Category Archives: Personal finance

Part 1: What you need to know about CPP disability benefits

Employed and self-employed Canadians must pay into the Canada Pension Plan or Quebec Pension Plan* throughout their working career. The standard age for beginning to receive your CPP retirement pension is the month after your 65th birthday. However, you can take a reduced pension as early as age 60 or begin receiving an increased pension after age 65.

But many people do not realize that if they are under age 65 and become disabled, they may be eligible for taxable monthly CPP disability benefits.

Eligibility
To qualify for a disability benefit under the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), a disability must be both “severe” and “prolonged”, and it must prevent you from being able to work at any job on a regular basis.

  • Severe means that you have a mental or physical disability that regularly stops you from doing any type of substantially gainful work.
  • Prolonged means that your disability is long-term and of indefinite duration or is likely to result in death.

Both the “severe” and “prolonged” criteria must be met simultaneously at the time of application. There is no common definition of “disability” in Canada. Even if you qualify for a disability benefit under other government programs or from private insurers, you may not necessarily qualify for a CPP disability benefit. Medical adjudicators will determine, based on your application and supporting documentation, whether your disability is both severe and prolonged.

Benefit levels
For 2017, the average monthly CPP disability benefit for new beneficiaries is $952.51 and the maximum monthly amount is $1,313.66. If you are receiving a CPP disability benefit, your dependent children may also be eligible for a children’s benefit. In 2017, the flat monthly rate your child can receive is $241.02.

If you are aged 60 to 64 and you think you might qualify for a CPP disability benefit, you may also want to apply for a CPP retirement pension. While you cannot receive both at the same time, you may qualify to begin receiving a retirement pension while you wait for your CPP disability benefit application to be assessed, which usually takes longer.

If you are already receiving a CPP retirement pension when your application for a disability benefit is approved, Service Canada will switch your retirement pension to a disability benefit if:

  • You are still under the age of 65.
  • You were deemed to be disabled, as defined by the CPP legislation, before the effective date of your retirement.
  • You have been receiving your CPP retirement pension for less than 15 months at the time you applied for your disability benefit; and
  • You meet the minimum contributory requirements.

Should your disability benefit be approved, you must pay back the retirement pension payments you received. According to Service Canada, the retirement pension payments are normally from your first disability payments.

Waiting period
It takes approximately four months for a decision to be made from the date your application and all the necessary documents is received. See how disability benefit applications are assessed. A Service Canada representative will call you to explain how your application will be processed, the type of information required and answer any questions.

Medical adjudicators may also ask for additional information or ask you to see another doctor who will evaluate your medical condition. How long it takes for them to receive the requested information will impact the time it takes for your application to be processed.

If you are eligible under the terms of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) legislation, your disability benefits will start the fourth month after the month you are determined to be disabled. You may receive up to a maximum of 12 months of retroactive payments from the date your application was received.

While on CPP disability benefits
Without having any effect on your CPP disability benefit, you can:

  • Do volunteer work
  • Go back to school to upgrade or complete a degree, or
  • Take a re-training program.

You can earn up to a certain amount without telling Service Canada and without losing your benefits. For 2017, this amount is $5,500 (before taxes). This amount may increase in future years. If you earn more than the amount allowed, you must contact Canada Pension Plan.

Your CPP disability benefit may stop if:

  • You are capable of working on a regular basis.
  • You are no longer disabled.
  • You turn 65 (it will automatically be changed to a CPP retirement pension)
  • You die (it is important that someone notify Service Canada about your death to avoid overpayment).

What if my claim is refused?
If your claim is refused there is a reconsideration and appeal process. (See Part 2 in this series).

*This article focuses only on CPP disability benefits and does not further explore similar disability benefits available under the QPP.

 

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.

Employees less satisfied with workplace health programs

As the battle continues south of the border to create a viable program that will allow the majority of Americans to access some form of health care insurance, Canadians continue to rejoice in the foresight of Saskatchewan’s Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare in this country.

But many elements of health care like drugs, dental care and para-medical practitioners (i.e., physiotherapists and psychologists) are not universally covered by government programs. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), total health expenditures were expected to amount to $6,299 per Canadian in 2016, with about 30% of these expenditures coming from the private sector.

