The baby boom generation, which is now in or near retirement, has always been able to factor receiving Old Age Security benefits, once they turn 65, into their retirement income plans. While receipt of such benefits can be still be assumed by the vast majority of Canadian retirees, the age at which such income will commence is no longer a fixed number. Rather, retirees are now faced with a choice about when they want those benefits to start. For the past four years, Canadians have had the option of deferring receipt of their Old Age Security benefits, for months or for years past the age of 65, and that election to defer continues to be available. The difficulty that can arise is how to determine, on an individual basis, whether it makes sense to defer receipt of OAS benefits and, if so, for how long. It’s a consequential choice and decision, since any election made to defer is irrevocable.

To make sense of the change, a bit of background is needed. The OAS program is one of the two federal government programs which provide income to Canadians during retirement, the other such program being the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). While the CPP is funded by contributions made by Canadians and their employers during the working lives of those Canadians, the OAS is a non-contributory plan, for which benefits are paid out of federal government general revenues. Eligibility for OAS benefits is based on an individual’s age and number of years of Canadian residence. Anyone who is 65 years of age or older and has lived in Canada for at least 40 years after the age of 18 is eligible to receive the maximum benefit. Those who were born on or before July 1, 1952 and who lived in Canada on July 1, 1977 can also receive full benefits. For the third quarter of 2017 (July to September 2017), that maximum monthly benefit is $583.74.

Under the rules now in place, Canadians who are eligible to receive OAS benefits can defer receipt of those benefits for up to five years, when they turn 70 years of age. For each month that an individual Canadian defers receipt of those benefits, the amount of benefit eventually received would increase by 0.6%. The longer the period of deferral, the greater the amount of monthly benefit eventually received. Where receipt of OAS benefits is deferred for a full 5 years, until age 70, the monthly benefit received is increased by 36%.

The decision of whether to defer receipt of OAS benefits and for how long is very much an individual one — there really aren’t any “one size fits all” rules. There are, however, some general considerations which are common to most taxpayers.

The first consideration in determining when to begin receiving OAS benefits is how much total income will be required, at the age of 65, to finance current needs. It’s also necessary to determine what other sources of income (Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits, employer-sponsored pension plan benefits, annuity payments, and withdrawals from registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) and registered retirement income fund (RRIFs)) are available to meet those needs, both currently and in the future, and when receipt of those income amounts can or will commence. Once income needs and sources and the possible timing of each is clear, it’s necessary to consider the income tax implications of the structuring and timing of those sources of income. In doing so, taxpayers need to be aware of the following income tax thresholds and cut-offs.

  • Income in the first federal tax bracket is taxed at 15%, while income in the second bracket is taxed at 20.5%. For 2017, that second income tax bracket begins when taxable income reaches $45,916.
  • The Canadian tax system provides (for 2017) a non-refundable tax credit of $7,225 for taxpayers who are over the age of 65 at the end of the tax year. That amount of that credit is reduced once the taxpayer’s net income for the year exceeds $36,430, and disappears entirely for taxpayers with net income over $84,597.
  • Individuals can receive a GST/HST refundable tax credit, which is paid quarterly. For 2017, the full credit is payable to individual taxpayers whose family net income is less than $36,429.
  • Taxpayers who receive Old Age Security benefits and have income over a specified amount are required to repay a portion of those benefits, through a mechanism known as the “OAS recovery tax”, or clawback. For the July 2017 to June 2018 benefit period, taxpayers whose income for 2016 was more than $73,756 will have a portion of their OAS benefit entitlement “clawed-back”. OAS entitlement for that time period is entirely eliminated where taxpayer income for 2016 was more than $119,615.

The goal, as always, is to ensure sufficient income to finance a comfortable lifestyle while at the same time minimizing both the tax bite and the potential loss of tax credits, or the need to repay OAS benefits received. Taxpayers who are trying to decide when to begin receiving OAS benefits could, depending on their circumstances, be affected by one or more of the following considerations.

What other sources of income are currently available?

More and more, Canadians are not automatically leaving the work force at the age of 65. Those who continue to work at paid employment and whose employment income is sufficient to finance their chosen lifestyle may well prefer to defer receipt of OAS. Similarly, a taxpayer who begins receiving benefits from an employer’s pension plan when he or she turns 65, may be able to postpone receipt of OAS benefits.

Is the taxpayer eligible for Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits, and at what age will those benefits commence?

Nearly all Canadians who were employed or self-employed after the age of 18 paid into the Canada Pension Plan and are eligible to receive CPP retirement benefits. While such retirement benefits can be received as early as age 60, receipt can also be deferred and received any time up to the age of 70. As is the case with OAS benefits, CPP retirement benefits increase with each month that receipt of those benefits is deferred. Taxpayers who are eligible for both OAS and CPP will need to consider the impact of accelerating or deferring the receipt of each benefit in structuring retirement income.

Does the taxpayer have private retirement savings through an RRSP?

Taxpayers who were not members of an employer-sponsored pension plan during their working lives generally save for retirement through a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP). While taxpayers can choose to withdraw amounts from such plans at any age, they are required to collapse their RRSPs by the end of the year in which they turn 71, and to begin receiving income from those savings. There are a number of options available for structuring that income, and, whatever the option chosen (usually, converting the RRSP into a registered retirement income fund or RRIF, or purchasing an annuity) will mean that the taxpayer will begin receiving income amounts from those RRSP funds in the following year. Taxpayers who have significant retirement savings in RRSPs should, in determining when to begin receiving OAS benefits, consider that they will have an additional (taxable) income amount for each year after they turn 71.

Finally, not all of the factors in deciding how to structure retirement income are based on purely financial and tax considerations. There are other, more personal issues and choices which come into play. Those include the state of one’s health at age 65 and the consequent implications for longevity, which might argue for accelerating receipt of any available income. Conversely, individuals who have a family history of longevity and who plan to continue working for as long as they can may be better off deferring receipt of retirement income where such deferral is possible.

Many Canadians put off plans, like a desire to travel, until their retirement years. Realistically, from a health standpoint, such plans are more likely to be possible earlier rather than later in retirement. The early years of retirement are usually the most active ones, and consequently are the years in which expenses for activities are likely to be highest. Having plans for significant expenditures in the early retirement years might argue for accelerating income into those years, when it can be used to make those plans a reality.

The ability to defer receipt of OAS benefits does provide Canadians with more flexibility when it comes to structuring retirement income. The price of that flexibility is increased complexity, particularly where, as is the case for most retirees, multiple sources of income and the timing of each of those income sources must be considered, and none can be considered in isolation from the others.

Individuals who are facing that decision-making process will find some assistance on the Service Canada website. That website provides a Retirement Income Calculator, which, based on information input by the user, will calculate the amount of OAS which would be payable at different ages. The calculator will also determine, based on current RRSP savings, the monthly income amount which those RRSP funds will provide during retirement. Finally, taxpayers who have a Canada Pension Plan Statement of Contributions which outlines their CPP entitlement at age 65 will be able to determine the monthly benefit which would be payable where CPP retirement benefits commence at different ages between 60 and 70.

