Don’t be fooled by CRA’s record of your TFSA contribution room

Several months after my husband and I filed our 2016 income tax returns and got our refunds, we received identical ominous envelopes from CRA.  They contained Notices of Assessment reporting that each of us had over-contributed $5,500/month for the last five months of the year, resulting in a $28,201 over-contribution to our TFSA accounts. Yet further down on the notices, it said the contributions to each of our accounts in 2016 totaled only $10,859.79.

Upon reviewing our bank statements, it appeared that one contribution of $5,500 was made in early March and a second amount was transferred into each TFSA in August 2016. When my husband checked our CRA accounts online mid-year, they said we still had $5,500 of contribution room in each account, so he made the second deposits in August.

However, upon calling CRA for clarification, we learned that unlike online banking records which are updated daily, CRA only receives information once a year by January 1st when financial institutions are required to report TFSA transactions for the prior calendar year. Therefore, because we made contributions after January 1, 2016, when we checked later in the year, they were not reflected in the total TFSA contribution room that could be viewed on CRA’s My Account feature.

The good news is that the total excess TFSA amount of $28,201.05 recorded in the first part of the Notice of Assessment was incorrect due to a programming error which totaled the overpayment at the end of each month instead of recording it as one amount of $5,500 for the balance of the year.

However, the bad news is that we had to withdraw $5,500 from each of our TFSA accounts and each pay $298.11 taxes and penalties. The tax payable for excess contributions to a tax-free savings account is 1% per month, for any month in which there is an excess amount at any time in the month.  This means there will be a tax payable even if the excess amount is withdrawn in the same month in which it is contributed.

While we could have appealed the penalties because the over contribution was due to a genuine misunderstanding, we decided to just pay the amounts and learn from our experience.

So the moral of the story is it is important to track TFSA contributions yourself. There is no deadline for contributions to a TFSA, as the unused contribution room is carried forward into the next year.  However, a withdrawal in any year does not increase the TFSA room until the following calendar year.  Thus, if you are thinking of making a withdrawal close to year end, make sure it is done by December 31st, in order to have the withdrawal amount added back to the TFSA room sooner.

The history of annual limits for each year is shown in the table below. The first year that contributions could be made was 2009.  At the current rate of inflation, the TFSA contribution limit will increase to $6,000 per year in 2019.

Years TFSA Annual Limit Cumulative Total
2009-2012 $5,000 $20,000
2013 $5,500 $25,500
2014 $5,500 $31,000
2015 $10,000 $41,000
2016 $5,500 $46,500
2017 $5,500 $52,000

 

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

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