADJ in hard copy, it’s necessary to wait until the Notice of Assessment for the return already filed is received. Corrections to a return submitted prior to the time that return is assessed simply can’t be processed by the CRA.

Once the Notice of Assessment is received, and an adjustment request is made, it will take at least a few weeks, usually longer, before the CRA responds. The Agency’s estimate is that such requests which are submitted online have a turnaround time of about two weeks, while those which come in by mail take about eight weeks. Not unexpectedly, all requests which are submitted during the CRA’s peak return processing period between March and July will take longer.

Sometimes the CRA will contact the taxpayer, even before a return is assessed, to request further information, clarification, or documentation of deductions or credits claimed (e.g., receipts documenting medical expenses claimed, or child care costs). Whatever, the nature of the request, the best course of action is to respond promptly, and to provide the requested documents or information. The CRA can assess only on the basis of the information with which it is provided, and it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to provide support for any deduction or credit claims made. Where a request for information or supporting documentation for a claimed deduction or credit is ignored by the taxpayer, the assessment will proceed on the basis that such support does not exist. Providing the requested information or supporting documentation can usually resolve the question to the CRA’s satisfaction, and its assessment of the taxpayer’s return can then proceed.

July 20

May 2017 Newsletter

New Quarterly Newsletters (May 2017)

Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues. They can be accessed below.

Corporate:

Issue #40 Corporate

Personal:

Issue #40 Personal

Understanding the OAS “recovery tax” (May 2017)

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

The OAS clawback is a product, in part, of the way in which Canada’s government-sponsored retirement income system is structured. OAS is one of the two main components of that system – the other being the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). While many retired Canadians receive both OAS and CPP benefits, the two plans are quite different. The amount of CPP benefit received by an individual Canadian is the product of an actuarial calculation based largely on the amount of contributions made by that individual throughout his or her working life – other sources of income or the recipient’s overall income level are irrelevant. Eligibility for OAS, on the other hand, is based on the number of years of Canadian residency and the amount received is set by law. Canadians who are at least 65 years old and have lived in Canada for at least 40 years after they turned 18 are eligible for full OAS pension (the maximum OAS pension payable for the second quarter of 2017 is $578.53). Where the length of Canadian residency is less than 40 years, a pro-rated amount of OAS pension may be received.

The differences between the CPP and the OAS extend to how each program is financed. The CPP, like all contributory pension plans, is financed out of contributions made by plan members and by investment income resulting from the investment of those contributions. Although the federal government administers the CPP, no tax revenues are used to support it. OAS, on the other hand, is paid from general federal government revenues.

As the Canadian population ages, the cost of the OAS program to the federal government has continued to increase. Although there was no universal agreement on the long-term effect of those demographics on federal government finance, the federal government determined, several years ago, that it was not prepared to maintain OAS as a program of universal entitlement. The decision made was that priority would be given to seniors whose income from all other sources fell below a set threshold, and that seniors having income above that threshold would be required to repay some OAS benefits received. That repayment is the OAS “recovery tax” or clawback.

The operation of the clawback is simple in concept. An individual who has income over the threshold (which increases each year) is required to repay 15% of that income, up to the total of OAS amounts received during the year.

For 2016, the prescribed income ceiling for the OAS clawback was $73,756 and the clawback calculation looks like this for a recipient who had income for that year of $80,000.

$80,000 ˗ $73,756 = $6,244

$6,244 × 0.15 = $936.60

In this case, the OAS clawback amount for 2016 is $936.60. Where a taxpayer is subject to the OAS clawback, his or her OAS benefits for the next benefit year (which runs from July to June) will be reduced by the amount of that clawback. So, for example, a retiree who is subject to the clawback because his or her income for 2016 was greater than the clawback threshold, OAS benefits payable from July 2017 to June 2018 will be reduced. If, as in the above example, the clawback amount for 2016 was $936.60, then $78.05 ($936.60 ÷ 12) will be deducted from each OAS payment starting in July 2017.

However, it’s also possible, especially where a senior is living on investment returns from savings, or wages from part-time employment, that fluctuations in income can occur. Where the taxpayer’s income for the current year is reduced to the point that any required clawback will be significantly reduced or even eliminated, the excess amount clawed back will be returned to the taxpayer when he or she files the tax return for that year the following spring. However, it’s also possible to have the clawback reduced before then, by notifying the CRA and making a request to reduce or eliminate the deductions being taken. The way to do so is to file a prescribed form — the T1213 (OAS), Request to Reduce Old Age Security Recovery Tax at Source for Year ____, which can be found on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pbg/tf/t1213_oas/README.html

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

Making use of the Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosure Program (May 2017)

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

One of the difficulties resulting from a failure to file a return or pay taxes owed is that it is a problem which tends to compound itself. Once the taxpayer is in arrears of filing or payment obligations, it becomes more difficult to file and pay in subsequent years, as such filing will certainly bring the previous default to light.