The Retirement Income Calculator can be found at httpsss://

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

The risks most commonly cited by those advising a greater degree of borrowing restraint was the impact that an increase in interest rates would have on the ability of those debtors to repay — or even service — the debt which they had accumulated. As well, to the extent that such borrowings were secured by home equity, the risk was that a downturn in the real estate market could put those borrowers at risk, or even in a negative equity position, where the amount still owing on their home-related borrowings was greater than the value of their home.

Both of those circumstances have started to materialize in the last two calendar quarters. The Canada-wide real estate market is not in a downturn. However, the expectation among borrowers that real estate values in major urban markets would simply continue to increase without limit has been tempered, somewhat, by the drop in real estate sales in the Greater Toronto Area since the spring of this year. While real estate prices in that market are still up, as measured on a year-over-year basis, they have declined, overall, from the highs recorded in the winter and early spring of 2017.

The long-anticipated increase in interest rates has finally occurred as well, as on July 12 and again on September 6, 2017, the Bank of Canada raised the bank rate for the first time since September 2010. Predictably, financial institutions responded by increasing their mortgage and other loan interest rates. The Bank’s next interest rate announcement, which is scheduled for October 25 may, or may not, include a further increase.

The end of June, just prior to the Bank’s first interest rate increase, marked the end of second quarter of 2017. And, as is usually the case, a number of government and non-government organizations issued statistics and analysis of the current state of Canadian consumer debt. Given the timing, those figures will create a kind of benchmark against which future statistical summaries will be compared, as they create a “snapshot” of the state of Canadian consumer debt taken just as interest rates began to rise, at the end of the ultra-low interest rate environment which began in 2009, and as the ultra-hot real estate market started to cool down.

And the news is … good and bad. The figure which is mostly often quoted in discussions of consumer debt is the debt to disposable income ratio which is published by Statistics Canada. As of the end of June, that ratio stood at $1.68, meaning that the average Canadian household carried $1.68 in debt for each $1.00 of disposable (after-tax) income.

While it’s easy to see that an increasing debt-to disposable income ratio means that Canadians are taking on more debt, that ratio is still a somewhat abstract concept. What is striking, however, is the growth of that ratio over the past quarter century and, especially, since 2005.

In 1990, that percentage stood at 93%, meaning that the debt load of the average Canadian household was 93% of disposable income. By 2005, the debt-to-disposable ratio had risen to 108%. In other words, it took 15 years for the percentage to increase from 93% (in 1990) to 108% (in 2005). From that point, the debt to disposable income ratio accelerated dramatically, as it rose from 108% in 2005 to 150% just five years later, in 2010. The ratio now stands, as of the second quarter of 2017, at 168%.

The StatsCanada figure captures all forms of debt, secured and unsecured, meaning that it includes mortgages, car loans, installment loans of all kinds, lines of credit, and credit card debt. There are a couple of significant differences between secured and unsecured debt — secured debt, by definition, is secured against an asset, so that in the event the borrower goes into default, the lender can seize the asset in payment of the secured debt. The value of that asset is always, at the time of borrowing, greater than the amount borrowed. Unsecured debt, by contrast, is provided on no more than the borrower’s promise to repay. Not surprisingly then, the debt rate levied on unsecured borrowings is always higher than secured debt borrowings.

For both those reasons, it’s more likely that borrowers, when faced with an interest rate increase which bumps up their cost of borrowing, will get into difficulty with unsecured debt. And, as of the second quarter of 2017, the average unsecured debt (strictly speaking, “non-mortgage debt”, but in most cases, the non-mortgage debt of Canadians is unsecured debt) owed by individual Canadians was for the first time, over $22,000.

That figure — $22,154 average debt load per individual borrower — appeared in a summary issued by TransUnion, one of the two major credit reporting agencies in Canada. The summary also outlines the average balance per borrower by the kind of debt incurred, as follows:

Bank card (credit card) ………… $4,069

Automobile …………………………… $20,447

Line of Credit ………………………… $30,108

Installment Loan …………………… $25,455

And, as recently reported by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, recent trends in secured debt patterns may also give rise to concern going forward.

One of the fastest growing consumer credit products in Canada is the home equity line of credit (HELOC). A HELOC is similar to a mortgage, in that the debt is secured against the homeowner’s equity in the property. However, under a HELOC, a lender agrees to provide credit to a borrower, not for a fixed amount, but up to a maximum amount, based on the value of the property. Once the HELOC is in place, the available funds can be used for any purpose, whether that purpose is related to home ownership or not. And, while monthly payments are required, the borrower can usually, if he or she wishes, pay only the interest amount which has accrued since the last payment, without reducing the principal at all.

A report issued by the FCAC in June of this year includes the following statistics related to HELOC borrowing.

  • The number of households that have a HELOC and a mortgage secured against their home has increased by nearly 40 percent since 2011.
  • 40 percent of consumers do not make regular payments toward their HELOC principal.
  • 25 percent of consumers pay only the interest or make the minimum payment.
  • Most consumers do not repay their HELOC in full until they sell their home.

If there is good news in the figures summarizing the ever-increasing debt load of Canadians, from all sources, it’s in the fact that borrowers are still managing to keep payment of those debts in good standing. In fact, delinquency rates (meaning debts on which payments are more than 90 days late) are, for the most part, down during the second quarter of this year, as measured on both a quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year basis. Whether that trend will continue or be reversed as the impact of the recent interest rate increases takes hold remains to be seen.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

Unfortunately, while there are some circumstances in which such a deduction can be claimed, those circumstances don’t usually include the routine reasons — purchasing a home, getting a divorce, establishing custody rights, or seeking legal advice about the disposition of a family estate — for which most Canadians incur legal fees. Generally, personal (as distinct from business-related) legal fees become deductible for most Canadian taxpayers only where they are seeking to recover amounts which they believe are owed to them, particularly where those amounts involved employment or employment-related income or, in some cases, family support obligations.

The first situation in which legal fees paid may be deductible is that of an employee seeking to collect (or to establish a right to collect) salary or wages. In all Canadian provinces and territories, employment standards laws provide that an employee who is about to lose his or her job (for reasons not involving fault on the part of the employee) is entitled to receive a specified amount of notice, or salary or wages equivalent to such notice. In many cases, however, the employee can establish a right to a period of notice (or payment in lieu) greater than the statutory minimum. The amount of notice or payment in lieu of notice which is payable can then become a matter of negotiation between the employer and its former employee, and such negotiations usually involve legal representation and, consequently, legal fees. In that situation, legal fees incurred by the employee to establish a right to amounts allegedly owed by the employer are deductible by that former employee. If a court action is necessary and the Court requires the employer to reimburse its former employee for some or all of the legal fees incurred, the amount of that reimbursement must be subtracted from any deduction claimed. In other words, the former employee can claim a deduction only for legal fees which he or she was personally required to pay and for which he or she was not reimbursed.