Employer-sponsored plans fill a significant portion of that gap. That’s why employee perceptions of their workplace supplementary health plans and how companies juggle priorities to meet these expectations is so significant.

The 20th Anniversary of Canada’s premier survey on health benefit plans, The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey reveals surprising facts. According to a press release released by the company, the 2017 study highlights that barely half (53%) of employees say their health benefit plan meets their needs extremely or very well, down from 73% in 1999 when the question was first asked.

Surveyed employees would also like more flexibility in their benefit plans, and strongly support coverage for products or services that typically are not covered today, such as screenings to determine personal health risks, coaching sessions from health experts and adult vaccinations.

A clear majority (70%) — up from 58% just a year ago — would also consent to their benefit plan’s insurance carrier accessing their personal claims data (for instance, the drugs they are taking) in order to receive personalized information to help them manage their health (for example, information about their personal conditions). 

Traditional versus flex 
Currently, 77% of employees report having traditional benefit plans, which define what is covered and the levels of coverage. However, 54% of employees would prefer a flex plan, where employees can choose types and levels of coverage. Health spending accounts (HSAs), which provide employees with a certain amount of dollars every year to spend as they wish on allowable health-related items or services, are another way to bring some flexibility into benefit plans.

Employees with HSAs are more likely to agree that their plans meet their needs very or extremely well (60% versus 50% among those without HSAs). Currently, 31% of employers offer health spending accounts, increasing to 47% among employers with 500 or more employees.

“Today’s challenge is to find the balance between flexibility and complexity in an environment where more flexibility is being demanded,” notes Jonathon Avery, Director of Product, Group Benefits, Manulife Survey Methodology. “Technology has simplified doing business in virtually every industry, and has the power to make suggestions for plan members and guide their actions based on previous interactions and personal claims behaviour.” 

Chronic disease gaps and personalized treatment
Year after year, employers significantly underestimate the presence — and therefore likely the impact — of chronic disease in the workplace. More than half of surveyed employees (57%) report having at least one chronic disease or condition (such as depression or high blood pressure), climbing to 72% among those aged 55 to 64. Yet plan sponsors estimate that just 32% of their employees have a chronic condition.

More than a third (37%) of employees with chronic conditions take three or more medications on a regular basis and are therefore the most frequent users of drug benefits plan. A convincing 73% of them would be interested in coaching from a pharmacist to learn more about their medications and conditions, if this were covered by their benefit plan.

While the science is still in early development, 67% of employees are interested in a simple form of genetic testing (using a cheek swab) to help doctors prescribe drugs that are the most likely to work for them. This increases to 76% among those taking three or more medications.

Interest levels are high to participate in the following health risk screenings: for cancer (83%), heart disease (80%) and diabetes (71%). As well, employees are likely to take advantage of coverage for vaccinations to prevent disease, particularly for tropical diseases associated with travel (79%) and shingles (68%).

Positive ripple effect of wellness
More than four out of five (86%) employees say they work in environments that encourage wellness are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 62% among employees working in environments that do not encourage wellness. Employees in wellness-oriented work environments are also much more likely to agree that their health benefit plan meets their needs extremely or very well (62% versus 43%).

However, barely half of employees (53%) agree their current work environment or culture encourages health and wellness, down from 62% in 2012. For their part, 64% of employers feel their corporate culture encourages wellness, down significantly from 90% in 2012, and 51% report offering specific wellness programs (such as onsite flu shots) or policies (such as flexible work hours). Just 31% of employers plan to invest more in health education or wellness in the next year, down from 51% in 2012 and 68% in 2011.

Danielle Vidal, Director of Business Development, SSQ Financial Group says, “With results that are clearly more favourable in workplaces that encourage health and wellness, it’s disappointing to see a decrease in the number of organizations that encourage wellness.” Vidal also questions whether employers are taking a sufficiently holistic view.

You can download the executive summary and full report here.

 

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.

Keeping the cottage in the family

If your family has a cottage you probably have idyllic memories of swimming in the lake, roasting marshmallows around a campfire and picking berries in the woods. But these days with two-parent working families rarely taking more than a week or two of vacation together each year, cottage visits may be limited to the occasional long weekend. And for many people it’s a stretch to cover rent or mortgage payments for their primary home without taking on the expenses and upkeep of a second one.