Taxpayers who are in arrears with respect to their filing and/or payment obligations may envision charges of tax evasion, fines, and even incarceration for their previous defaults. The CRA, on the other hand, obviously wants taxpayers to file and pay on time, but would rather not incur time and costs to chase down delinquent taxpayers, especially where the amounts involved are relatively small. The CRA’s solution to that problem is its Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP), which allows taxpayers who are in default of their filing or payment obligations to come forward and set things right. The incentive for taxpayers to do so is that while all taxes owed will have to be paid, along with accrued interest, no fines will be levied and no criminal charges will be brought. For taxpayers who want to get out from under their self-imposed tax problems, however they came about, and to get a fresh start, it’s generally a good deal.

The range of taxpayer errors and omissions for which the CRA will accept a voluntary disclosure is quite broad, and includes errors, omissions, or defaults made relating to the following:
•failing to fulfill tax filing and payment obligations;
•failing to report taxable income received;
•claiming ineligible expenses on the tax return;
•failing to remit employees’ payroll deductions;
•failing to report an amount of GST/HST (including undisclosed liabilities or improperly claimed refunds or rebates, unpaid tax, or net tax from a previous reporting period);
•failing to file required information returns; and
•failing to report foreign income that is taxable in Canada.

There is a much shorter list of taxpayer circumstances for which a voluntary disclosure under the VDP cannot be made, but those won’t apply to most taxpayers. A VDP application can’t be made for bankruptcy returns, income tax returns with no taxes owing or with refunds expected, or taxpayer elections (in which the taxpayer chooses to have a particular tax provision apply).

Generally speaking, in order for a VDP application to be made, four circumstances must be present. The disclosure must be completely voluntary (meaning that it can’t be made after the CRA has already taken compliance action of any kind against the taxpayer, or the taxpayer is aware that such compliance or enforcement action will be taken) and must be complete – any VDP application must be in respect of all tax years where filing or payment is in arrears or an error or omission has been made, not just some of those years. In addition, the taxpayer making the disclosure must be liable to a penalty and the information to be disclosed must be at least one year overdue, but must also relate to tax years which ended within the previous 10 calendar years.

That one- year requirement means that taxpayers who are now late in filing their return for 2016 can’t apply to the VDP in respect of that return. The best advice for taxpayers who haven’t yet filed or paid for 2016 is to file and pay as soon as possible. Where the taxpayer can’t pay taxes owed, in full or in part, he or she should contact the CRA to make arrangements to pay such amounts over time. A taxpayer who hasn’t filed for 2016 and one or more previous years, can still make a VDP application in respect of any or all of those previous years within the last decade.

That application can be made in one of three ways – through the CRA’s My Account service on its website, by fax, or by regular mail. The form used for disclosures is Form RC199, Voluntary Disclosures Program (VDP) Taxpayer Agreement, which is available on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pbg/tf/rc199/README.html Where the completed form is faxed or sent by mail, the destination address and fax number is as follows:

Voluntary Disclosures Program
Shawinigan-Sud National Verification and Collections Centre
4695 Shawinigan-Sud Boulevard
Shawinigan QC G9P 5H9
Fax: 1-888-452-8994

The CRA now handles all VDP matters through this one centralized office. It previously provided VDP fax service through one of its B.C. offices, but that service was discontinued in February 2017.

Once the CRA has received the taxpayer’s VDP application, it will review that application and respond in writing with its decision. A notice of assessment or reassessment will then be issued to the taxpayer setting out the decision and amounts owed by that taxpayer.

It’s also possible that the CRA, in the course of reviewing the VDP application, will have need of further information. That request for information will be made by means of a letter to the taxpayer, and that letter will provide both a reference number for the application and a telephone number which the taxpayer can call.

Taxpayers are understandably somewhat nervous about disclosing past tax transgressions to the tax authorities. One of the better features of the VDP program is that it gives taxpayers the right to make a “no-names” disclosure, in which all of the relevant information, excepting the taxpayer’s personal identifying information, is provided to the CRA. Once the CRA has reviewed the initial information provided by the taxpayer, it will provide a preliminary determination of whether the taxpayer’s situation qualifies for a VDP application (that is, whether the conditions outlined above are met and there is nothing in the taxpayer’s situation which would disqualify him or her from making a VDP application) and provide its opinion on the possible tax implications of the disclosure. If the taxpayer’s situation does qualify for a VDP application, then the taxpayer has 90 days in which to provide his or her personal identifying information and proceed with that VDP application. If the taxpayer doesn’t do so, the file is closed. If the taxpayer decides that he or she wishes to go forward with the voluntary disclosure, then the matter proceeds in the same way as outlined above for a “named” disclosure.

