Newsletters

Below are many short informative newsletters about various income tax, business, and financial planning matters. Please scroll through the list as these easy to read newsletters are updated regularly. 

Tax Alerts

Planning for – or even thinking about – 2018 taxes when it’s not even mid-December 2017 may seem more than a little premature. However, most Canadians will start paying their taxes for 2018 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.


For most Canadians, registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) don’t become top of mind until near the end of February, as the annual contribution deadline approaches. When it comes to tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs), most Canadians are aware that there is no contribution deadline for such plans, so that contributions can be made at any time. Consequently, neither RRSPs nor TFSAs tend to be a priority when it comes to year-end tax planning.


As the 2017 calendar year winds down, the window of opportunity to take steps to reduce one’s tax bill for the 2017 tax year is closing. As a general rule, tax planning or tax saving strategies must be undertaken and completed by December 31st, in order to make a difference to one’s tax liability for 2017. (For individual taxpayers, the only significant exception to that rule is registered retirement savings plan contributions. Such contributions can be made any time up to and including March 1, 2018, and claimed on the return for 2017.)


When it comes to questions around personal finance, two issues tend to dominate current discussions. The first is whether and to what extent Canadians are financially prepared for retirement, and the second is the state of the Canadian real estate market, and whether real estate values are headed up or down in 2018.  For many retired Canadians, those two issues are very much interlinked.


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


Just about any financial or investment transaction can now be carried out online, and many Canadians conduct most or all of their financial affairs in an online environment, whether through their financial institution’s web-based banking and investment services or by using mobile apps. The shift to managing one’s financial matters online has extended to dealing with income tax matters, and that’s a trend which has been both aided and encouraged by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).


As the days shorten and temperatures drop into the single digits, the thoughts of many Canadians turn to the idea of spending at least some part of the upcoming Canadian winter somewhere much warmer — most often, in one of the southern US states. And, while the less than robust state of the Canadian dollar relative to US currency has required Canadians to downsize some of those plans, it is still the case that thousands of Canadian “snowbirds” fly south during the worst of the Canadian winter.


The fiscal cycle of the federal government follows a predictable annual path. Each spring, the Minister of Finance brings down a budget outlining the government’s revenues and expenditures and its surplus or deficit projections for the fiscal year which runs from April 1 to March 31. That budget also includes the announcement of any changes to the tax system which the government wishes to implement.


The fact that Canadian households are carrying a significant amount of debt — in fact, debt loads which seem to continually set new records — isn’t really news anymore. For several years, both private sector financial advisers and federal government banking and finance officials have warned of the risks being taken by Canadians who took advantage of historically low interest rates by continuing to increase their secured and unsecured debt.


News about another successful cyberattack, on government or on a private company, in a single country or worldwide, is now almost routine. What such events usually have in common is a desire by the hackers who perpetrate the attacks to profit by it — either by demanding payment from the entity whose systems have been compromised, or by obtaining confidential personal information (especially identifying or financial information) about individuals, which the hackers can then use fraudulently or sell to others who wish to do so.


The end of summer means back to school for students of all ages. For parents of elementary and secondary school students the focus is on obtaining back to school clothes and supplies and starting the process of enrollment in after-school activities for the fall. For those already in (or starting) post-secondary education, choosing courses, finding a place to live and paying the initial bills for tuition and residence are more likely to be on the immediate agenda.


Although they aren’t usually thought of in such terms, Canadian charities, as measured by the amount of money they receive and administer, can be big businesses. However, because they collect and disperse that money in order to support and advance causes which create a public benefit, charities are accorded special status under our tax laws. Our tax system effectively subsidizes the activities of charitable organizations by providing a tax deduction or tax credit to companies and individuals that contribute to those organizations and by exempting the charities themselves from the payment of income tax.