That’s why when parents bequeath the family cottage to their adult children, it can be a mixed blessing, particularly if one or more of the siblings no longer resides in the same geographic area as the rest of the family. In these circumstances, experts recommend that co-owners negotiate and sign a cottage agreement that contains formal rules and regulations for how everyone uses and pays for the cottage.

Some of the topics covered may include:

  1. Who pays what: Like any other home, typical cottage expenses may include mortgage payments, insurance, heating, hydro, taxes and major repairs. Add this up and decide how to split up the bills. Will the split depend in part on frequency of use or does everyone have to pay their share? What if major repairs are required like a new roof or a new dock?
  2. Occupancy: Address when each family gets to use the cottage alone. If Jane opts for the first two weeks in July, does she get the same two weeks every year? How are long weekends split up? Does an adult parent have to be present if a teenager wants to bring up a bunch of friends?
  3. Management: Who pays the bills and manages the paperwork? In what condition should occupants leave the cottage when they return home? Do bed linens and towels have to be washed and dried? Who will open and close the cottage and take care of routine maintenance like cutting the grass?
  4. Decisions: What if owners disagree? Who will mediate their differences? What happens if one or two siblings want to renovate but others do not want to contribute? Can one owner force a sale if he wants out and the co-owners are not prepared to purchase his share?
  5. Succession: Can a sibling will her share to a spouse (who may later remarry) or only to their offspring or another owner? What happens if one of the owners is divorced?

There may also be tax considerations and probate fees on death, that can place a burden on beneficiaries, particularly if the property has increased in value since it was purchased. Furthermore, if a vacation home is in the U.S., it may be subject to U.S. estate tax.

Therefore whether you are planning to will a property to your children or you are one of a group of siblings negotiating a cottage agreement, it is wise to consult a knowledgeable lawyer before you sign on the dotted line.

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.

Why you should closely monitor your bank account

I love online banking because I like to visit my money every day to make sure it’s still all there. So imagine my surprise when the RBC account I share with my mother and sister went within a couple of days from half a million dollars in arrears to a balance of +$500,000!

My sister discovered the deficit initially when in late May she tried to take out a small amount of cash for my mother and she was locked out of the account.

In fact, in mid-May at our request CIBC Investors Edge had processed a transfer of $512,000 from the RBC account to our CIBC investment account. This was the proceeds of sale from my mother’s condo. But then CIBC initiated a second transfer of the exact same amount on May 29th and since there was only a few thousand dollars in the RBC account to pay monthly bills, we were left with a huge negative balance.

When I contacted CIBC, our IE representative told us that as a result of “a bank error” thousands of May transfers into CIBC IE were duplicated and that the problem would be rectified within a day. Meanwhile, RBC said not to worry, because the second transfer out would be sent back and the negative balance in the account would be reversed as we do not have overdraft protection. However, just to make sure I was advised to notify any vendors with automatic withdrawals that their cheques may bounce temporarily.

That occurred within hours and our RBC account was unlocked. But the next day CIBC IE also “fixed” the problem by transferring $512,000 back into the RBC account, leaving us with a hefty, unwarranted surplus! Much as I was tempted to blow town and take an around-the-world cruise, I dutifully reported the new error to our CIBC IE representative. He said the second mistake would be quickly rectified.

Shortly after, I also got a call from the CIBC Director of Executive Client Relations apologizing for the inconvenience and assuring me the $512,000 erroneously deposited to our account would be out of the RBC account on Friday June 2nd. It took until June 6th for the extra $512,000 to disappear.

In spite of our conversation I still can’t figure out how similar mistakes possibly involving thousands of clients were never communicated to clients up front or investigated by the mainstream media. I was told CIBC had no idea there had been a computer glitch until their clients started reporting the mistakes.

This comedy of errors was reversed in a few days and the only residual effect that I am  left with is a great story. But it could have been much worse if I wasn’t able to track the errors online and quickly make the necessary calls to understand and correct the errors.   And it was also time-consuming and embarrassing to have to make multiple calls and stop payment on the monthly payment to my mother’s nursing home.