“Coming clean” with the tax authorities where tax is owing or returns haven’t been filed as required is a difficult decision to make, and the financial cost, depending on the circumstances, can be significant. However, the cost of not coming forward can be greater. Where tax is owed to the CRA it charges, by law, interest at higher than commercial rates, and such interest is compounded daily (meaning that every day interest is charged on the previous day’s interest). As well, where penalties are levied, interest is charged on unpaid penalty amounts. Making a voluntary disclosure and coming to a resolution with the CRA will allow the taxpayer to avoid both the penalties and the interest which would have accrued on such penalties, and to stop the interest clock running on the amount of any unpaid taxes.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

Personal tax credits that will disappear in 2017 (May 2017)

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

The repeal of the affected credits will show up for the first time on the individual income tax return for the 2017 tax year, to be filed in the spring of 2018. And, since the changes do, for the most part, mean the loss of existing credits, not being able to make those credit claims will mean a higher tax bill for taxpayers who have claimed them in previous years. Knowing what lies ahead, however, means that taxpayers make an accurate assessment during the year of the true after-tax cost of any contemplated expenditures and make their spending decisions in light of that knowledge.

Some of the changes for 2017 are already in place, having been implemented as of the beginning of the year, while others will take effect part way through 2017. What follows is a listing of the changes to existing tax credits which will be implemented for part or all of the 2017 tax year.

Textbook and education tax credits repealed

Post-secondary education is expensive, and for many years students and their families have been able to offset, to a degree, the costs related to obtaining that education through claims for federal non-refundable tax credits.

There are, effectively, four tax credits or deductions which have specific application to post-secondary students. The education tax credit provides a non-refundable tax credit amount of $400 per month of full-time enrolment in a qualifying educational program and $120 per month of part-time enrolment in such an educational program at a designated educational institution. The textbook tax credit provides a non-refundable tax credit amount of $65 per month of full-time enrolment in a qualifying educational program and $20 per month of part-time enrolment in such an educational program at a designated educational institution. Both such credit amounts are converted to tax credits by multiplying the total credit amount by 15%. There is also a federal tax credit claimable equal to 15% of eligible tuition fees paid during the year. Finally, students who incur interest costs for student loans received from government student loan programs can deduct the cost of those interest payments, without limit.

Effective as of January 1, 2017, the first two of those credits have been eliminated, and neither the textbook tax credit nor the education credit will be claimable for 2017 or subsequent years. Unused education and textbook credit amounts carried forward from years prior to 2017 will be available to be claimed in 2017 and subsequent years.

The claim for a tax credit for tuition amounts paid and the claim for a deduction for interest payments made on qualifying student loans are not affected.

Taxpayer should be aware, as well, that the provinces also offered tuition and education tax credits which could be used to reduce provincial tax payable. While changes similar to the federal ones have been made at the provincial level, those changes are not uniform. Some provinces have chosen to repeal both the education and tuition tax credits, effective July 1, 2017, while others have announced that only the education tax credit will be repealed, and not until 2018. Still other provinces have indicated that no change is planned to their current system of tuition and education tax credits. Consequently, taxpayers will need to determine whether and to what extent claims for provincial tuition and education tax credits remain available for 2017 in their province of residence.

Children’s fitness and arts tax credits repealed

For several years, parents have been able to claim a federal tax credit for expenditures made to enroll their children in fitness and arts-related activities. The federal government has been moving over the last couple of years to cut back on the availability of that credit, generally by reducing the amount claimable. For 2017, both the children’s arts and fitness tax credits have been repealed.

Public transit tax credit repealed

For several years, individual taxpayers have been entitled to claim a refundable federal tax credit for costs incurred in taking public transit on a regular basis. The definition of what constituted public transit was extremely broad, covering everything from buses to ferries. As well, it was possible to combine qualifying amounts incurred by all family members and claim them on a single return, maximizing the value of the credit.

However, as part of this year’s federal Budget, it was announced that the public transit tax credit would be repealed, effective as of July 1, 2017. Taxpayers who have purchased an annual transit pass for 2017 (or who might be thinking of trying to beat the deadline by purchasing monthly passes for the rest of 2017 before July 1) will not escape the effect of the repeal. The budget measures specify that the cost of transit passes attributable to public transit use which occurs after June 30, 2017 will no longer be eligible for the credit, regardless of when the expenditure for those passes is incurred.

Notwithstanding, the public transit will be claimable on the 2017 return for qualifying expenditures made for travel on public transit before July 1, 2017, and so taxpayers should keep receipts to support those claims.

Caregiver tax credits replaced

Individuals who live with or care for relatives in a variety of situations have been able to claim one or more caregiver tax credits to help offset the cost of providing such care. The number of tax credits related to caregiver activities has expanded over the years and had become a somewhat confusing patchwork of possible credit claims.

