Tax tips from Tim Cestnick

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Today I am interviewing Tim Cestnick, Managing Director of Advanced Wealth Planning at Scotia Wealth Management for savewithspp.com. Tim also writes a personal finance column called, “Tax Matters” that has appeared every Thursday for almost twenty years in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe & Mail. We’re going to talk about some of the things you need to know to complete and file your income tax return.

Welcome Tim and thanks for joining me today.

Q: What are some of the tax credits or deductions that many people aren’t aware of or that they may miss?
A: There are so many kinds of tax credits now. It’s important to really check to make sure you’re not missing something that you haven’t claimed in the past that is now available. Some of the things we see people missing are for example, interest deductions. Interest is deductible where you borrow the money for the purpose of earning income from a business or from an investment.

Also, I think fitness tax credits and tax credits for children are another area that people sometimes overlook. Don’t forget if you’ve paid for any kind of sports activities for your kids or even artistic classes like music or piano lessons, you can claim a tax credit for these amounts.

The amounts have actually been increased for fitness tax credits. You can claim up to a thousand dollars of eligible activities. It would get you pretty decent tax relief, probably two hundred and fifty dollars in tax relief federally plus maybe in total about four hundred dollars in tax relief from local and federal governments together, so it’s worth claiming those credits.

People also sometimes forget about the education and textbooks tax credits. But based on the March 2016 budget this will be the last year for many of these tax credits. 

Q: Are receipts required in all cases?
A: Yes, you do need receipts. You don’t have to turn them in with your tax return when you file electronically, but you have to keep them on file.

Q: Why should tax returns be filed for children, even if they don’t have any taxable income?
A: There are a couple of reasons why it might make sense to file a return for a child, even a minor child. Some people don’t even realize you can do this. If your child has earned any type of income at all from babysitting, or cutting grass, or delivering papers, report that income on a tax return because they’re not going to pay tax anyway if their total income is under $11,400 for 2015. However, they will create RRSP contribution room for later when they graduate and are working full-time.

Also, once your child reaches age 19 there’s good reason to file even if they have no income because they will be entitled a GST or HST credit which results in cash back to them of almost $300. 

Q: If taxpayers own stock in an unregistered portfolio, what are the advantages of making a charitable donation using stock instead of selling the shares and donating cash?
A: You’ll be better off donating securities that have appreciated in value than donating cash. You get a full donation tax credit for the value of the shares you are donating and on top of that, the government eliminates the capital gains tax on the securities. 

Q: What is the advantage to taxpayers of filing electronically instead of submitting paper forms?
A: There are a couple of reasons why you might want to do this. First of all, if you’re expecting a refund, you will get it faster by filing your return electronically. They can process it sooner and you will get your money much faster.

Also, it’s just simple to not have to send in all the paperwork. Some tax returns would be two inches thick if taxpayers had to send in all their receipts and what not. It’s just easier and quicker. 

Q: Do slips and receipts always have to be sent in with a paper filing?
A: Yes, you do have to send a number of slips and receipts. However, there are things you don’t necessarily have to provide. For example, if you’re an employee and you are claiming a certain employment expenses like use of your car, you don’t have to file a Form T2200 signed by your employer to say you had to pay for those costs. But you have to keep it handy. 

Q: Why is it getting a big tax return not necessarily a good thing?
A: A tax refund is not necessarily a good thing because what it really means is that you’ve been lending money to the government over the course of the year and they’re only now going to give it back to you. The perfect scenario is that you file a return and you owe nothing and you receive nothing back. The reality is most people actually owe or get a refund of some kind. You just want to make sure the refund is not too big. 

Q: If an individual is reporting self-employment income and wants to deduct expenses, what are a couple of things that they should do to ensure that the expenses are allowed if CRA comes knocking?
A: The first thing is to make sure amounts you’re claiming are allowed. That includes any kind of expenses you have incurred for the purpose of earning income from your business but expenses also have to be reasonable in amount. In most cases, as long as you’re paying a third party for some of these expenses that shouldn’t be an issue.

You also have to make sure that you do keep any receipts or invoices that you paid as part of your expenses just in case CRA asks for them. There was a court decision that was handed down a number of years ago which established that if you don’t have a receipt for something it may still be deductible if you can demonstrate you paid that amount and the cost is reasonable. But it’s just easier if you keep all of your receipts. 

Q: What are the penalties if Canadians file their tax returns late?
A: If you don’t owe taxes then there’s no penalty for filing late. Of course you won’t get your refund as soon as you should so it’s nice to file on time. If you owe money and don’t file your return on time, there is a five percent penalty on the tax owing the day after the due date. The key is to make sure you file your tax return on time even if you don’t have the money to pay your taxes immediately. By doing that you’ll avoid any penalties.

Q: If you do file on time and you owe money, when do you have to pay it?
A: The money is owing  as of the due date of your tax return. Typically, for most people that would be April 30th. If it’s not paid by that time, you will end up paying some interest on the outstanding tax balance — not a penalty, just interest. 

Q: If CRA sends a notice requesting quarterly tax installments is it ever safe to ignore it?
A: You should never exactly ignore it. The reason they send you the statement is because they expect that you probably owe installments for the coming year. What you need to do is to evaluate whether or not the amount  they’re asking for is correct.

If you’re receiving a lot of investment income or you are a senior and don’t have employment income, you may end up  owing taxes when you file your return. Your best bet is to take a look at your income for the coming year, assess whether or not you think your taxes will be less or more than they were in the past year and actually do the math on your installments. When CRA sends you a statement you don’t have to abide by it, but don’t ignore it because you may actually owe  quarterly payments.

Q: So if you think your earnings will be lower, you do not necessarily have to remit the whole amount?
A: There have been situations where people have been asked to pay installments because they had a certain amount of income that was a one-time event. In that case, you may not have to make installments next year at all. You have to know really what your income is going to look like in this coming year compared to where it was last year to be able to make a decision about whether you can ignore a request for installments or pay a smaller amount.

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This is an edited transcript of a podcast interview with Tim Cestnick recorded in March 2016.

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