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click here to access Norm's Tips and Traps 4Q 2019 saveutax.com


click here to access Norm's 3Q Tips and Traps

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Planning for – or even thinking about – 2020 taxes when it’s not even December 2019 may seem more than a little premature. However, most Canadians will start paying their taxes for 2020 with the first paycheque they receive in January, and it’s worth taking a bit of time to make sure that things start off – and stay – on the right foot.


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, within the next month, as the holiday season approaches, charities will launch their year-end marketing campaigns.


Most Canadians expend a considerable amount of time and effort in order to put money aside for retirement. Especially in an era in which the majority of workers can’t look forward to receiving an employer-sponsored pension plan, Canadians are well aware that the bulk of their income during retirement will have to come from government sources and from their own savings efforts.


To win elections, politicians need votes. And to run the election campaigns needed to garner those votes, those politicians need an organization, volunteers, and money — a lot of money. To wage the most recent federal election, the major political parties raised and spent millions of dollars, and their task of raising that money was undoubtedly made somewhat easier by the fact that Canadian taxpayers who donated money to political parties or candidate can obtain some tax relief from doing so.


Tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs) have been around for a full decade now, having been introduced in 2009, and for most Canadians, a TFSA (along with a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP)) is now a regular part of their financial and tax planning.


In most cases, the need to seek out and obtain legal services (and to pay for them) is associated with life’s more unwelcome occurrences and experiences — a divorce, a dispute over a family estate, or a job loss. About the only thing that mitigates the pain of paying legal fees (apart, hopefully, from a successful resolution of the problem that created the need for legal advice) would be being able to claim a tax credit or deduction for the fees paid.


As the baby boom generation ages, members of that generation must switch their focus from the accumulation of retirement savings to creating a structure which will ensure a steady flow of income throughout that retirement. Those individuals face a particular deadline when their 71st birthday arrives, as they must, by December 31st of that year, collapse their RRSP and convert it into a source of retirement income.


When parents separate and divorce, it is frequently the case that they are able to agree on an arrangement to share custody of their children. Such a shared-custody arrangement is often to the benefit of all concerned, especially the children of the marriage.


Canadians are fortunate to benefit from a publicly funded health care system, in which most costs of care ranging from routine visits to a family doctor to intensive care in a hospital setting are paid for by government-sponsored health insurance.


The Canadian tax system is a “self-assessing system” which relies heavily on the voluntary co-operation of taxpayers. Canadians are expected (in fact, in most cases, required), to complete and file a tax return each spring, reporting income from all sources, calculating the amount of tax owed, and remitting that amount to the federal government by a specified deadline.


By now, news of yet another data breach resulting in unauthorized access to personal information — especially financial information — has become so frequent as to seem almost commonplace. Notwithstanding, the recent data breach affecting Capital One was, in many ways, a singular event.


In this year’s Budget, the federal government announced the creation of a program — the First-time Home Buyers’ Incentive, or FTHBI, to provide assistance to individuals seeking to enter the housing market. Under that FTHBI, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) (an agency of the federal government) will add a specified amount to the down payment made on a home purchase by a qualifying buyer, with the effect of reducing the amount of the monthly mortgage payment required of the new home owner.


Raising children is expensive and, in recognition of that fact, the federal government has, for more than half a century, provided financial assistance to parents to help with those costs. That assistance has ranged from monthly Family Allowance payments received by families during the 1960s to its current iteration, the Canada Child Benefit.


An increasing number of Canada’s baby boomers are moving into retirement with each passing year and, for most of those baby boomers, retirement looks a lot different than it did for their parents. First of all, as life expectancy continues to increase, baby boomers can expect to spend a greater proportion of their life in retirement than their parents did. Second, the financial picture for baby boomers is likely to be different. Many of their parents benefitted, in retirement, from an employer sponsored pension plan, which ensured a monthly payment of income for the remainder of their lives. Now, such pension plans and the dependable monthly income they provide are, especially for boomers who spent their working lives in the private sector, more the exception than the rule. Where, however, baby boomers have the “advantage” over their parents in retirement, it’s in the value of their homes. Increases in residential property values over the past quarter century in nearly every market in Canada have meant that for many Canadians who are retired or approaching retirement, their homes – or more specifically, the equity they have built up in those homes – represents their single most valuable asset.


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.


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. 


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.)


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.


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.


Getting a post-secondary education – or professional training – isn’t inexpensive. Tuition costs can range from as little as $5,000 per year for undergraduate studies to as much as $40,000 in tuition for a year of professional education. And those costs don’t factor in necessary expenditures on textbooks and other ancillary costs, to say nothing of general living expenses, like rent, transportation and food.