In this year’s budget, and effective as of January 1, 2017, the federal government acted to replace the current patchwork of credits with a single Canada Caregiver Credit. The new single credit, for the most part, will provide caregivers with the same tax relief as the old system did, with one major exception. Members of more than one generation of a family live under the same roof for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, a retired grandparent who lives with his or her children and grandchildren can help out with child care while the parents are at work. Sometimes, especially in more expensive real estate markets, having multiple generations under the same roof is a matter of economic necessity. Prior to 2017, where an individual lived in the same residence with a parent or grandparent who was aged 65 or older, that individual could claim a caregiver tax credit with respect to the parent or grandparent. There was no requirement that the senior parent or grandparent be disabled or infirm in any way.

As of 2017, no credit will be claimable in such situations. The new Canada Caregiver Credit will be claimable in a range of living situations and for individuals of various ages. However, the one constant requirement to qualify for that credit is that the person in respect of whom it is claimed be infirm. As stated in the federal Budget papers “The Canada Caregiver Credit will no longer be available in respect of non-infirm seniors who reside with their adult children.”

The credits outlined above are claimed by millions of taxpayer every year. And, every taxpayer who made such claims for 2016 will see an increase in his or her tax bill for 2017, when those claims will no longer be available. Planning now for that reality will enable such taxpayers to avoid an unexpected and unwelcome tax bill owed when the return for 2017 is filed next spring.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

Fixing a mistake on your (already-filed) tax return (May 2017)

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

Not infrequently, the taxpayer realizes, after the return is filed, that information has been inadvertently misstated, or perhaps amounts have been omitted where an information slip was received (or located) after the return was filed. In such situations, the taxpayer is often at a loss to know how to proceed, but the process for amending a return is actually quite straightforward. Occasionally, the first thought in such circumstances is that another —corrected — return should be filed, but that is not the right course of action. Instead, the taxpayer should wait until a Notice of Assessment has been received in respect of the return already filed, and then file a T1 Adjustment Request with the CRA, outlining the needed corrections.

The easiest and quickest way of requesting an adjustment is through the CRA website’s “My Account” service, but that option is available only to taxpayers who have already registered for that service. While doing so isn’t difficult (the steps involved are outlined on the website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/myaccount/, it does take a few weeks to complete the process.

Taxpayers who don’t want to deal with the CRA through its website, or who don’t think it’s worth registering for My Account just to deal with the CRA on a single issue, can obtain a hard copy of the T1 Adjustment form from the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pbg/tf/t1-adj/README.html. Those who are unable to print the form from the website can order a copy to be sent to them by mail by calling the CRA’s individual income tax enquiries line at 1-800-959-8281. The use of the actual form isn’t mandatory – the third option of sending a letter to the CRA is an acceptable alternative – but using the prescribed form has two benefits. First, it makes clear to the CRA that an adjustment is being requested, and secondly, filling out the form will ensure that the CRA is provided with all the information needed to process the requested adjustment. And, whether the request is made using the T1 Adjustment form or by letter, it is necessary to include any relevant documents – the information slip summarizing the income not reported, or the receipt for an expense inadvertently not claimed.

A listing of Tax Centres and their addresses can be found on the CRA website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/cntct/prv/txcntr-eng.html. An Adjustment request should be sent to the same Tax Centre with which the original tax return was filed. A taxpayer who isn’t sure where that is can go to www.cra-arc.gc.ca/cntct/tso-bsf-eng.html on the CRA website and select his or her location from the listing found there. The address for the correct Tax Centre will then be provided.

Where an Adjustment request is made, it will take at least a few weeks, usually longer, before the CRA responds. The Agency’s estimate is that such requests which are submitted online have a turnaround of about two weeks, while those which come in by mail take about eight weeks. Not unexpectedly, all requests which are submitted during the CRA’s peak return processing period between March and July will take longer.

Sometimes the CRA will contact the taxpayer, even before the return is assessed, to request further information, clarification, or documentation of deductions or credits claimed (e.g., receipts documenting medical expenses claimed, or child care costs). Whatever the nature of the request, the best course of action is to respond promptly, and to provide the requested documents or information. The CRA can assess only on the basis of the information with which it is provided, and it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to provide support for any deduction or credit claims made. Where a request for information or supporting documentation for a claimed deduction or credit is ignored by the taxpayer, the assessment will proceed on the basis that such support does not exist. Providing the requested information or supporting documentation can usually resolve the question to the CRA’s satisfaction, and its assessment of the taxpayer’s return can then proceed.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.
February 6

It’s RRSP time – again

There’s little likelihood that the average Canadian taxpayer can fail to notice that it is, once again, registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) season, given the number of television, radio, and online RRSP-related advertisements and reminders which invariably appear at this time of year. This year taxpayers must, in order to deduct an RRSP contribution on their income tax return for 2016, make that contribution on or before Wednesday, March 1, 2017. The maximum allowable current year contribution which can be made by any individual taxpayer for 2016 is 18% of that taxpayer’s earned income for the 2015 year, to a statutory maximum of $25,370.