In some situations, an employee or former employee seeks legal help in order to collect or to establish a right to collect a retiring allowance or pension benefits. In such situations, the legal fees incurred can be deducted, up to the total amount of the retiring allowance or pension income actually received for that year. Where part of the retiring allowance or pension benefits received in a particular year is contributed to an RRSP or registered pension plan, the amount contributed must be subtracted from the total amount received when calculating the maximum allowable deduction for legal fees. However, where all legal fees incurred can’t be claimed in the current year, they can be carried forward and claimed on the return for any of the 7 subsequent tax years.

The rules covering the deduction of legal fees incurred where an employee claims amounts from an employer or former employer are relatively straightforward. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the rules governing the deductibility of legal fees paid in connection with family support obligations. Those rules have evolved over the past number of years in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. The current rules are as follows.

Legal fees incurred by either party in the course of negotiating a separation agreement or obtaining a divorce are not deductible. Such fees paid to establish child custody or visitation rights are similarly not deductible by either parent.

Where, however, one former spouse has the right to receive support payments from the other, there are circumstances in which legal fees paid in connection with that right are deductible. Specifically, legal fees paid for the following purposes will be deductible by the person receiving those support payments:

  • collecting late support payments;
  • establishing the amount of support payments from a current or former spouse or common-law partner;
  • establishing the amount of support payments from the legal parent of that person’s child (who is not a current or former spouse or common-law partner). However, in these circumstances the deduction is allowed only where the support is payable under a court order, not simply under the terms of an agreement between the parties;
  • seeking an increase in support payments; or
  • seeking an order making child support amounts received non-taxable.

On the payment side of the support payment/receipt equation, the situation is not so favourable, as a deduction for legal fees incurred will not generally not be allowed to a person paying support. More specifically, as outlined on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website, a person paying support cannot claim legal fees incurred in order to “establish, negotiate or contest the amount of support payments”.

Finally, where the CRA reviews or challenges income amounts, deductions, or credits reported or claimed by a taxpayer for a tax year, any fees (which in this case includes accounting fees) paid for advice or assistance in dealing with the CRA’s review, assessment or reassessment, or in objecting to that assessment or reassessment, can be deducted by the taxpayer. A deduction can similarly be claimed where the taxpayer incurs such fees in relation to a dispute involving employment insurance, the Canada Pension Plan or the Quebec Pension Plan.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

In September of this year, the credit reporting firm Equifax announced that it had been subject to such a successful cyberattack, and that attack was especially concerning, both because of the nature of the information Equifax holds, and because of the number of Canadians affected.

Most Canadian adults have used credit at one time or another. Whenever an individual obtains and uses credit — whether through a credit card, line of credit, car loan, or otherwise, the financial institution which provided the credit provides information about that credit use to a credit reporting agency like Equifax. The information provided includes the original amount of the debt, the payment history, whether any payments were made late, and the current balance. The file held by the credit reporting agency also includes personal identifying information about the individual, which can include the individual’s social insurance number (SIN). Such information is accumulated throughout the individual’s financial life and is used by credit-granting institutions to assess an individual’s creditworthiness whenever he or she makes an application for credit.

It’s readily apparent that credit rating agencies have a great deal of personal and financial information about individuals and it was that information which was compromised in the cyberattack on Equifax which took place between mid-May and July 2017. Equifax has confirmed that personal and financial information of about 100,000 Canadians had been accessed in the cyberattack. (That number is subject to change and increase, as the investigation continues.) The information accessed included individuals’ names, addresses, credit card numbers, and – most ominously – SINs.

Equifax has committed to contacting, by mail (not e-mail or phone), the 100,000 Canadians whose personal information has been compromised. It will also be providing such individuals with credit monitoring and identity theft protection for a period of 12 months, at no charge. Individuals who are not contacted but have questions can contact Equifax at 1-866-699-5712 or by email at

Anyone whose personal and financial information is stolen, whatever the circumstances, has good reason to be concerned. And, given the number of instances in which Canadians routinely provide such personal and financial information, online or otherwise, the chances of being affected by an information security breach continue to increase.

As a practical matter, there is really nothing individual Canadians can do to ensure that companies, institutions and governments which have and hold their personal information are not subject to a cyberattack or other information breach. What Canadians can (and should) do is to restrict the personal and financial information which they provide to others to that which is required by law or absolutely necessary in the particular circumstances. And there are a number of steps which individuals can take to protect the personal identifying and financial information which they do disclose, and so minimize the risks that such information will misused or that they will become victims of identity theft.

Perhaps the most important of those steps is the need to protect one’s SIN. Having someone else’s SIN (especially if the person’s name and date of birth is also known) can give an unauthorized person significant access to additional information about that person, and can even allow them to impersonate that person, especially online, where bona fides can often be established simply by providing requested personal identifying information.

The circumstances in which Canadians are legally required to provide their SIN are relatively few and far between — it must be included on the annual tax return, of course, and must be provided to financial institutions where the individual holds an interest-bearing account, a registered retirement savings plan, a registered education savings plan, or a tax-free savings account. There are not many other instances in which providing one’s SIN is required. Notwithstanding, SINs are sometimes treated as a kind of all-purpose identifier, and individuals are frequently asked for that number in situations where it has no possible relevance – for instance, in an application to rent an apartment or a credit card application. It is both legal and prudent to refuse to provide one’s SIN in situations where there is no legal requirement to disclose that information.

For every form and application, financial or otherwise, which is completed by an individual both online or in hard copy, there are usually fields which are required to be completed and some which are not. There is no reason to provide such optional information which, isn’t actually needed for purposes of the form or application being completed. While the optional requested information may seem innocuous, it’s always preferable to have less rather than more personal identifying information in the public domain.

Online shopping is now ubiquitous and, of course, purchasing anything online requires an individual to provide a method of payment, which is usually a credit card number. The major online shopping sites have security protocols in place, but the reality is that providing one’s credit card number online will always carry a risk. There are, however, ways to minimize that risk. Individuals who shop online on a regular basis might consider obtaining a credit card which is used only for online shopping, and which has a relatively low credit limit. That way, should the credit card number fall into the wrong hands, the amount which can be fraudulently charged to that card will be minimal, and the card itself can be cancelled immediately, once the breach is discovered.