Most Canadians deal with our tax system only once a year, when preparing the annual tax return. And, while that return – the T1 Individual Income Tax Return – may be only four pages long, the information on those four pages is supported by 13 supplementary federal schedules, dealing with everything from the calculation of the tax-free gain on the sale of a principal residence to the determination of required Canada Pension Plan contributions by self-employed taxpayers.


Anyone who has ever tried to reduce their overall personal or household debt knows that doing so, no matter how disciplined one’s approach, can seem like a one step forward, two steps back proposition. It sometimes seems that, just as measurable progress is achieved in one area (an extra payment is made on the mortgage), unexpected costs in another area (a significant car repair bill) push up the level of debt elsewhere (e.g., credit card debt).


As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, many Canadians start thinking about spending a few days or weeks (or even longer) of the upcoming winter somewhere warmer. For some, that means going south for the holidays, while for others a January or February escape from winter has more appeal. And some Canadians, generally “snowbird” seniors who have retired, will spend most of the winter in a warmer climate.


The daily commute to and from work is, generally, everybody’s least favourite part of the work day. In recent years that commute has gotten longer and longer as many Canadians, especially those working in large urban centers, have moved further and further away from their workplaces in search of affordable family housing.


Tax scams have been around, probably, for about as long as Canada has had a tax system. They also have a tendency to proliferate at certain times of the year — often during tax return filing and assessment season, when it wouldn’t necessarily strike taxpayers as unusual to receive a communication purporting to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), with a message regarding that person’s taxes — whether in relation to a tax refund or an amount of tax owing.


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


By the middle of May 2018, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) had processed just over 26 million individual income tax returns filed for the 2017 tax year. Just over 14 million of those returns resulted in a refund to the taxpayer, while about 5.5 million returns filed and processed required payment of a tax balance by the taxpayer. Finally, about 4.4 million returns were what are called “nil” returns — returns where no tax is owing and no refund claimed, but the taxpayer is filing in order to provide income information which will be used to determine his or her eligibility for tax credit payments (like the federal Canada Child Benefit or the HST credit )


As the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) notes on its website, new tax scams are devised every single day of the week. And, despite the cautionary tales which appear frequently in the media and the warnings posted by the CRA on its website, Canadians continue, with regularity, to fall victim to each new (and old) tax scam and tax fraud.


The variety of amounts and kinds of income, deductions taken, and credits claimed on individual income tax returns filed by Canadians each spring is almost limitless. Each of those returns, however, has one thing in common, and that is that each will be assessed by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), which will then issue a Notice of Assessment summarizing the Agency’s conclusions with respect to the information filed by the taxpayer. Most important, from the taxpayer’s point of view, the CRA will communicate the amount of federal and provincial tax it believes the taxpayer is required to pay for the tax year just passed.


By now, halfway through the 2017 tax year, almost all Canadian individual taxpayers will have filed their income tax return for 2016, and most will have received the Notice of Assessment which summarizes their tax situation for that year – income, deductions, credits, and tax payable.


For many years, post-secondary students have financed their educations in part through private savings and often in part through government student loans, which are generally interest-free while the student is in school. As well, the bulk of costs incurred to attend post-secondary education (or to finance it) have been eligible for a tax deduction or credit, at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels. Beginning in 2017, however, changes to that regime at both the federal level and in some provinces will mean changes to the way students (and their parents) pay for post-secondary education.  


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.


Once daily weather reports begin to include wind chill factors or frost warnings, the thoughts of many Canadian turn to the idea of spending part of the Canadian winter somewhere much warmer – most often, in one of the southern U.S. states. And, while the anemic state of the Canadian dollar has required Canadians to downsize some of those plans, it is still the case that thousands of Canadian “snowbirds” fly south every winter.


During the financial crisis that took place in 2008 and 2009, the Canadian mortgage and real estate market didn’t experience the kind of meltdown which occurred south of the border. That result was attributable, in many respects, to the fact that Canadian lending practices, and the rules governing those practices, were much more conservative and stringent than the corresponding rules in place in the United States.


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.


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.


Having access to mobile communication is useful and practical for any number of reasons and Canadians who don’t have a cell or smart phone are likely now the exception rather than the rule. It’s also the case, however, that cell phone rates payable by Canadians are among the highest in the world, and so having an employer provide that cell phone (and pay the associated costs) is consequently a valued employment benefit. That said, Canadians who enjoy such an employment benefit should be aware that, while they may not have to pay a monthly cell phone bill, there still can be a cost in the form of a taxable benefit which must be reported on the annual return. 


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