Those are the basic rules governing RRSP contributions for the 2016 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 that 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 2016 will take a bit of research. The first step in determining one’s total (current year and carryforward) contribution room for 2016 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 2015 taxation year will have received a Notice of Assessment from the CRA, and the amount of that taxpayer’s allowable RRSP contribution room for 2016 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 Individual Income Tax Enquiries toll-free telephone line at 1-800-959-8281. 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 2015 tax return. Those who don’t wish to use an automated service can 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 or long-term option or even, in some cases, the only one available.

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

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, in a need for funds should arise in the meantime, a tax-free TFSA withdrawal can always be made.

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 currently in the workforce 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 is calculated as 18% of earned income for 2015. 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 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 www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/tpcs/rrsp-reer/menu-eng.html and www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/tpcs/tfsa-celi/menu-eng.html.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.
October 9

October 2016 Newsletter

Determining your Canada Pension Plan entitlement

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) retirement benefits are available to virtually any Canadian who has participated in the work force and made contributions to the CPP and for most retirees, that monthly CPP benefit represents a substantial percentage of their income. Consequently, knowing what to expect in the way of CPP retirement benefits is crucial to an individual’s retirement income planning.

Unfortunately, it’s also a safe bet that most Canadians don’t know much they can expect to receive each month from the CPP – or even how to find out that amount. The relevant information is available on each individual’s Statement of Contributions, a document prepared annually by the federal government. However, while the federal government used to mail a Statement of Contributions to each contributor to the CPP annually, such statements are now automatically sent only to Canadians who are aged 59 to 65. Anyone else who wants to obtain a copy of their Statement of Contributions must take the initiative to obtain it from the federal government by making a specific request.

Such a request can be made by telephone, mail, or online, in the following ways:

  • A telephone request for a Statement of Contributions is made by calling Service Canada at 1-800-277-9914;
  • A paper copy of an Application for Statement of Contributions to Canada Pension Plan can be obtained online at hrsdc.gc.ca/cgi-bin/search/eforms/index.cgi?app=profile&form=isp2000&lang=e; or
  • to view and print an individual’s Statement of Contributions online, from the Service Canada website, it is necessary to first request a Service Canada access code atservicecanada.gc.ca/eng/online/pac/pacinfo.shtml. That access code, which is sent to the individual by mail, can then be used to obtain online access to information about a number of federal government benefits, including CPP benefits.

It’s apparent that, whatever the method used, it takes a few weeks before a Statement is obtained.

Once the Statement of Contributions is obtained, however, the recipient will have all the information needed to determine his or her CPP entitlement.

A hard copy of the Statement of Contributions has three sections. The first outlines the individual’s name, the address that Service Canada has on file for that individual, the individual’s date of birth and the date that the Statement of Contributions was prepared. That last date is important because, as additional contributions are made in successive years by the individual to the CPP, the amount of benefits receivable will change.

The second section of the Statement outlines the contributions made by the individual to the CPP and pensionable earnings received each year since the age of 18, which is the first year that contributions can be made.  There is generally a lag time before contributions made show up on the Statement of Contributions – for instance, a Statement of Contributions issued during 2016 will likely show contributions made up until the end of 2015.

The third section of the Statement of Contributions is the one in which the amount of CPP benefits which may be received are summarized. And, while the CPP is generally thought of primarily as a source of retirement income, there are in fact three types of CPP benefits:

  • retirement benefits;
  • disability benefits (payable, as the name implies, to individuals who have contributed to the CPP but are no longer able to work because they have a severe and prolonged disability); and
  • survivor benefits (payable to surviving relatives of a CPP contributor who has died).

The summary of retirement benefits shows, firstly, the amount of CPP benefits which would be payable to the individual if he or she were 65 years old at the time the statement was prepared (remembering that that amount can change, depending on the amount of CPP contributions made in future years).  That figure is followed by two figures. Where the individual is under age of 60, the statement will show the amount of benefit which would be receivable by the same individual if he or she chose to receive the CPP retirement benefit at the ages of 60, 65, or 70. Where the individual is already over the age of 60, the statement will show how much benefit would be receivable if payment were to start immediately, and also the amount of monthly benefit which would be receivable at age 65 and at age 70. The earlier the CPP retirement benefit is received, the lower the monthly benefit amount payable. For example, a person who is 62 years of age in 2016 and could receive a monthly CPP retirement benefit of $744 if benefits were started the following month would be eligible for a monthly benefit of $964 if receipt was deferred to the age of 65. Changes announced in recent years will increase the “gap” between those figures, as those who elect to begin receiving CPP retirement benefits before the age of 65 will see their benefits reduced to a greater degree than is currently the case.