For those who wish to obtain personal information about someone else for fraudulent purposes, all forms of social media are, of course, a gold mine. Everyone has heard of the need to exercise caution with respect to the personal information disclosed on social media. What many don’t recognize is the need to consider the totality of information that is being “shared” on all social media platforms in the aggregate, not just on a single site like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or in a single post on any of those sites. Anyone seeking to collect personal information about an individual for identity theft or other fraudulent purposes will certainly put together information from all available sources. And, while a single piece of information disclosed in passing, or in isolation, may not seem to pose a risk, it doesn’t take much information to create that risk. For instance, no one would post their bank account number on social media. But, someone who posts on Facebook about their frustration with a particular interaction with their (named) financial institution has created an opportunity for someone to approach them (weeks or months later) with fraudulent intent, purporting to be from that financial institution and asking them, for instance, to confirm their bank account number as part of the bank’s regular fraud prevention program. And too often, recipients of such approaches don’t consider that the caller might have obtained information about who they bank with from a months-old social media post. Such fraudulent approaches rely on the fact that most recipients don’t think to verify the authenticity of the call or the caller.

Not disclosing one’s SIN unless legally required to do so, and taking care when online shopping or in posting on social media are only some of the precautions which can be taken to protect one’s personal information. There are many others, and there’s a lot of information available on how to protect yourself and what to do if your personal or financial information falls into the wrong hands. The following websites are a good place to start: and httpsss://

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

What both groups of parents and students have in common this school year, however, is that this is the first full school year which will be affected by previously announced tax changes. And, unfortunately, each of those tax changes, for students at all levels, means higher after-tax costs for education-related expenses.

For students enrolled in the public education system there is, of course, no cost to attend. Most such students are, however, enrolled in one or more after-school activities and for nearly all of those activities, there is an out-of-pocket cost that must be paid. Depending on the activity, those costs can easily amount to several hundred dollars per child over the course of the school year. In recent years, parents were able to offset those out-of-pocket costs by claiming the children’s arts credit or the children’s fitness credit, depending on the kind of activity involved. Both such credits were, however, eliminated as of the 2017 tax year. Consequently, neither credit can now be claimed for any formerly qualifying activity or program. In budgeting for the cost of any contemplated after-school activity, parents must budget on the basis that they will be paying the full cost out-of-pocket, and will not be claiming any offsetting tax credit on their tax return for 2017.

There is some good news for parents of elementary school-aged children, in that where costs are incurred for after-school care, a deduction can still be claimed for such costs. That deduction is part of the general child care expense deduction, which may be claimed (within specified limits) where child care costs are incurred in order for the parent to work, at employment or self-employment. The amount of deduction claimable depends on the age of the child and the actual amount expended, with an overall limit based on family net income. More information on claiming the child care expense deduction can be found on the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website at httpsss://

At the post-secondary education level, students (and their parents) have benefitted for many years from an “assist” through our tax system, which provides deductions and credits for some of the many associated costs. Two of those credits are, however, no longer available to be claimed.

The biggest cost of post-secondary education is, of course, tuition, and the tax credit provided for eligible tuition costs continues to be available for the upcoming (and subsequent) academic and taxation years. Any student who incurs more than $100 in tuition costs at an eligible post-secondary institution (which would include most Canadian universities and colleges) can still claim a non-refundable federal tax credit of 15% of such tuition costs. The provinces and territories also provide students with an equivalent provincial or territorial credit, with the rate of such credit differing by jurisdiction. At both the federal and provincial levels, the credit acts to reduce tax otherwise payable. Where a student doesn’t have tax payable for the year, as is often the case, any credits earned can be carried forward and claimed by the student in a future year, or transferred in the current year to a spouse, parent, or grandparent.

For many years post-secondary students have also been able to claim two other federal tax credits — the education tax credit and the textbook tax credit. Both, unfortunately, have been eliminated, and so the only credit which will be claimable for the upcoming academic year by post-secondary students is the non-refundable credit for 15% of tuition costs incurred. Where the education and textbook credits have been earned but not claimed in previous years, however, they are still available to be claimed by the student as carryover credits in 2017 or later years.

The CRA publishes a very useful guide to tax measures which affect students enrolled in post-secondary education. That guide, entitled Students and Income Tax, has been updated to take account of the recent changes, and the most recent version is available on the CRA website at httpss://

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

In order to receive a designation as a registered charity (and consequently to be able to provide donors with a tax receipt enabling them to claim a credit or deduction), an organization is required by law to have exclusively charitable purposes. While the particular kinds of aims and objectives which may qualify an organization for certification as a registered charity vary widely, one kind of activity which cannot qualify as charitable in nature is purely political activity. An organization established solely for political purposes, or an organization that devotes more than an incidental percentage of its resources to political purposes, or whose political activities are not in furtherance of its charitable purposes, cannot qualify (or continue to qualify) as a registered charity.

Support of a particular political party or candidate is an obvious partisan political purpose, but under Canadian law as it relates to charities, the definition of political purposes is much broader. As determined by Canadian courts, political purposes are also those that seek to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country. Essentially, the rules seek to ensure that any organization that has been designated as a registered charity does not extend the benefits of having that designation to cover political aims or activities, in more than an incidental way. At the extreme end, the rules seek to prevent organizations whose aims are essentially political from “masquerading” as charitable organizations in order to receive the related status and tax benefits.

The initial, general, rule is that that a charity that devotes no more than 10% of its total resources a year to allowable political activities (meaning political activities that are non-partisan and that are both connected with and subordinate to the charity’s purposes) will be operating within allowed guidelines. Smaller charities are given more leeway, and operate under the following guidelines.

  • Registered charities with less than $50,000 annual income in the previous year can devote up to 20% of their resources to political activities in the current year.
  • Registered charities whose annual income in the previous year was between $50,000 and $100,000 can devote up to 15% of their resources to political activities in the current year.
  • Registered charities whose annual income in the previous year was between $100,000 and $200,000 can devote up to 12% of their resources to political activities in the current year.

Charities which breach these rules can face serious sanctions, up to and including temporary suspension or even revocation of their charitable status.

It’s apparent from even a brief summary that determining when a charity has engaged in political activity which must be reported can be a very subjective exercise, and the consequences of making the wrong call can be significant. The CRA recognizes that fact, and has created a number of online resources to assist charities in making that determination. Those resources, which include webinars, FAQ documents, and self-assessment tools, can all be found on the Charities webpage of the CRA website, at

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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 first and most basic rule of GIS eligibility is that GIS is paid only to individuals who are already receiving the Old Age Security benefit. Canadians can begin receiving such OAS benefit at age 65, or can defer receipt of that benefit up until the age of 70. However, regardless of the age at which an individual chooses to begin collecting OAS, he or she cannot receive the GIS until that OAS benefit has started.

There is a perception that GIS benefits are available to only the lowest income seniors. While it is true that eligibility for the GIS is tied to income, the current reality is that in the first quarter of 2017, nearly 2 million Canadians, or nearly one-third of those who collect OAS, also received GIS benefits.