So the moral of the story is: Check your recorded bank account transactions frequently either in person or online. If something looks wrong it probably is. The sooner you intervene and get it fixed, the less chance there is that an error will go unnoticed, affecting both your cash flow and your credit rating.

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.

Canadians anticipate longest retirement

A global survey from HSBC reveals that Canadians anticipate some of the longest retirements, but they are among the least likely to seek information to guide financial decisions.

According to the study, Canadians expect to retire at 62 and live to the ripe old age of 85 on average, resulting in one of the longest retirement windows amongst their global peers (global averages: 61 and 81 years, respectively). However despite expectations of a long retirement, Canadians are amongst the least likely to say they actively seek information to guide their financial decisions (42% vs. global average of 56%).

HSBC’s the Future of Retirement: Shifting Sands, a new global retirement report captures the views of 18,414 people across 16 countries and territories worldwide including 1,003 in Canada. The complete Canada report is available at www.hsbc.ca/retirement.

“Our latest research suggests that the good news is Canadians can anticipate that they will enjoy a longer retirement and lifespan than many of their global peers. The less than great news is that they’re not actually planning for it,” said Larry Tomei, Executive Vice President and Head of Retail Banking and Wealth Management, HSBC Bank Canada.

“Interestingly, technology is really changing the way people plan and save for retirement; and while about one-third of working age people in Canada expect new technology will help make it easier to save for retirement because they can do research online, use an online retirement calculator or try out a robotic financial advisor, the data makes clear that many western nations are falling behind in terms of taking full advantage.”

How Canadians compare to their global peers
Technology is changing the way people save for retirement. About one-third of working-age people in Canada agree that new technology makes it easier to save for their retirement. This is well below the global average (47%), with a much higher proportion of working age respondents in China (77 %) and India (69%) than in France (17%)  Argentina (28%) and the UK (30%) agreeing that technology is helping them save for retirement.

Only 29% of working age people in Canada think they will be financially comfortable when retired (global average: 34%), with those in India (69%) and Indonesia (61%) the most likely to think this, and those in France (10%) and Australia (21%) the least likely.

Property is still viewed as a good way of saving for retirement, with 38% of working age people in Canada saying they think it delivers the best returns albeit well below the global average of 47 %. This is not yet fully reflected in retirement plans, with only 16% of working age people in Canada expecting property to help fund their retirement.

Canadians have a comparatively low risk appetite, with just over one in five (21%) saying they would be very willing to make risky investments to ensure their financial stability, and 22% saying they’d risk financial losses (global averages: 34% and 28%, respectively).  In comparison, the highest proportions of working age people willing to take such risks are in China (61%) and Taiwan (47%), and the lowest are in France (10%) and the UK (15%).

Just over one half (55%) of working age Canadians say they will continue working to some extent in retirement; 66 per cent would be willing to defer their retirement for two years or more to have a better retirement income; and 44% would work for longer or get a second job to sustain their saving for retirement.

Millennials expect to retire at age 61, Generation X at 63 and Baby Boomers at 64 (global averages: 59, 61 and 64 years, respectively). Millennials in Canada expect to live to age 86, while Generation X expect to live to 83 and Baby Boomers to 85 (global averages: 79, 81, and 84 years respectively).

About half (52%) of people surveyed in Canada believe that Millennials have experienced weaker economic growth than previous generations, while 54% agree that Millennials are paying for the economic consequences of older generations, such as the global financial crisis and rising national debt (global average: 52% and 58% respectively). And while 46% of people in Canada say that Millennials don’t know how good they have it, enjoying a better quality of life than any generation before them, this is below the global average of 54%.

Health cheque
The rising cost of healthcare is another important issue. Almost three-quarters of working age people believe that retirees will have to spend more on healthcare costs in the future, and 61% are concerned about being able to fund their healthcare. Thirty-three percent of working age people worry about the availability and affordability of healthcare, compared to the global average of 25%.

Practical steps
HSBC draws the following insights and practical actions drawn from the research findings, which may help today’s retirement savers plan a better financial future for themselves.

  1. Be realistic about your retirement.
  2. Consider different sources of funding.
  3. Plan for the unexpected.
  4. Take advantage of technology.
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.