Where an individual who has contributed to the CPP dies, his or her surviving spouse or common law partner is generally entitled to receive CPP survivor benefits. The amount of the survivor’s benefit payable is determined by both the amount of contributions made by the deceased contributor and by the age and circumstances of the surviving spouse or common-law partner. Continuing with the individual example above, a surviving spouse or partner of that individual who is aged 65 or over could receive a survivor’s pension of $578 per month. Where the surviving spouse or partner is aged 45 to 65, or is under the age of 45 but has dependent children, or is disabled, the monthly survivor benefit amount is reduced slightly to $545. Further reductions in the survivor benefit are taken where the surviving spouse or partner is under the age of 45 but does not have dependent children and is not disabled. Finally, dependent children of a CPP contributor are entitled to receive a monthly survivor’s benefit until the age of 18, or up to age 25 if they remain full-time students.

The amounts contributed by an individual to the CPP throughout his or her working life determine the amount of CPP benefits which will be payable to that individual later in life. Consequently, it is important to ensure that the contribution information on file with the federal government, as well as the personal information like birth date, address, and the like, is accurate and up-to-date. The birth date information on the CPP Statement of Contributions is the one registered on the individual’s Social Insurance Number record. If that information is incorrect, the individual should contact the Social Insurance Registration Office at 1-800-206-7218 to determine how to correct it. Where there is an error on the Statement of Contributions with respect to CPP contributions made or the amount of pensionable earnings received, it is necessary to write to the CPP, providing supporting documentation for the needed correction. The address to which such correspondence is sent can be found on the back of the Statement of Contributions form.

Finally, the federal government provides a great deal of information on its website with respect to the CPP and Canada’s retirement income system generally. A good starting point is the Service Canada website at www.esdc.gc.ca/en/cpp/index.page.

 

Planning for year-end charitable donations

The start of fall marks a lot of things, among them a number of runs, walks, and other similar events held to raise money for a broad range of Canadian charities. And, in a few months, as the holiday season approaches, charities will launch their year-end marketing campaigns.

Canadians have a well-deserved reputation for supporting charitable causes, through donations of both money and goods. Our tax system supports that generosity by providing a tax credit, at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels, for qualifying  donations made. Federally, taxpayers can claim a credit of 15% of the first $200 in donations plus 29% of donations over the $200 threshold. The tax credit provided by the provinces and territories works in much the same way, in that a tax credit is provided on the first $200 in donations at the lowest tax rate imposed by that province or territory, and a credit on donations above the $200 level at the province or territory’s highest tax rate. The only exceptions are the provinces of Alberta and Quebec. Alberta provides a credit of 10% on the first $200 in donations, and an enhanced credit of 21% on the balance. Quebec provides a charitable donations tax credit on the first $200 of donations at the 20% rate applicable to its middle income bracket. Donations above the $200 threshold are eligible for credit at the province’s top tax rate of 24%.

As is the case with most expenditures that benefit from favourable tax treatment, in order to make a claim for the charitable donations tax credit in a year, a donation must be made by the end of that calendar year. And, this year and next, there is an additional incentive to maximize donations made, in the form of a “First-Time Donors Super Credit”.

The name of the program is somewhat misleading, as the credit is not available just to first-time donors, but to anyone who has not claimed a charitable donations tax credit in recent years. Specifically, where neither a taxpayer nor his or her spouse has claimed a charitable donations tax credit for any year after 2007, either will be able to claim the “super credit” for donations made in 2016 or 2017.

The name “super credit”, however, is not a misnomer. While the usual federal tax credit rate for donations under and above the $200 threshold is 15% and 29% respectively, the super credit supplements the value of such credit by 25%, as shown in the following example provided on the CRA website:

An eligible first-time donor claims $700 of charitable donations in 2016, of which $300 are donations of money. The charitable donations tax credit (CDTC) and the first-time donor’s super credit (FDSC) would be calculated as follows:

  • On the first $200 of charitable donations claimed, the CDTC is ($200 x 15%) = $30.
  • On the donations claimed in excess of $200, the CDTC is [($700 − $200) x 29%] = $145.
  • On the donations that are gifts of money, the FDSC is ($300 x 25%) = $75.
  • The total of the CDTC and FDSC is $250.

There are a couple of restrictions on donations which qualify for the super credit. Only donations of money (not goods) will qualify for the super credit. As is the usual rule for charitable donations tax credit claims, the super credit can be claimed by one spouse for donations made by either, or can be shared between spouses. However the super credit is divided, it can be claimed on only $1,000 in total donations. As well, the super credit can be claimed only once.

Since the charitable donations tax credit is a two-level credit, in which the credit percentage increases once donations made in a year exceed $200, it always makes sense to aggregate donations in a single year, so as to maximize the amount of credit claimable. That advice applies especially to taxpayers who are eligible to claim the super credit, which can only be claimed once.

The super credit will be claimable only for donations made to registered charities. Any charity seeking or receiving a donation should be able to provide a registered charitable number, and a searchable current listing of registered charities can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency website atwww.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/lstngs/menu-eng.html, and information on the charitable donations tax credit and the super credit is available on the same website at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/tpcs/ncm-tx/rtrn/cmpltng/ddctns/lns300-350/349/menu-eng.html.