The basic rule is that single (or divorced or widowed) individuals who have less than $17,688 in net income for the previous year are eligible to receive at least partial GIS benefits each month. Once net income exceeds the $17,688 threshold, eligibility for GIS is completely eliminated. That figure is somewhat deceiving, however, as not all income sources are treated the same way when it comes to determining net income for purposes of assessing GIS eligibility. When determining such eligibility, the sources from which income is received is nearly as important as the amount of that income.

Generally, in calculating net income for purposes of determining GIS eligibility, the following income amounts are included:

  • Canada Pension Plan or Quebec Pension Plan amounts;
  • amounts received from a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or a registered retirement income fund (RRIF);
  • amounts received from a registered pension plan (i.e., an employer-sponsored pension plan); and
  • investment income (interest, dividends, etc.) from all sources.

The following income amounts are not included in net income for purposes of determining GIS eligibility:

  • Old Age Security amounts; and
  • any withdrawals from a tax-free savings account (TFSA).

Finally, many retirees work part-time, whether out of financial need or for social reasons. In calculating net income to determine GIS eligibility, an exemption is provided for the first $3,500 in employment income earned each year — in other words, the first $3,500 in employment income earned is not included in net income for GIS eligibility purposes.

The exclusions and partial exclusions from the net income calculation for GIS purposes can mean that someone who would not seem to be eligible by reason of his or her total income may in fact be able to receive at least partial GIS benefits, as in the following example.

A single individual who is over age 65 receives the following income amounts in 2016:

  • $7,200 in Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits;
  • $6,840 in Old Age Security benefits;
  • $6,000 of income from part-time employment;
  • $5,000 in TFSA withdrawals; and
  • $3,000 in RRIF withdrawals.

Total income for the year — $28,040

That total income would seem to put the individual well over the eligibility threshold for receiving even partial GIS. However, for purposes of determining such eligibility, not all of the income amounts adding up to that $28,040 in total income will be included. Specifically, the $6,840 in OAS benefits is excluded, as is the $5,000 amount withdrawn from the individual’s TFSA. As well, the first $3,500 in employment income is excluded in computing net income for this purpose. As a result, more than half of the taxpayer’s income amounts received during 2016 are excluded from the computation of net income, and that computation, for purposes of determining GIS eligibility looks like this:

  • $7,200 in Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits;
  • $3,000 in RRIF withdrawals;
  • $2,500 in employment income (the first $3,500 in such income being exempt)

Net income for GIS eligibility purposes — $12,700

Once the adjustments required to determine GIS eligibility are made, the individual’s income is cut by more than half, and the resulting $12,700 in net income is $5,000 below the $17,688 income cut-off for GIS eligibility of $17,688.

In 2017, an individual who is single, divorced, or widowed and is eligible for a full GIS amount will receive $871.86 per month. That amount is reduced as income increases and is eliminated entirely where the individual’s net income exceeds the $17,688 cut-off.

A similar calculation is required for taxpayers who are married. The net income calculation is the same, but the cut-off amount above which GIS eligibility for both spouses is eliminated, where both spouses are receiving OAS, is $23,376. Where one of the spouses does not receive OAS, the combined income threshold for GIS eligibility is $42,384. More information on the benefit and income cut-off amounts for the current quarter (July to September 2017), as well as links to tables which will show the exact amount of GIS payable at different income levels, can be found on the website at httpsss://

A final note — where individuals receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement, whether the full benefit or partial amounts, all such amounts received are non-taxable.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

Those reasons start with the interest cost of carrying such debt. Even with the recent increase, interest rates remain near historic lows, but the CRA, by law, charges interest at levels higher than normal commercial rates. The interest rate charged by the CRA on overdue or insufficient tax payments is set quarterly. For the third quarter of 2017, therefore, covering the months of July, August, and September, the interest rate charged on taxes owing is 5%.

While that 5% rate is still lower by far than, for instance, the interest rate charged on many credit card balances, it is the interest calculation method used by the CRA which can really inflate the interest cost of having tax debts. Where an amount is owed to the CRA, interest charged on that amount is compounded daily, meaning that on each successive day, interest is being levied on the interest charged the day before. Not surprisingly, interest costs calculated in that way can add up quickly.

The CRA also has a very broad range of options at its disposal to compel payment, and a very long period of time in which to use them. Where a taxpayer hasn’t paid an amount owed within 30 days after he or she receives a Notice of Assessment stating the amount owed, the CRA will usually contact the taxpayer, by phone or by mail, with a request for payment. If the taxpayer does not contact the CRA to make a payment or set up a payment arrangement within 90 days after the date the Notice of Assessment was mailed, the CRA will likely resort to its other collection options.

The CRA has the right, where there are any amounts owed to the taxpayer by any other department of the federal government (for example, a goods and services tax credit amount) to, in effect, seize those amounts and apply them to the tax debt. The CRA also has the authority to intercept (or garnish) money which may be owing to the taxpayer from a third party, like an employer and, as a last resort, can direct that the taxpayer’s assets be seized and sold to satisfy the tax debt.

Of course, the CRA’s goal, like that of any other creditor, is to get the debt paid without having to resort to expensive and time-consuming administrative or legal processes.  It’s relatively rare for a tax debt to reach the stage of litigation or garnishment, as it is in everyone’s interest to resolve matters before things reach that point. And, perhaps contrary to popular belief, the CRA has some flexibility. When the amount of taxes due on filing can’t be paid, or can’t be paid in full, it’s in the taxpayer’s best interests to contact the CRA and let them know of that fact.

Not surprisingly, the CRA tries to make it easy for taxpayers to contact it to make such arrangements. Taxpayers can use the CRA’s automated TeleArrangement service at 1-866-256-1147, for which it is necessary to provide one’s social insurance number and date of birth, and the amount which appeared on line 150 from the last return for which a notice of assessment was received. TeleArrangement is available Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Eastern time. For those who wish to speak to an actual representative of the CRA, a toll-free telephone line (1-888-863-8657) is staffed by agents from Monday to Friday, except on statutory holidays. The taxpayer can propose a payment schedule based on his or her ability to pay, and the CRA, if it is satisfied that the inability to pay is genuine, will generally be amenable to entering into some type of payment arrangement. Entering into such a payment arrangement does not, of course, stop the interest clock from running, as interest will continue to be assessed at the current rate, and compounded daily.

The alternative to making a payment arrangement and becoming subject to the CRA’s punitive interest assessment practices is sometimes to borrow the required funds from a third party and pay the CRA in full as soon as possible. Especially where the taxpayer can provide some security — like the equity in a home — it may be possible to borrow funds at less than the 5% interest rate currently being charged by the CRA on overdue tax amounts.

One final blow: interest paid on tax debts, whether paid to the CRA or to a third party lender, is not deductible from income.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues. They can be accessed below.


