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Both changes in the job market and increases in real estate prices over at least the past decade have made the goal of home ownership an elusive or even impossible one for many Canadians, especially younger Canadians.


Most taxpayers sit down to do their annual tax return, or wait to hear from their tax return preparer, with some degree of trepidation. In most cases taxpayers don’t know, until their return is completed, what the “bottom line” will be, and it’s usually a case of hoping for the best and fearing the worst.


Our tax system is, for the most part, a mystery to individual Canadians. The rules surrounding income tax are complicated and it can seem that for every rule there is an equal number of exceptions or qualifications. There is, however, one rule which applies to every individual taxpayer in Canada, regardless of location, income, or circumstances, and of which most Canadians are aware. That rule is that income tax owed for a year must be paid, in full, on or before April 30 of the following year. This year, that means that individual income taxes owed for 2018 must be remitted to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on or before Tuesday, April 30, 2019 — no exceptions and, absent extraordinary circumstances, no extensions.


By the time most Canadians sit down to organize their various tax slips and receipts and undertake to complete their tax return for 2018, the most significant opportunities to minimize the tax bill for the year are no longer available. Most such tax planning or saving strategies, in order to be effective for 2018, must have been implemented by the end of that calendar year. The major exception to that is, of course, the making of registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contributions, but even that had to be done on or before March 1, 2019 in order to be deducted on the return for 2018.


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


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


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


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


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


The fact that debt levels of Canadian households have been increasing over the past decade and a half can’t really be called news anymore. In particular, the ratio of debt-to-household-income, which stood at 93% in 2005, has risen steadily since then and, as of the third quarter of 2018, reached (another) new record of 177.5%. In other words, the average Canadian household owed $1.78 for every dollar of disposable (after-tax) income. (The Statistics Canada publication reporting those findings can be found on the StatsCan website at https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/181214/dq181214a-eng.htm.)


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


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


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


The Employment Insurance premium rate for 2019 is decreased to 1.62%.


The Quebec Pension Plan contribution rate for employees and employers for 2019 is 5.55%, and maximum pensionable earnings are $57,400. The basic exemption is $3,500.


The Canada Pension Plan contribution rate for 2019 is increased to 5.1% of pensionable earnings for the year.


Dollar amounts on which individual non-refundable federal tax credits for 2019 are based, and the actual tax credit claimable, will be as follows.


The indexing factor for federal tax credits and brackets for 2018 is 2.2%. The following federal tax rates and brackets will be in effect for individuals for the 2019 tax year.


Each new tax year brings with it a listing of tax payment and filing deadlines, as well as some changes with respect to tax planning strategies. Some of the more significant dates and changes for individual taxpayers for 2019 are listed below.


The following tax changes are in effect January 1, 2019.


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


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


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


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


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


Home renovations are big business right now in Canada, as many homeowners opt to make changes and/or additions to their current residences rather than try to find a new home in the current real estate market. And, while the cost of renovating one’s home is usually considered a personal expense which doesn’t qualify for any tax credit or deduction, starting this year there is an exception to that rule.


By the time this summer reached the halfway mark, most Canadian taxpayers had filed a tax return for 2015, received a Notice of Assessment with respect to that return, and considered that their income tax obligations for this year were complete. For a significant number of those taxpayers, however, the filing of that return will trigger the issuance of a 2016 Tax Instalment Reminder from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and that reminder will show up in their mailboxes sometime during the month of August. On that form, the CRA will suggest to the recipient that he or she should make instalment payments of income tax on September 15 and December 15, 2016, and will identify the amount which should be paid on each date.


As the summer starts to wind down, both students returning this fall to their post-secondary institutions and those just starting post-secondary education must focus on the details of the upcoming school year: finding a place to live, choosing courses, and — perhaps most important — arranging payment of tuition and other education-related bills.


For most of the year, taxpayers live quite happily without any contact with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). During and just following tax filing season, however, such contact is routine – tax returns must be filed, Notices of Assessment are received from the CRA and, on occasion, the CRA will contact a taxpayer seeking clarification of income amounts reported or documentation of  deductions or credits claimed on the annual return. Consequently, it wouldn’t necessarily strike taxpayers as unusual to be contacted by the CRA with a message that a tax amount is owed or, more happily, that the taxpayer is owed a refund by the Agency. Consequently, it’s the perfect time for scam artists posing as representatives of the CRA to seize the opportunity to defraud taxpayers.


By the end of June all individual taxpayers have filed their 2015 income tax returns and most will have received a Notice of Assessment outlining the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA’s) conclusions with respect to that taxpayer’s income and tax position for the year. In most cases, the Notice of Assessment won’t vary a great deal from the information provided by the taxpayer in his or her return. Where it does, and the change is to the taxpayer’s detriment, taxable income assessed is greater than the amount reported by the taxpayer, or a deduction or credit is denied, then the taxpayer has to decide whether to dispute the CRA’s assessment.


By now, most Canadians are familiar with the use and the benefits of a tax-free savings account (TFSA), which have proven to be a very popular savings vehicle since they were introduced in 2009. What’s proven to be harder to do is keeping track of one’s annual TFSA contribution limit. The annual TFSA contribution limit contribution allowed by law has been something of a moving target, subject to change after change by successive governments. As well, withdrawals made from a TFSA are added to one’s annual contribution limit, but not until the following taxation year – a fact that has escaped many TFSA holders and sometimes even their financial advisers. And finally, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) used to provide information on a taxpayer’s current year TFSA contribution limit on the annual Notice of Assessment, but that’s no longer the case, meaning that the taxpayer has to make an extra effort to obtain that information.


There has been much discussion in recent years about whether Canadians are adequately prepared for retirement and, more specifically, whether Canadians are saving enough to ensure a retirement free of undue financial stress. While the financial health of current and soon-to-be-retirees (essentially, the baby boomers) is a concern, the focus is more on the question of whether our current system is such that younger Canadians can expect to have some degree of financial security in retirement. The workplace has altered dramatically in the past quarter century and many of the retirement income options which were relied upon by previous generations – especially an employer-sponsored defined benefit pension plan – are all but unknown to private sector workers under the age of 30 or even 40.


The forest fires affecting Northern Alberta and the Canada’s Revenue Agency’s (CRA’s) offer of administrative tax relief to those affected by the fires and the resulting evacuations has highlighted a federal government program of which few taxpayers are aware – the CRA’s Taxpayer Relief Program. In a nutshell, that program offers relief from interest charges, penalties, and collection actions for those who are unable, due to circumstances outside their control, from fulfilling their tax filing and/or payment obligations.


Springtime and early summer is moving season in Canada. The real estate market is traditionally at its strongest in the spring, and spring house sales are followed by real estate closings and moves in the following late spring and early summer months. All of this means that a great number of Canadians will be buying or selling houses this spring and summer and, inevitably, moving. Moving is a stressful and often expensive undertaking, even when the move is a desired one — buying a coveted (and increasingly difficult to obtain) first home, perhaps, or taking a step up the property ladder to a second, larger home. There is not much that can diminish the stress of moving, but the financial hit can be offset somewhat by a tax deduction which may be claimed for many of those moving-related costs.