 

Canadians household debt levels hit a record high (again)

It has become something of a dreary chorus over the past decade, as financial advisers, central bankers and even Ministers of Finance remind, warn, and even scold Canadians about the risks associated with their ever-increasing levels of household debt.

That chorus was renewed this month, as statistics issued for the second quarter (April to June) of 2016 showed that the amount of household debt held by Canadians, expressed as a percentage of disposable income, had set yet another record. At the end of that quarter, as reported by Statistics Canada, Canadians households held $1.68 in credit market debt for every dollar of disposable income.

Credit comes in many forms, of course, and it’s important to make a distinction between, in particular, secured and unsecured credit. In the first type – secured debt – the lender “secures” the debt against an asset owned by the borrower, meaning that if the debt is not repaid as agreed, the lender has the right to seize and sell the underlying asset in order to be repaid. Although any asset can serve as security for money loaned (car loans being one example), the kind of secured debt most familiar to Canadians is, of course, a mortgage. Unsecured debt, by contrast, is money provided to a borrower on no more than the strength of the borrower’s promise to repay – and the best example of that type of debt familiar to most Canadians is a credit card.

The figures released by StatsCan for the second quarter of 2016 with respect to household debt figures includes all “credit market debt”, which includes consumer credit and mortgage and non-mortgage loans. In virtually every Canadian household that has outstanding debt, the largest such debt is their mortgage, and much of the borrowing which has place in recent years has been in the form of mortgage or home equity line of credit (HELOC) borrowing, both of which are secured against the value of the home. A household which has a mortgage or a home equity line of credit therefore also has an asset – their home – which is worth more than the amount of the mortgage or HELOC and which, if necessary, be sold to pay off that mortgage or HELOC debt. There are, however, two risks to such borrowing. The first is that a downturn in the residential real estate market could mean that the value of the home drops below the amount of the mortgage or HELOC.  The second is that while the increased mortgage or HELOC debt of such households is manageable at current interest rates, those rates are at historic lows and will inevitably increase at some (unknown) point in the future.

Canadians who are carrying significant amounts of debt secured against their home do at least have the security of an asset which could be sold to pay that debt. That’s not the case for those carrying unsecured debt, and the amount of such debt is, in almost all categories, on the increase.

The credit reporting agency TransUnion recently issued a report summarizing non-mortgage debt held by Canadians during the second quarter of 2016. That report, which is available athttps://www.transunion.ca/, indicated that Canadians had reached a non-mortgage debt balance of $21,580 in the second quarter of 2016, up by just under 3% from the balance amount recorded in the second quarter of 2015.

The non-mortgage debt held by Canadians was broken down in the TransUnion report into four categories: bankcard (credit card) debt; auto loans, lines of credit, and installment loans, and the average balances held in each category were as follows:

Bankcard …………………  $3,925 (up by 2.03% year-over-year)

Auto …………………………   $19,896 (up by 3.20% year-over-year)

Lines of credit …………… $29,649 (down by 0.03% year-over-year)

Installment loans ………  $24,021 (up by 6.31% year-over-year)

It’s easy to become complacent, perhaps, when the amount of Canadian household debt, both in dollar terms and as a percentage of household net income, has increased in a series of small quarterly and annual increments, none of which may seem particularly remarkable on their own. However, a look at the longer-term trend paints a different picture.

In 1990, the amount of debt held by Canadian households as a percentage of disposable income stood at 93%. Over the next 15 years, that percentage rose by an average of 1% per year, until it stood at 108% in 2005. Five years later, in 2010, debt held by Canadian households was, on average, equal to 150% of their disposable income, meaning that such debt had risen by an average of just over 8% per year between 2005 and 2010. And, of course, as of the second quarter of 2016, that debt to disposable income percentage has reached a new high of 168%.

And, one final number which may help to put the amount of debt held by Canadian households in context: a country’s gross domestic product, or GDP, is the total value of all of the goods and services produced by that country in a given time period; for the second quarter of 2016, the amount of household debt held by Canadians exceeded, for the first time, Canada’s total GDP.

A few questions about your tax return

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

What that means for the individual taxpayer is the possibility of receiving unexpected correspondence from the CRA. Receiving such correspondence from the tax authorities is almost guaranteed to unsettle the recipient taxpayer, even where there’s no reason to believe that anything is wrong. But, it’s an experience which will be shared this fall by millions of Canadian taxpayers.