Issue #41 Corporate


Issue #41 Personal

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

No one particularly likes receiving unexpected mail from the tax authorities, and correspondence which suggests that the recipient should be making payments of tax to the CRA during the year (instead of when he or she files the return for the year next April) is likely to be both perplexing and somewhat alarming. It’s fair to say that most Canadians aren’t familiar with the payment of income tax by instalments, and are therefore at a loss to know how to proceed the first time they receive an Instalment Reminder.

The reason the instalment payment system is unfamiliar to most Canadians is that most of us pay income taxes during our working lives through a different system. Every Canadian employee has tax automatically deducted from his or her paycheque (“at source”), before that paycheque is issued, and that tax is remitted, by the employer to the CRA, on the employee’s behalf. Such deductions and remittances accrue to the employee’s behalf, and they are credited with those remittances when filing the annual tax return for that year. It’s an efficient system, but it’s also one largely invisible to the employee, and certainly one which operates without the need for the employee to take any steps on his or her own. When someone’s working life ends and retirement begins, it’s consequently not surprising that the individual wouldn’t know that it is now his or her responsibility to make specific arrangements for the payment of income tax.

Adding to the potential confusion, most employees who are now moving into retirement have had only a single source of income throughout their working lives. Once in retirement, however, there are likely multiple such sources of income, including Canada Pension Plan benefits and Old Age Security payments, and perhaps monthly amounts received from an employer-sponsored registered pension plan (RPP) or a registered retirement income fund (RRIF). Unless the individual so directs, none of the payors of those kinds of income will deduct income tax from the payments and remit them to the federal government on the individual’s behalf.

Canadian tax rules provide that, where the amount of tax owed when a return is filed by the taxpayer is more than $3,000 ($1,800 for Quebec residents) in the current (2017) year and either of the two previous (2015 and 2016) years, that taxpayer may be required to pay income tax by instalments.

The reason that first instalment reminders are issued in August has to do with the schedule on which Canadians file their tax returns. The amount of tax payable on filing for the immediately preceding year can’t be known until the tax return for that year has been filed and assessed, and the tax return filing deadline for individuals is April 30 (or June 15 for self-employed taxpayers and their spouses). Consequently, by the end of July, the CRA will have the information needed to determine whether a particular taxpayer should receive a first instalment reminder for the current year. In many cases, a first instalment reminder is triggered where an individual who has retired within the past two years, as in the following example.

An individual retires at the end of 2015 from employment in which tax deductions were automatically taken from his or her paycheque. Beginning in January 2016, that individual’s sources of income change from a single paycheque from their employer to Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security benefits, as well as a monthly withdrawal from a RRIF. In order for the individual to have the appropriate amounts of tax withheld from those income sources during 2016, the individual taxpayer would have to have calculated the amount of total tax liability for the year and made arrangements for the appropriate amount to be withheld from one or more of those three sources of income. For most taxpayers, especially those who are making all the various adjustments needed to move from working life into retirement, and who have never before needed to make such a calculation, that’s not a very likely scenario. Consequently, it would be very unlikely that withholdings in the correct amount (or any withholdings at all) would be made from those sources of retirement income, and very likely that more than $3,000 in tax will be owed when the return for 2016 is filed. Where the taxpayer’s income levels and withholding amounts are unchanged for 2017 and it can be expected that, once again, more than $3,000 will be owed on filing, the criteria for the instalment requirement would be met and a tax instalment reminder would be issued in August 2017, after the return for 2016 is assessed.

Taxpayers who receive that first Instalment Reminder in August may also be puzzled by the fact that it is a “Reminder” and not a “Requirement” to pay. The reason for that is that those who receive it are not actually required by law to make instalment payments of tax. There are, in fact, three options open to the taxpayer who receives an Instalment Reminder.

First, the taxpayer can pay the amounts specified on the reminder, by the respective due dates of September 15 and December 15. A taxpayer who does so can be certain that he or she will not have to pay any interest or penalty charges even if he or she does have to pay an additional amount on filing in the spring of 2018. If the instalments paid turn out to be more than the taxpayer’s tax liability for 2017, he or she will of course receive a refund on filing.

Second, the taxpayer can make instalment payments based on the total amount of tax which was owed and paid for the 2016 tax year. Where a taxpayer’s income has not changed between 2016 and 2017 and his or her available deductions and credits remain the same, the likelihood is that total tax liability for 2017 will be the same or slightly less than it was in 2016, owing to the indexation of tax brackets and tax credit amounts.

Third, the taxpayer can estimate the amount of tax which he or she will actually owe for  2017 and can pay instalments based on that estimate. Where a taxpayer’s income has dropped from 2016 to 2017 and there will consequently be a reduction in tax payable, this option may be worth considering. Taxpayers who wish to pursue this approach can obtain the information needed to estimate current year taxes (federal and provincial tax brackets and rates) on the CRA website at httpsss://

All of this may seem like a lot of research and calculation effort, especially when one considers that many Canadians don’t even prepare their own tax returns. And those who don’t want to be bothered with the intricacies of tax calculations can pay the amounts set out in the Instalment Reminder, secure in the knowledge that they will not incur any penalty or interest charges and that, should those amounts ultimately represent an overpayment of taxes, that overpayment will be recovered and refunded when the 2017 return is filed next spring.

Once they have resigned themselves to the reality of the tax instalment system, the remaining question that most taxpayers have is how such payments can be made. The options open to taxpayers in that regard are helpfully outlined on the CRA website at httpsss://

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

The downside of that increased flexibility has been to make the system — and therefore the choices available to Canadians — more complex. One aspect of that complexity is the (relatively) new CPP post-retirement benefit, or PRB.

The CPP system is a contributory one, in which both the individual and his or her employer make annual contributions, with the amount of those contributions based on the employee’s income for that year. The total of contributions made between the time the individual is age 18 and the time he or she begins receiving CPP retirement benefits is used to calculate the amount of the monthly CPP retirement benefit to which that individual is entitled. An individual can begin receiving his or her CPP retirement benefit at the age of 60 or can defer receipt anytime until he or she turns 70 years of age. With each month that receipt of the benefit is deferred, the amount of that benefit increases.

It was once the case that an individual who had decided to begin receiving the CPP retirement benefit was not required (or allowed) to continue contributing to the CPP (even if he or she continued to work) and therefore had no means of increasing the benefit amount. A change made in 2012 altered that rule, such that individuals who continued to work while receiving the CPP retirement benefit could also continue to contribute to the CPP and, as a result, increase the amount of CPP retirement benefit they received each month. That benefit is the CPP post-retirement benefit or PRB.

The rules governing the PRB differ, depending on the age of the taxpayer. In a nutshell, an individual who has chosen to begin receiving the CPP retirement benefit but who continues to work will be subject to the following rules:

  • Individuals who are 60 to 65 years of age and continue to work are required to continue making CPP contributions.
  • Individuals who are 65 to 70 years of age and continue to work can choose not to make CPP contributions. To stop contributing, such an individual must fill out Form CPT30, Election to Stop Contributing to the Canada Pension Plan, or Revocation of a Prior Election. A copy of that form must be given to the individual’s employer and the original sent to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). An individual who has more than one employer must make the same choice (to continue to contribute or to cease contributions) for all employers and must provide a copy of Form CPT30 to each.