Should the age of CPP/OAS eligibility be raised?

Results from the 2016 census show that there are now 5.9 million Canadian seniors, compared to 5.8 million Canadians age 14 and under. This is due to the historic increase in the number of people over 65 — a jump of 20% since 2011 and a significantly greater increase than the five percent growth experienced by the population as a whole. This rapid pace of aging carries profound implications for everything from pension plans to health care, the labour market and social services.

“The reason is basically that the population has been aging in Canada for a number of years now and the fertility level is fairly low, below replacement levels,” Andre Lebel, a demographer with Statistics Canada told Global News. Lebel also projects that because over the next 16 years, the rest of the baby boom will become senior citizens, the proportion of seniors will rise to 23 per cent.

Therefore, it is not surprising that a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute proposes that the age of eligibility (AOE) for CPP/QPP, Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits should be re-visited. The AOE is the earliest age at which an individual is permitted to receive a full (unreduced) pension from the government.

Other countries with aging populations are raising the AOE for social security benefits. These include Finland, Sweden, Norway, Poland and the United Kingdom. In 2012, then Prime Minister Steven Harper announced plans to increase the AOE for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67 between 2023 and 2029. However, Trudeau reversed this very unpopular legislation (leaving the AOE at 65) in the 2016 budget.

In their report Greener Pastures: Resetting the age of eligibility for Social Security based on actuarial science, authors Robert Brown and Shantel Aris say their goal is to introduce an “evidence-based” analysis that can be used impartially to adjust the AOE for Canada’s social security system based on actuarial logic, not political whims.

However, they do not argue that current systems and reform plans are unsustainable. In fact, increasing life expectancy and increasing aged-dependency ratios are consistent with the assumptions behind CPP/QPP actuarial valuations. However, they suggest that if there are relatively painless ways to manage increasing costs to the programs, then they are worthy of public debate.

Their calculations assume that Canadians will spend up to 34% of their life in retirement, resulting in recommendations for a new AOE of 66 (phased-in beginning in 2013 and achieved by 2025) that would then be constant until 2048 when the AOE would shift to age 67 over two years.

Brown and Avis believe these shifts would soften the rate of increase in the Old Age Dependency Ratio, bring lower OAS/GIS costs and lower required contribution rates for the CPP (both in tier 1 and the new tier 2). This, in turn, would result in equity in financing retirement across generations and a higher probability of sustainability of these systems.

However they do acknowledge that there are some important issues that would arise if the proposed AOE framework is adopted. One of these issues is the fact that raising the AOE is regressive. For example, if your life expectancy at retirement is five years, and the AOE is raised by one year, then that is a 20% loss in benefits. If your life expectancy at retirement is 20 years, then the one year shift in the AOE is only a five percent benefit reduction.

People with higher income and wealth tend to live longer, so the impact of raising the AOE will be greater on lower-income workers than on higher-income workers. Access to social assistance benefits would be needed to mitigate this loss. The study suggests that it would be easy to mitigate the small regressive element in the shift of AOS by reforming the OAS/GIS clawback as the AOE starts to rise.

The report concludes that having partial immunization of the OAS/GIS and CPP/QPP from increases in life expectancy is  and logical and would help Canada to achieve five attractive goals with respect to our social security system:

  • Increase the probability of it’s sustainability.
  • Increase the credibility of this sustainability with the Canadian public.
  • Enhance inter-generational equity.
  • Lower the overall costs of social security; and
  • Create a nudge for workers to stay in the labour force for a little longer .

It remains to be seen if or when the C.D. Howe proposals regarding changes to the AOE for public pension plans will make it on to the “To Do” list of the current or future federal governments.

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.

Financial stress can affect your health

By Sheryl Smolkin

Have you ever had that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize the sum total of everything you owe each month is more than your take home pay? You are not alone.

According to the latest Manulife Financial Wellness Index, two in five Canadians say they are financially unwell. Study respondents are concerned by debt (82%), not saving for retirement (60%), stressed due to their financial situation (67%) and 83% said they are not financially prepared to protect their loved ones in the event of death, serious illness or disability.