In 2016, Canadians filed over 28 million individual income tax returns with the CRA. The vast majority of those returns – about 24 million – were filed by electronic means (either EFILE or NETFILE), while only just over 4 million paper returns were filed. For several years, the CRA has encouraged taxpayers to take advantage of its electronic filing options, and its efforts have clearly been a success.  As the CRA has always noted, filing electronically means faster turnaround (and quicker refunds!) but, when returns are filed by electronic methods there is, by definition, no paper involved. The Canadian tax system has always been what is termed a “self-assessing” system, in which taxpayers report income earned and claim deductions and credits to which they believe they are entitled. There have, however, always been means by which the CRA can verify claims made by taxpayers. Where returns are paper-filed, taxpayers must usually include receipts or other documentation to prove their claims, whether those claims are for dependent tax credits, charitable donations, medical expenses, or other similar deductions and credits. For the 85% of returns which were filed this year by electronic means, no such paper trail exists. Consequently, the potential exists for misrepresentation of such claims (or simple reporting errors) on a large scale. The CRA’s response to that risk is to carry out a post-assessment review process, in which the Agency asks taxpayers to back up or verify claims for credits or deductions which were made on the return filed this past spring.

That post-assessment review process starts in the month of August. There are two components to the review process – the Processing Review Program and the Matching Program. The former is a review of various deductions or credits claimed on returns, while the latter compares information included on the taxpayer’s return with information provided to the CRA by third-party sources, like T4s filed by employers or T5s filed by banks or other financial institutions. The time periods during which the two programs are carried out overlap, as the peak time for the Processing Review Program is between August and December, while the Matching Program is carried out from October to March.

While the two programs are carried out more or less concurrently, they are quite different. The Processing Review Program asks the taxpayer to provide verification or proof of deductions or credits claimed on the return, while the Matching Program deals with discrepancies between the information on the taxpayer’s return and information filed by third parties with respect to the taxpayer’s income for the year.

Of course, most taxpayers are not concerned so much with the kind or program or programs under which they are contacted as they are with why their return was singled out for review. Many taxpayers assume that it’s because there is something wrong on their return, or that the letter is a precursor to an audit, but that’s not usually the case. Returns are selected by the CRA for post-assessment review for a number of reasons. Under the Matching Program, where a taxpayer has filed a return containing information which does not agree with the corresponding information filed by, for instance, his or her employer, it’s likely that the CRA will want to follow that up to find out the reason for the discrepancy. Canada’s tax laws are complex and, over the years, the CRA has determined that there are areas in which taxpayers are more likely to make errors on their return, so a return which includes claims in those areas may have an increased chance of being reviewed. Where there are deductions or credits claimed by the taxpayer which are significantly different or greater than those claimed in previous returns that may attract the CRA’s attention. And, if the taxpayer’s return has been reviewed in previous years and, especially, if an adjustment was made following that review, subsequent reviews may be more likely. Finally, many returns are picked for post-assessment review simply on a random basis.

Regardless of the reason for the follow-up, the process is the same. Taxpayers whose returns are selected for review will receive a letter from the CRA, identifying the deduction or credit for which the CRA wants documentation or the income amount about which a discrepancy seems to exist. The taxpayer will be given a reasonable period of time – usually a few weeks from the date of the letter – in which to respond to the CRA’s request. That response should be in writing, attaching, if needed, the receipts or other documentation which the CRA has requested. All correspondence from the CRA under its review programs will include a reference number, which is usually found in the top right hand corner of the CRA’s letter. That number is the means by which the CRA tracks the particular inquiry, and should be included in the response sent to the Agency.

Taxpayers who have registered for the CRA’s online tax program My Account (or whose representative is similarly registered for the Agency’s Represent a Client online service) can submit required documentation electronically. More information on how to do so can be found on the CRA website atwww.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/tpcs/ncm-tx/rvws/sbmttng-eng.html.

Regardless of the means by which requested documents are submitted, it is possible that the CRA will send a follow-up letter, or the taxpayer may be contacted by telephone, with a request from the Agency for more information.

One word of caution – as most Canadians have heard by now, there is a persistent tax scam operating in which taxpayers are contacted by telephone by someone falsely claiming to be from the CRA (or, more recently, from the “Federal Tax Court”, which does not exist). Such fraudulent callers generally indicate that a review of the taxpayer’s return shows that additional taxes are owed, and insist that immediate payment is required, by wire transfer of funds or pre-paid credit card. Taxpayers should be aware that payment of taxes is never requested in this way, or by either of those methods. While the CRA can and does contact taxpayers by phone, any CRA representative will have the reference number which appeared in the CRA’s initial letter and should be prepared to quote that number to the taxpayer in order to establish that the call is an authentic one. As well, the CRA does not correspond with taxpayers on confidential tax matters by e-mail. The only legitimate e-mail which a taxpayer might receive from the CRA is one which advises that there is a new message for that taxpayer in his or her online account with the CRA – and only taxpayers who have previously registered for the CRA’s My Account service would receive such an e-mail. Any other type of e-mail claiming to be from the CRA is not authentic and should be deleted without opening.

Whatever the reason a particular return was selected for post-assessment review by the CRA, one thing is certain: a prompt response to the CRA’s enquiry, providing the Agency with the information or documentation requested will, in the vast majority of cases, bring the matter to a speedy conclusion, to the satisfaction of both the Agency and the taxpayer.