You just got a job offer and in addition to a hefty salary increase you are getting all kinds of new perks like life insurance, free parking and a cell phone. The company even has a subsidized cafeteria where you buy lunch and pick up dinner- to-go for the family.
But not all employee benefits are created equal. In some cases the value of the benefits is viewed as taxable income by Canada Revenue Agency when you file your tax return.
Here are seven things that may form part of your compensation and how they are taxed by CRA.
Group benefits: Amounts your employer pays for your life, accident and critical illness insurance coverage are taxable benefits. But when the company pays all or part of the cost of your extended health care, dental plan, short-term disability (STD) or long-term disability (LTD) insurance you do not pay tax on the premiums. If you collect on your short-term or long-term disability insurance you will pay taxes if any part of the premiums were employer-paid.
Pensions/Group RRSPs: Your company’s contributions to your pension plan are not taxable. However, your employer’s contributions to your Group RRSP account are viewed as additional taxable income by CRA. But you can deduct RRSP contributions (up to $23,820 for 2013) so you will not actually have to pay taxes on Group RRSP contributions made by your employer on your behalf.
Service and recognition awards: Cash, gift certificates and things like gifts of stock certificates and gold coins are always taxable benefits. However, you can receive tangible tax-free gifts or awards worth up to $500 annually in some specified circumstances, such as a wedding or outstanding service award. In addition, once every five years you can receive a tax-free, non-cash long-service or anniversary award worth $500 or less.
Tuition reimbursement: If you get a scholarship or bursary from your employer it will be a taxable benefit unless you took the program to maintain or upgrade your employment skills. For example, if you need an executive MBA to be promoted, no tax is payable on the value of company-paid tuition. Where the company gives your child a scholarship or bursary, generally neither you nor your son or daughter who benefit from the scholarship have to pay taxes on the amount.
Parking: Employer-provided parking is usually a taxable employee benefit unless you have a disability or the parking spot is provided because you regularly need to drive a car for work. If you work in a shopping centre or industrial park where parking is free to employees and customers, a taxable benefit will not be added to your remuneration. Similarly, if there are fewer parking spots than the actual number of employees (scramble parking), free parking is not valued or included in taxable income.
Mobile phone: Charges paid by the company for the business use of your cellphone are not taxable. If your phone is used in part for personal reasons, that portion of the bill should be reported on your T4 as a taxable benefit. However, if the cost of the basic plan has a reasonable fixed cost and your use does not result in charges over the cost of basic service, CRA will not consider any part of the use taxable.
Subsidized meals: If the company cafeteria sells subsidized meals to employees, this will not be considered a taxable benefit as long as employees pay a reasonable amount that covers the cost of food preparation and service.
More details about the taxation of these and other employee benefits or allowances can be found on the CRA website.
Everyone wants a raise and to make more money. One of the easiest ways to do that is to take advantage of your employee benefits. Here’s a checklist that can help you unlock the full potential of your workplace benefits.
Maximize retirement savings
Many employers match employee contributions to Saskatchewan Pension Plan, the company pension plan or Group RRSP by as much as 5 or 6 per cent of their employees’ salary. Over time it’s worth a bundle.
Consider company stock
Your company may have a payroll deduction plan that lets you buy shares at a discount. It is a taxable benefit and any decision to buy company stock should be part of your overall investment strategy. When Nortel failed, many employees who owned company shares lost both their jobs and a significant chunk of their nest eggs.
Submit all medical bills
Often your pharmacy and dentist will submit bills directly to your insurance company. However, other bills must be submitted by you. Check out your plan to see what’s eligible, keep the receipts and submit them. Even small amounts add up.
Coordinate benefit plans
If you and your spouse, or partner, have benefits make sure they are co-ordinated. Instead of getting a portion of your bills paid, you may be able to collect it all by using both. If a root canal costs $1,000 and your company only pays half, you have a lot to lose.
Health Care Spending Account: Use it or lose it
Health Spending Accounts are a popular way for employers to give employees benefits choice. The company provides a lump sum, say $500, which can be used to pay for things not fully covered by the basic medical plan. Check your benefits information to understand how your HSA works. Also make sure to read and act upon statements or emails advising you that your HSA balance will be forfeited if it is not used by a certain date.
Monitor your maximums
Make sure you know how much you can spend each year for dental work, physiotherapy, massage therapy, orthotics or glasses. Time your appointments and purchases accordingly.
Maternity and parental leave top up
Ottawa pays up to $501 a week for 50 weeks of parental leave, after a two-week waiting period. Many companies pay full salary for the waiting period and top up to 95 or 100 per cent of salary. To be eligible for the government and company benefits you have to accumulate at least 600 hours of insurable employment in the previous year or since you lasted collected benefits.
Employee Assistance Plan
Employee Assistance Plans offer a lot of value. They are available at no cost to you by telephone 24/7. Getting the help you need when you need it is priceless if it means you can function well enough to keep your job or hold your family together in a crisis.
Many companies will pay for tuition if the course is approved and you pass. If your employer is willing to fully or partially fund an Executive MBA, you’ve really hit the jackpot. The 2013/2014 fees for a distance MBA from Athabasca University can be up to $50,000.
Get fit at work
Take advantage of in-house gyms, sports teams and wellness challenges to get fit for free. Working out is also more affordable if your employer has negotiated a corporate rate at a fitness club and/or subsidizes fitness club memberships.
Use up your vacation days
Your company probably has restrictions on unused vacation that can be cashed out or carried over to the next year. Check the rules and use them up.
Corporate travel can be more of a pain than a perk if it takes you away from home for long periods. However, business travelers rack up a huge number of airline points. Some companies allow employees to charge travel to personal credit cards and retain airline points for personal use. And airline points you earn on the job are not a taxable benefit. Also, if you are going somewhere interesting and your hotel room is paid for, you may be able to take your family along on a vacation for a fraction of the normal cost.
Do you have tips for employees to maximize their use of employee benefits? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.
If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:
Colleges, universities offer free tuition for seniors