“We want to help Canadians live better and healthier lives. Looking at people’s wellness has traditionally included physical aspects, and in recent years focused more on emotional health,” said Sue Reibel, Executive Vice-President and General Manager Institutional Markets, Manulife. “Our findings show that the role of financial wellness, whether good or bad, affects overall well being and is an important contributor to helping Canadians reach positive emotional health.”

Financial wellness is based on the way an individual manages their overall financial situation, including budgeting, retirement planning, investing, debt management, financial protection and financial stress. Manulife’s research shows that money continues to be the greatest source of stress and it impacts an individual’s mental health leading to absenteeism rates and lost productivity.

Canadians who consider themselves financially unwell revealed that dealing with money is a factor of stress (81%, often/sometimes) and they are eight times more likely to have bad stress levels and may be distracted at work (49%, often/sometimes).

Healthy finances and a healthy lifestyle go hand in hand. Canadians who are financially well are more likely to be successful at managing their health according to the Financial Wellness Index. Those with low levels of financial wellness are almost five times more likely not to engage in any healthy activity.

Canadians who say they are financially well are more likely to say that their physical health is excellent (25%) or good (45%), they eat more fruits and vegetables (79%), get more exercise (68%), get regular health checkups (61%) and educate themselves on being healthier (46%).

In addition, if your employer offers group benefit plans, they have an impact on your financial wellness and health. Those who are financially well are more likely to have a group retirement (65%) and group benefits plan (79%) compared to those who are financially unwell (42% and 58%, respectively).  Also, those who have group benefits plans are more likely to score better on the stress index (56%) than those who do not have any plans (48%).

“Employers have an important role to play in their employees’ wellness, physically, mentally and financially. Their actions can positively impact the level of engagement and productivity of their teams, which in the long-term can impact their bottom line,” added Reibel.

About the Manulife Financial Wellness study
Environics Research Group surveyed 2,024 Canadians, 18 and over, between August 31 and September 7, 2016, asking them about budgeting, retirement, investments, debt, protection and stress. Respondents were equally split along gender lines, average age was 47, and quotas and weighting were used to ensure that results reflected the Canadian reality in terms of age, gender and region.

What if your tax return is late?

By Sheryl Smolkin

You left filing your 2016 income tax return to the last minute and a huge project came up at work. You look at the calendar and suddenly realize you have missed the May 1st deadline. Or you have been working outside Canada for several years and didn’t file a return because you thought you didn’t have to.

What happens if your tax return is late and what can you do about it? Here’s what the Canada Revenue Agency has to say:

Interest
If you have a balance owing , CRA charges compound daily interest starting May 1, 2017, on any unpaid amounts owing for 2016. This includes any balance owing if they reassess your return. In addition, they will charge you interest on the penalties starting the day after your return is due.

The rate of interest charged can change every three months. For the first quarter of 2017 the interest rate charged on overdue taxes, Canada Pension Plan contributions, and Employment Insurance premiums was 5%. However, if you overpaid your personal taxes, the interest rate paid to you is 3%. See Prescribed interest rates.

If you have amounts owing from previous years, CRA will continue to charge compound daily interest on those amounts. Payments you make are first applied to amounts owing from previous years.

Late-filing penalty
If you owe tax for 2016 and do not file your return for 2016 on time, CRA will charge you a late-filing penalty. The penalty is 5% of your 2016 balance owing, plus 1% of your balance owing for each full month your return is late, to a maximum of 12 months.

If you were charged a late-filing penalty on your return for 2013, 2014, or 2015 your late-filing penalty for 2016 may be 10% of your 2016 balance owing, plus 2% of your 2016 balance owing for each full month your return is late, to a maximum of 20 months.

That’s why even if you cannot pay your full balance owing on or before April 30, 2017 you should have filed the return on time to avoid the late-filing penalty.

Repeated failure to report income penalty
If you failed to report an amount on your return for 2016 and you also failed to report an amount on your return for 2013, 2014, or 2015, you may have to pay a federal and provincial or territorial “repeated failure to report income penalty.” If you did not report an amount of income of $500 or more for a tax year, it will be considered a failure to report income.

The federal and provincial or territorial penalties are each equal to the lesser of:

  • 10% of the amount you failed to report on your return for 2016; and
  • 50% of the difference between the understated tax (and/or overstated credits) related to the amount you failed to report and the amount of tax withheld related to the amount you failed to note on your return.