A decision to stop contributing can be changed, and contributions resumed, but only one change can be made per calendar year. To make that change, the individual must complete section D of Form CPT30, give one copy of the form to his or her employer, and send the original to the CRA.

  • Individuals over the age of 70 and are still working cannot contribute to the CPP.

Overall, the effect of these new rules is that CPP retirement benefit recipients who are still working and under age 65, as well as those who are between 65 and 70 and choose not to opt out, will continue to make contributions to the CPP system and continue therefore to earn new credits under that system. As a result, the amount of retirement benefits which they are entitled to will increase with each year’s contributions.

Where an individual makes CPP contributions while working and receiving CPP retirement benefits, the amount of any CPP post-retirement benefit earned will automatically be calculated by the federal government, and the individual will be advised of any increase in that monthly CPP retirement benefit each year. The PRB will be paid to that individual automatically the year after the contributions are made, effective January 1st of every year. Since the federal government needs information about employer contributions made, the first annual payment of the PRB is usually issued in early April and will include a lump sum payment back to January. Thereafter, the PRB is paid monthly and the PRB amount is added to the individual’s CPP retirement pension and issued as a single payment.

While the rules governing the PRB can seem complex (and certainly the actuarial calculations are), the individual doesn’t have to be concerned with those technical details. For CPP retirement benefit recipients who are under age 65 or over 70, there is no decision to be made. For the former, CPP contributions will be automatically deducted from their paycheques and for the latter, no such contributions are allowed.

Individuals in the middle group — those aged 65 to 70 — will need to decide whether it makes sense, in their individual circumstances, to continue making contributions to the CPP. Some assistance in making that decision is provided on the federal government website at httpsss://, which shows the calculations which would apply for individuals of different ages and income levels.

More information on the PRB generally is also available on that website at httpsss://

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

As well, for many years the CRA has been encouraging taxpayers to fulfill their filing obligations online, through one of the Agency’s e-filing services. Canadians are clearly listening, as just over 24 million (or 86%) of the returns filed this year were filed by electronic means. While e-filing means that the turnaround for processing of returns is much quicker, there is, by definition, no paper involved. The Canadian tax system has always been what is termed a “self-assessing” system, in which taxpayers report income earned and claim deductions and credits to which they believe they are entitled. Prior to the advent of e-filing there were means by which the CRA could easily verify claims made by taxpayers. Where returns were paper-filed, taxpayers were usually required to include receipts or other documentation to prove their claims, whatever those claims were for. For the 86% of returns which were filed this year by electronic means, no such paper trail exists. Consequently, the potential exists for misrepresentation of such claims (or simple reporting errors) on a large scale. The CRA’s response to that risk is to carry out a post-assessment review process, in which the Agency asks taxpayers to back up or verify claims for credits or deductions which were made on the return filed this past spring.

That post-assessment review process starts in the month of August. There are two components to the review process — the Processing Review Program and the Matching Program. The former is a review of various deductions or credits claimed on returns, while the latter compares information included on the taxpayer’s return with information provided to the CRA by third-party sources, like T4s filed by employers or T5s filed by banks or other financial institutions.

Being selected for review under either program means, for the individual taxpayer, the possibility of receiving unexpected correspondence from the CRA. Receiving such correspondence from the tax authorities is almost guaranteed to unsettle the recipient taxpayer, even where there’s no reason to believe that anything is wrong. But, it’s an experience which will be shared this summer and fall by millions of Canadian taxpayers.

While the two programs are carried out more or less concurrently, they are quite different. The Processing Review Program asks the taxpayer to provide verification or proof of deductions or credits claimed on the return, while the Matching Program deals with discrepancies between the information on the taxpayer’s return and information filed by third parties with respect to the taxpayer’s income or deductions for the year.

Of course, most taxpayers are not concerned so much with the kind or program or programs under which they are contacted as they are with why their return was singled out for review. Many taxpayers assume that it’s because there is something wrong on their return, or that the letter is a precursor to an audit, but that’s not necessarily the case. Returns are selected by the CRA for post-assessment review for a number of reasons. Under the Matching Program, where a taxpayer has filed a return containing information which does not agree with the corresponding information filed by, for instance, his or her employer, it’s likely that the CRA will want to follow up to find out the reason for the discrepancy. As well, Canada’s tax laws are complex and, over the years, the CRA has determined that there are areas in which taxpayers are more likely to make errors on their returns. Consequently, a return which includes claims in those areas (like medical expenses, support payments, and legal fees) may have an increased chance of being reviewed. Where there are deductions or credits claimed by the taxpayer which are significantly different or greater than those claimed in previous returns, that may attract the CRA’s attention. And, if the taxpayer’s return has been reviewed in previous years and, especially, if an adjustment was made following that review, subsequent reviews may be more likely. Finally, many returns are picked for post-assessment review simply on a random basis.

Regardless of the reason for the follow-up, the process is the same. Taxpayers whose returns are selected for review will receive a letter from the CRA, identifying the deduction or credit for which the CRA wants documentation or the income or deduction amount about which a discrepancy seems to exist. The taxpayer will be given a reasonable period of time — usually a few weeks from the date of the letter — in which to respond to the CRA’s request. That response should be in writing, attaching the receipts or other documentation (if needed) which the CRA has requested. All correspondence from the CRA under its review programs will include a reference number, which is usually found in the top right hand corner of the CRA’s letter. That number is the means by which the CRA tracks the particular inquiry, and should be included in the response sent to the Agency. It’s important to remember, as well, that it’s the taxpayer’s responsibility to provide proof, where requested, of any claims made on a return. Where a taxpayer does not respond to a CRA request and does not provide such proof, the Agency will proceed on the basis that the requested verification or proof does not exist, and will reassess accordingly.

Taxpayers who have registered for the CRA’s online tax program My Account (or whose representative is similarly registered for the CRA’s Represent a Client online service) can submit required documentation electronically. More information on how to do so can be found on the CRA website at

Regardless of how requested documents are submitted, it’s possible that the CRA will send a follow-up letter, or the taxpayer may be contacted by telephone, with a request from the CRA for more information.

One word of caution — as most Canadians have heard by now, there is a persistent tax scam operating in which taxpayers are contacted by telephone by someone falsely claiming to be from the CRA (or, more recently, from the “Federal Tax Court”, which does not exist). Such fraudulent callers generally indicate that a review of the taxpayer’s return shows that additional taxes are owed, and insist that immediate payment is required, by wire transfer of funds or pre-paid credit card. Taxpayers should be aware that payment of taxes is never requested in this way, or by either of those methods. While the CRA can and does contact taxpayers by phone, any CRA representative will have the reference number which appeared in the CRA’s initial letter and should be prepared to quote that number to the taxpayer in order to establish that the call is an authentic one. As well, the CRA does not correspond with taxpayers on confidential tax matters by e-mail. The only legitimate e-mail which a taxpayer might receive from the CRA is one which advises that there is a new message for that taxpayer in his or her online account with the CRA — and only taxpayers who have previously registered for the CRA’s My Account service would receive such an e-mail. Any other type of e-mail claiming to be from the CRA is not legitimate and should be deleted without opening.