Most Canadians approaching retirement know that they will be able to receive retirement income from the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security programs. Many, however, are unaware that there is a third federal program — the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) — which provides an additional monthly income amount to eligible individuals who already receive Old Age Security. That lack of knowledge is particularly unfortunate because, while there is no need for an individual to apply in order to receive an Old Age Security benefit, anyone who wishes to receive the GIS must apply to do so. (Automatic enrollment in GIS is something that is planned for future implementation, but is not yet in place.). Finally, while the OAS benefit is a standard amount for most recipients, the rules governing eligibility for GIS, and the amount which a particular individual will receive, are more complex.


The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) doesn’t publish information or statistics on the number of individual taxpayers who owe it money in the form of back taxes, interest, or penalties. Nonetheless, it’s a safe assumption that some percentage of the 28 million or so Canadians who filed a tax return this past spring either couldn’t pay their 2016 taxes when due or still owe money from past years, or both. Being unable to pay one’s bills on time and as due obviously isn’t desirable, no matter who the creditor is. There are, however, a number of reasons why owing money to the tax authorities is a particularly bad idea.


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


Sometime around the middle of August, millions of Canadians will receive unexpected mail from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and that mail will contain unfamiliar and unwelcome news. Specifically, the enclosed form will advise the recipient that, in the view of the CRA, he or she should make instalment payments of income tax on September 15 and December 15th of this year – and will helpfully identify the amounts which should be paid on each date.


The traditional idea of retirement – working full-time until age 65 and then leaving the workforce completely to live on government-sponsored and private sources of retirement income – has undergone a lot of changes over the past couple of decades, and Canada’s government-sponsored retirement income system has evolved in response. Generally, the changes to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) programs have increased the flexibility of those programs and, in particular, have given individuals a greater range of choices with respect to, especially, the timing of their receipt of CPP and OAS.


While Canadians typically think of taxes only in the spring when the annual return must be filed, taxes are a year-round business for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The CRA is busy processing and issuing Notices of Assessment for individual tax returns during the February to June filing season. To date, in 2017, the CRA has received and processed just under 28 million individual income tax returns. That volume of returns and the CRA’s self-imposed processing turnaround goals (two to six weeks, depending on the filing method) mean that the CRA cannot possibly do an in-depth review of each return filed prior to issuing the Notice of Assessment.


The Bank of Canada’s recent decision to raise interest rates generated a lot of media attention, for the most part because while the increase itself was only one quarter of a percentage point, it was the first move made by the Bank of Canada to increase rates in the past seven years. Much of the media coverage of the rate change centered around the effect that change might or might not have on the current real estate market. One of the issues under discussion was whether this or future increases in interest rates (and therefore mortgage rates) would act as a barrier to those seeking to get into the housing market. And a phrase that was prominent in that discussion — the mortgage financing “stress test” — is likely one that is unfamiliar to most Canadians, even those who are affected by it.


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


For most Canadians, having to pay for legal services is an infrequent occurrence, and most Canadians would like to keep it that way. In many instances, 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.


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.


By the beginning of June, most taxpayers have filed their annual return for the previous year and have most likely received a Notice of Assessment in respect of that return, containing the good or bad news about their tax situation for the year. At this point, most Canadians are probably happy to put taxes out of sight and out of mind until next year’s filing season rolls around. For a number of reasons, however, that’s not the best strategy.


As the end of the school year draws closer, and with it the start of two months of summer holidays, families who don’t have a stay-at-home parent (and likely some who do) must start thinking about how to keep the kids supervised and busy throughout the summer months. There is no shortage of options — at this time of year, advertisements for summer activities and summer camps abound — but nearly all the available options have one thing in common, and that’s a price tag. Some choices, like day camps provided by the local recreation authority 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.


By May 23, 2016, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) had processed just under 26 million individual income tax returns filed for the 2015 tax year. About half of those returns (56%) resulted in a refund to the taxpayer. About 18% of returns filed and processed required payment of a tax balance by the taxpayer. Slightly over 20% 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 Canada Child Tax Benefit or the HST credit ).