However, if you voluntarily tell CRA about an amount you failed to report, they may waive these penalties. For more information, see Voluntary Disclosures Program.

False statements or omissions penalty
In addition, you may have to pay a penalty if you, knowingly or under circumstances amounting to gross negligence, have made a false statement or omission on your 2016 return.

The penalty is equal to the greater of:

  • $100; and
  • 50% of the understated tax and/or the overstated credits related to the false statement or omission.

However, if you voluntarily tell CRA about an amount you failed to report and/or credits you overstated, they may also waive this penalty.

Cancel or waive penalties or interest
The CRA administers legislation, commonly called the taxpayer relief provisions, that gives them the  discretion to cancel or waive penalties or interest when taxpayers are unable to meet their tax obligations due to circumstances beyond their control.

The CRA’s discretion to grant relief is limited to any period that ended within 10 calendar years before the year in which a request is made.

For penalties, the CRA will consider your request only if it relates to a tax year or fiscal period ending in any of the 10 calendar years before the year in which you make your request. For example, your request made in 2017 must relate to a penalty for a tax year or fiscal period ending in 2007 or later.

For interest on a balance owing for any tax year or fiscal period, the CRA will consider only the amounts that accrued during the 10 calendar years before the year in which you make your request. For example, your request made in 2017 must relate to interest that accrued in 2007 or later.

To make a request fill out Form RC4288, Request for Taxpayer Relief – Cancel or Waive Penalties or Interest. For more information about relief from penalties or interest and how to submit your request, go to Taxpayer relief provisions.

Pension-income splitting rules can reduce total tax bill

By Sheryl Smolkin

I retired from my corporate job with a defined benefit pension before I turned 55 and I opted to begin receiving my CPP at age 60. And by starting my own business as a workplace journalist I also created another significant income stream.

In contrast, when my husband retired at age 65 he did not have a pension and he elected to defer receipt of CPP and OAS for a year. He also decided not to convert his RRSP into a RRIF until he is required to do so at age 71. Therefore, other than withdrawing funds from our unregistered investment account, he had no source of income.  As a result, when it came to filing subsequent income tax returns, the disparity in our income made us ideal candidates to benefit from pension-income splitting which has been available since 2007.

The way it works is that if you are receiving income that qualifies for the pension income tax credit you’ll be able to allocate up to half of that income to your spouse or common-law partner (and vice versa) each year. You don’t actually have to write a cheque because pension income-splitting is merely a paper transaction done via your tax return.

The type of pension income that qualifies for the pension income tax credit of up to $2.000/year and that is eligible for pension splitting differs depending on whether you were 65 or older in the year.

  • If you were under 65 as of December 31, 2016, “qualifying pension income” includes life annuity payments out of a defined benefit or defined contribution pension plan and certain payments received as a result of the death of your spouse or common-law partner.
  • If you were 65 or older in 2016, other defined payments such as lifetime annuity payments out of your RRSP, DPSP or RRIF also qualify for the pension credit. Qualifying pension income doesn’t include CPP, OAS or GIS payments.
  • It is worthwhile noting that pension payments from SPP qualify for the pension income tax credit.

The extent to which pension income-splitting will be beneficial will depend on the marginal tax bracket of you and your spouse or common-law partner, as well as the amount of qualifying income that can be split. In many cases, the optimal allocation will be less than the allowable 50% maximum.

If you opt to pension split, a special election form (Form T1032) must be signed by the parties affected and filed with the CRA. If you file your return electronically, you should keep the election form on file in case the CRA asks for it. Another result of pension splitting is that the income tax withheld from your pension income will be reported on your spouse or common-law partner’s return, proportional to the amount of income being split.

Pension income splitting may also reduce the Old Age Security claw back while transferring income to your spouse who is taxed at a lower tax rate. In addition, your spouse can access the pension income credit of up to $2,000 for federal tax purposes and $1,000 for BC tax purposes, which would otherwise be unavailable without pension income.