Whatever the reason a particular return was selected for post-assessment review by the CRA, one thing is certain. A prompt response to the CRA’s enquiry, providing them with the information or documentation requested will, in the vast majority of cases, bring the matter to a speedy conclusion, to the satisfaction of both the Agency and the taxpayer.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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.

When anyone seeks to borrow money, for whatever purpose, a key factor in whether they will be able to obtain a loan is, of course, their ability to repay the loan on the terms set, including the interest rate to be levied. That same consideration applies when an individual or a couple apply for approval or pre-approval of a mortgage. However, a mortgage differs from other kinds of consumer debt in a few significant ways. First, a mortgage is likely to be the largest debt any Canadian takes on in his or her lifetime. Second, a mortgage is paid off over a much longer period of time — typically 25 years — than any other type of debt. And, finally, because of that lengthy repayment period, a mortgage is the only kind of significant consumer debt in which the interest rate which will be payable over the entire life of the loan can’t be determined prior to the time the initial financing is approved.

When mortgage financing is provided to a home buyer, there are two factors, besides the amount of the loan, which determine how much the monthly mortgage payments will be. The first is the amortization period, or the length of time over which the mortgage loan will be repaid. The second is the mortgage term, which is the time period for which the interest rate for the mortgage is fixed. That term is always shorter than the amortization period – for most mortgage financing in Canada, the longest term which can be obtained is 10 years, although most mortgage terms are shorter than that. Since the interest rate for that term is fixed, both the borrower and the lender know how much the mortgage payments will be for the entire length of that term and what percentage of the borrower’s current income will be required to make those payments.

In determining whether a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage loan as required, mortgage lenders rely on two debt-to-income ratios, known as Gross Debt Service (GDS) and Total Debt Service (TDS). The two are similar, but not the same.

The GDS ratio measures how much of the would-be borrower’s income will be needed to meet his or her housing costs. For any particular mortgage borrower, GDS represents the total of mortgage payments, property taxes, heating costs, and — where applicable — one-half of condo fees. Optimally, that total figure will represent less than 35% of the would-be borrower’s income.

Of course, most Canadians carry one or more kinds of consumer debt besides their mortgages, and so it’s necessary to determine their cost of servicing that total debt as a percentage of income. That figure is their TDS, which is the total of housing expenses (as calculated for purposes of GDS) plus any other debt repayment, including car loans, credit cards, lines of credit, and student loans. Optimally, the total amount of housing costs plus other repayment will be less than 42% of the would-be borrower’s income.

Where a would-be borrower is particularly credit-worthy (e.g., he or she has a reliable source of income and a good credit history), lenders will provide mortgage financing even where the optimal debt ratios indicated above are exceeded. However, the maximum GDS and TDS ratios allowed are, respectively, 39% and 44%.

While the GDS and TDS ratios do provide a reasonable measure of the ability of a prospective borrower to repay funds advanced to him or her, the weakness of those ratios are that they provide only a “snapshot” of the individual’s housing costs and debt repayment costs at a particular point in time and, more significantly, at current interest rates. As everyone knows, interest rates in Canada are, and have been for several years, at or near records lows and that many Canadians have taken advantage of those low rates. Specifically, as of the first quarter of 2017, the average debt load of Canadian households (including mortgage debt) stood at 167.3% of disposable income.

The combination of those two factors means that Canadian households are, on average, carrying much higher levels of debt (as a percentage of disposable income) and that the cost of carrying such debt is at or near record lows. When, as has recently proven the case, those interest rates begin to rise, such increase has the potential to put Canadian households on financial thin ice. And that possibility is what gave rise to the introduction by the federal government of the “stress test” which might equally well be called the “what-if?” test.

It’s possible to purchase a home in Canada with a down payment of 5%, where the cost of the home is $500,000 or less. Where the purchase price of the home is over $500,000, the minimum down payment is 5% for the first $500,000, and 10% for the remaining portion. However, regardless of the cost of the home, where the total down payment to be made is less than 20% of the purchase price, mortgage loan insurance is required, and such insurance is provided by a federal government agency, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). As of the fall of 2016, all new prospective mortgage loans which must obtain mortgage loan insurance through CMHC (i.e., all those with less than 20% down payment) are subject to the new “stress test” requirement.

Basically, the stress test requires that lenders assess a would-be mortgage borrower’s ability to manage their debt, not only at current interest rates, but at the higher rates which those borrowers will certainly face sometime during the life of their mortgage. Carrying out a stress test is, in fact, something which financial planners advise clients to do as part of financial planning whenever taking on debt is contemplated. It’s simply prudent (especially where debt is longer term in nature and consequently higher payments resulting from an increase in interest rates is inevitable) to consider, not just whether the debt is manageable at current interest rates, but whether it will remain manageable where those interest rates rise by 1, 2, or 3% — or more. The “stress test” simply creates a requirement out of something that was always a good idea.

Under the stress test, for borrowers to qualify for mortgage insurance through CMHC, their GDS and TDS debt-servicing ratios must be no higher than the maximum allowable levels when calculated using the greater of the rate provided to them by their lender or the Bank of Canada’s conventional five-year posted rate. That Bank of Canada rate is typically higher than the rate that mortgage borrowers actually pay. For instance, the lowest five-year fixed rate mortgage interest rate offered by a major Canadian bank as of the end of July was 2.59%. At the same time, the Bank of Canada five-year posted rate was 4.84%.

It’s true that the application of the “stress test” as interest rates rise will cause more borrowers to be unable to qualify for a mortgage, or will require them to reduce their expectations in terms of the amount of mortgage financing for which they can qualify. But, it’s also the case that would-be borrowers who cannot “pass” a stress test are the very borrowers who would be put most at risk by an increase in interest rates. Where interest rates will be a year or two from now is something that no one — including the Bank of Canada — knows. It is undoubtedly disappointing for would-be borrowers to have to reduce their expectations with respect to the amount of mortgage financing (and therefore the “amount” of house) they can obtain. That scenario is, however, infinitely preferable to one in which they discover down the road that they can no longer afford to carry their mortgage at the higher interest rates then in effect, and are at risk of defaulting on that mortgage and potentially losing their home.

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.

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

Two quarterly newsletters have been added—one dealing with personal issues, and one dealing with corporate issues. They can be accessed below.


Issue #39 Corporate


Issue #39 Personal