Canada’s tax system is a self-assessing and self-reporting one, in which taxpayers are expected (and required) to provide the tax authorities with an annual summary of their income and any deductions and tax credits claimable, along with payment of any tax amount owed. Although no one really likes doing their taxes, or paying those taxes, the vast majority of Canadians nonetheless do file their returns on time, and pay up. For a significant minority, however, completing and filing the return is something that just doesn’t get done. Sometimes the cause is just procrastination, while in other cases, a taxpayer is worried that there will be a large balance owing and he or she avoids completing and filing the return for that reason.


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.


By now, most Canadian taxpayers (excepting the self-employed and their spouses, who have until June 15) will have filed their 2015 income tax returns. Once the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has processed those millions of returns, over the next few weeks and months, taxpayers across Canada will begin to receive Notices of Assessment for 2015. In most cases, the Notice of Assessment issued will simply confirm the information which the taxpayer provided on the return, perhaps with some minor arithmetical corrections. However, not infrequently, the Notice of Assessment will indicate that the CRA has disallowed or changed the amount of certain deductions or credits, or has included in income amounts not declared by the taxpayer on his or her return. When that happens, it’s time for the taxpayer to decide whether to dispute the CRA’s assessment of their tax situation.


In recent years, there has been a great deal of public discussion about the availability (and the viability) of federal income support programs for retirees. It’s not news that Canada’s population is aging, and the demands placed on government-sponsored retirement income programs will of course increase as greater numbers of Canadians reach the age at which they will be entitled to receive monthly benefit payments from those programs.


Over the next academic and calendar year, post-secondary students will find that a number of changes are taking place with respect to the rules governing the financing side of post-secondary education. Some of those changes will be welcome, and others will not.


For several decades, Canadian families have received financial assistance from the federal government to help offset the cost of raising children, through a range of benefits and allowance programs. Those programs have taken a variety of forms, from direct payments to parents to credits provided on the annual tax return. Some amounts provided under some such programs were taxable, while others were not. The one constant throughout those decades is that such programs are in a continual state of change and revision, resulting in a sometimes confusing patchwork of entitlements.


There’s no denying that the Canadian tax system is complex, even for individuals with relatively straightforward tax and financial circumstances. As well, significant costs can follow if a taxpayer gets it wrong when filing the annual tax return. Sometimes those costs are measured in the amount of time needed to straighten out the consequences of mistakes made on the annual return; in a worst case scenario, they can involve financial costs in the form of interest charges or even penalties levied for a failure to remit taxes payable on time or in the right amount. Whatever the reason, fewer and fewer individuals are willing to brave the annual trip through the 488 lines of the federal tax return (plus seemingly innumerable related federal schedules and provincial tax forms), and that means that the percentage of Canadians who have their return prepared by someone who has, presumably, more expertise, has continued to rise.


Any taxpayer told of a strategy that offered the possibility of saving hundreds or thousands of dollars in tax and increasing his or her eligibility for government benefits while requiring no advance planning, no expenditure of funds, and almost no expenditure of time could be forgiven for thinking that what was proposed was an illegal tax scam. In fact, that description applies to pension income splitting which is a government-sanctioned strategy to allow married taxpayers over the age of 65 (or, in some cases, age 60) to minimize their combined tax bill by dividing their private pension income in a way which creates the best possible tax result.


For several years, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has been seeking to convince Canadian taxpayers of the benefits of filing their annual tax return online, and it seems that their efforts have been successful. Last year, over 80% of Canadian taxpayers filed their returns by electronic means. The change has been a rapid one, as nearly 40% of tax filers filed a paper return in 2011, with that number dropping to less than 20% in 2015.


While filing a tax return is an annual event for just about every Canadian, the return that is filed, and sometimes the process of filing it, changes each year. Differences in the return itself arise from changes made in our tax laws, which occur on a regular basis. Changes to the filing process generally come about because of changes in the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) administrative procedures, which themselves are usually the result of improvements in technology. The process of filing returns for 2015 includes both types of changes.


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


The early months of the new calendar year can feel like a never-ending series of bills and other financial obligations. Credit card bills from holiday spending, or perhaps a mid-winter vacation, are due or coming due. The RRSP deadline of February 29, 2016 is approaching, and the May 2, 2016 deadline for payment of any final balance of 2015 income taxes owed is not far behind.