The pension income splitting rules do not make spousal RRSPs obsolete, since spousal plans still have income splitting benefits for the years before you turn 65 or if you have not yet converted your RRSP to a RRIF or annuity. In addition, taking advantage of spousal RRSPs can increase your potential for withdrawals under the Home Buyers’ Plan and the Lifelong Learning Plan.

In 2014 and 2015 the Family Tax Cut credit provided a version of income splitting that allowed an individual to notionally transfer up to $50,000 of income to his or her lower-income spouse or partner, provided they have a child who was under 18 at the end of the year. The credit was capped at $2,000 annually. However, that form of income-splitting was abolished by the new Liberal government for 2016.

Other permitted forms of income splitting with family members are described here.

Changes you need to know about on your 2016 Income Tax Return

By Sheryl Smolkin

If your financial affairs are fairly straightforward and the only income you receive is from employment, you should have already received all of your tax slips and you may have already filed your income tax return, although it is not due until midnight on Monday, May 1st.

But tax slips for mutual funds, flow-through shares, limited partnerships and income trusts only had to be sent out by March 31st, so if you have multiple, more complex sources of income you are likely among the group of Canadians who are under the gun this month to finalize and file your returns.

Here are some of the things that have changed since last year that individuals and families should be aware of when they are assembling documentation and preparing their returns.

GENERAL/ADMINISTRATIVE
MyCRA: A mobile app from the Canada Revenue Agency now allows you to view your notice of assessment, tax return status, benefit and credit information, and RRSP and TFSA contribution room.

Auto-fill: If you use electronic software to do your taxes, the CRA will fill in many of the boxes for you. You sign into CRA MyAccount and agree to a download that will include information on your RRSP contributions, plus information from T4s, T4As and T5s. Users are advised to double-check the CRA’s data before they file.

INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES
Canada child benefit (CCB): As of July 2016, the CCB has replaced the Canada child tax benefit (CCTB), the national child benefit supplement (NCBS), and the universal child care benefit (UCCB). For more information see Canada child benefit.

Child-care expenses: The amount parents can claim for child-care expenses has increased by $1,000 annually, per child, to $8,000 for a child under six and $5,000 for a child aged between seven and 16 years old. For more information see line 214.

Canada Apprentice Loan: Students in a designated Red Seal trade program can now claim interest on their government student loans. For more information see line 319.

Northern resident’s deductions: The basic and additional residency amounts used to calculate the northern residency deduction have both increased to $11 per day. See Form T2222, Northern Residents Deductions. For more information see line 255.

Children’s arts amount: The maximum eligible fees per child (excluding the supplement for children with disabilities), has been reduced to $250. Both will be eliminated for 2017 and later years. For more information see line 370.

Home accessibility expenses: You can claim a maximum of $10,000 for eligible expenses you incurred for work done or goods acquired for an eligible dwelling. This deduction typically applies to home renovations to improve accessibility for individuals eligible for the disability tax credit for the year or for qualifying seniors over 65. For more information see line 398.

Family tax cut: The Family Tax Cut allowed eligible couples with children under the age of 18 to notionally split the income of the spouse with higher earnings, transferring up to $50,000 of taxable income to the lower income spouse in a taxation year. The family tax cut has been eliminated for 2016 and later years.

Children’s fitness tax credit: The maximum eligible fees per child (excluding the supplement for children with disabilities) has been reduced to $500. Both will be eliminated for 2017 and later tax years. For more information see lines 458 and 459.

Eligible educator school supply tax credit: If you were an eligible educator, you can claim up to $1,000 for eligible teaching supplies expenses. For more information see lines 468 and 469.

INTEREST AND INVESTMENTS
Tax-free savings account (TFSA): The amount that you can contribute to your TFSA  every year has been reduced to $5,500.

Dividend tax credit (DTC): The rate that applies to “other than eligible dividends” has changed for 2016 and later tax years. For more information see lines 120 and 425.

Labour-sponsored funds tax credit: The tax credit for the purchase of shares of provincially or territorially registered labour-sponsored venture capital corporations has been restored to 15% for 2016 and later tax years. The tax credit for the purchase of shares of federally registered labour-sponsored venture capital corporations has decreased to 5% and will be eliminated for 2017 and later tax years. For more information see lines 413, 414, 411, and 419.