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.
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.