Millions of Canadians receive Old Age Security (OAS) benefits, meaning that millions of Canadians may be subject to the OAS “recovery tax” or, as it is more commonly referred to, the clawback. Unfortunately, very few Canadians are familiar with that tax or how it works, and even fewer incorporate the possibility of having to pay the tax into their retirement income planning. There are, however, strategies which allow taxpayers to minimize or avoid the OAS clawback in retirement.


Canadian taxpayers don’t need a calendar to know that the registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contribution deadline is approaching — the glut of television, radio and internet ads which fill the airwaves and screens this time of year are reminder enough. And, while RRSP planning and retirement planning generally are best approached as an ongoing, year-round activity, it is true that an imminent deadline tends to focus the minds of taxpayers on such issues


As the time for the traditionally strong spring housing market approaches, the current state of Canadian real estate is on the minds of a lot of Canadians these days. It’s also a concern for Finance Canada, which has made a change to Canadian mortgage financing rules which will take effect on February 15, 2016, in time for that spring housing market.


Planning for 2016 taxes when the year has barely started and the filing deadline for 2015 returns is still months away may seem more than a little premature. Nonetheless, taking some time to review one’s tax situation—and perhaps putting a few strategies in place—at the beginning of the year can help avoid a cash flow crisis or other financial shock when the RRSP contribution deadline looms or it is tax filing (and tax payment) time in the spring of 2017. And, while many tax planning and tax saving strategies can be implemented throughout the tax year, getting an early start on such planning usually leads to the best results.


The Employment Insurance premium rate for 2016 is 1.88%.

Yearly maximum insurable earnings are set at $50,800, making the maximum employee premium $955.04.

As in previous years, employer premiums are 1.4 times the employee contribution. The maximum employer premium for 2016 is therefore $1337.06.


The Canada Pension Plan contribution rate for 2016 is unchanged at 4.95% of pensionable earnings for the year.


Dollar amounts on which individual non-refundable federal tax credits for 2016 are based, and the actual tax credit claimable, are contained herein.


The indexing factor for federal tax credits and brackets for 2016 is 1.3%. Contained herein are the federal tax rates and brackets will be in effect for individuals for the 2016 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.


Old Age Security (or OAS) is one the two main components of Canada’s government-sponsored retirement income system—the other being the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). There are also federal and provincial supplements which are available to lower-income seniors. While many retired Canadians receive both OAS and CPP benefits every month, the two plans are quite different. The only determinants of the amount of Canada Pension Plan benefits receivable are one’s contribution amount and the age at which one elects to begin receiving benefits; other sources of available income or one’s overall income level are not considered. Eligibility for OAS, on the other hand, is based on Canadian residency. Essentially, a person aged 65 and older who has lived in Canada for at least forty years after the age of 18 is eligible for full OAS benefits. Where the length of Canadian residency after age 18 is less than forty years, a partial pension is earned at the rate of 1/40th of the full monthly pension for each full year lived in Canada. OAS benefits are fully indexed to inflation.


The Canadian tax system is a complex one, and while there are some deductions and credits—like RRSP contributions or charitable donations—which are familiar to just about every taxpayer, others are not so well known. One of those is the deduction which can be claimed by any taxpayer who must pay union dues or professional fees or professional liability insurance premiums.


Thousands of Canadians, usually retirees, spend some or all of the Canadian winter as far south of the border as possible, often in Florida or Arizona. While the declining value of the Canadian dollar has made such sojourns much more expensive, meaning that some vacation plans may have to be scaled back, many Canadians will be planning at least a short stay in a warmer place this winter.


One of the many changes resulting from developments in Canada’s economy over the past quarter century has been the need for, more or less, continuous learning. At one time, it was possible to set a career goal, acquire the necessary training or skills for that work and make a lifelong career in that field. It’s abundantly clear that that is no longer the reality for most Canadian workers, whatever their field of work.


© 2017 J. Kirby & Company Inc.