Tax Alerts

When the pandemic struck in March of 2020 and public health lockdowns were imposed, virtually all Canadian employees were required to work from home, most for the first time.

The day-to-day financial impact of increases in interest rates over the past 18 months, together with higher costs for nearly all goods and services, means that for most Canadians maximizing take-home income isn’t just desirable, it’s a necessity. And the best way to make sure that take-home pay is maximized is to ensure that deductions taken from that paycheque – especially deductions for income tax – are no greater than required.

Canadians have a well-deserved reputation for supporting charitable causes, through donations of both money and goods. Our tax system supports that generosity by providing a tax credit for qualifying donations made and, in all cases, in order to claim a credit for a donation in a particular tax year, that donation must be made by the end of that calendar year.

The 10-fold increase in interest rates since March of 2022 has affected Canadians in almost every area of their financial lives, as individuals and families struggle to cope with the every-increasing bite that interest costs take out of their budgets.

While our health care system is currently struggling with a number of significant problems, Canadians are nonetheless fortunate to have a publicly funded health care system, in which most major medical expenses are covered by government health care plans. Notwithstanding, there is a large (and growing) number of medical and para-medical costs – including dental care, prescription drugs, physiotherapy, ambulance trips, and many others – which must be paid for on an out-of-pocket basis by the individual. In some cases, such costs are covered by private insurance, usually provided by an employer, but not everyone benefits from private health care coverage. Self-employed individuals, those working on contract, or those whose income comes from several part-time jobs do not usually have access to such private insurance coverage. Fortunately for those individuals, our tax system acts to help cushion the blow by providing a medical expense tax credit to help offset out-of-pocket medical and para-medical costs which must be incurred.

One or two generations ago, retirement was an event. Typically, an individual would leave the work force completely at age 65 and begin collecting Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) benefits along with, in many cases, a pension from an employer-sponsored registered pension plan.

Most Canadians know that the deadline for making contributions to one’s registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) comes 60 days after the end of the calendar year, around the end of February. There are, however, some circumstances in which an RRSP contribution must be (or should be) made by December 31 in order to achieve the desired tax result.

During the pandemic, temporary financial assistance was provided to Canadian small businesses through a number of grant and loan programs initiated by the federal government. One of the largest of those programs was the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) program, which ran from April 2020 to June 2021, and provided a total of approximately $50 billion in loan financing to just under a million small businesses.

By anyone’s measure, obtaining a post-secondary education is an expensive undertaking. Tuition and other school-related costs are just the start of the bills which must be paid. Whether the student obtains a place in a university residence or finds a place to live off campus, students (and their parents) must also budget for the cost of residence and meal plan fees, or rent and groceries. The total cost of a single year of university or college attendance away from home can easily reach $30,000 – and can significantly exceed that amount where the student is enrolled in a specialized academic program leading to a professional designation.

The Old Age Security (OAS) program is the only aspect of Canada’s retirement income system which does not require a direct contribution from recipients of program benefits. Rather, the OAS program is funded through general tax revenues, and eligibility to receive OAS is based solely on Canadian residency. 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. For the third quarter of 2023 (July to September), that maximum monthly benefit for recipients under the age of 75 is $698.60, while benefit recipients aged 75 and older can receive up to $768.46 per month. The monthly benefit for all recipients will increase by 1.3% during the fourth quarter (October to December) of 2023.

When the pandemic began in the spring of 2020, it wasn’t long before it became apparent that the increasing threat was to both public health and to the economy. In response to the economic threat, the federal government launched a wide range of support programs for both individuals and businesses. Some of those programs were structured as outright grants to replace income lost when workplaces and businesses shut down, while others were structured as loans, to be repaid when the pandemic ended and the economic fortunes of recipients had (hopefully) improved.

The Canadian tax system is a “self-assessing system” which relies heavily on the voluntary co-operation of taxpayers. Canadians are expected (in fact, in most cases, required) to complete and file a tax return each spring, reporting income from all sources, calculating the amount of tax owed, and remitting that amount to the federal government on or before April 30. And while it’s doubtful that anyone does so with any great degree of enthusiasm, each spring tens of millions of Canadians do sit down to complete that return (or, more often, they pay someone else to do it for them).

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

While the way in which post-secondary learning is delivered may have changed and changed again over the past three and a half years, as the pandemic waxed and waned and finally ended, the financial realities of post-secondary education have not. Regardless of how post-secondary learning is structured and delivered, it is expensive. There will be tuition bills, of course, but also the need to find housing and pay rent in what is, in most college or university locations, a very tight and very expensive rental market. Those who choose to live in residence and are able to secure a place will also face bills for accommodation and, usually, a meal plan.

The scarcity of affordable housing in just about every Canadian community can’t be news to anyone anymore. Whether it’s in relation to rental housing or the purchase of a first home, the opportunity to secure affordable, long-term housing has become more and more elusive, especially for younger Canadians.

By mid to late summer, almost every Canadian has filed his or her income tax return for the previous year and has received the Notice of Assessment issued by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) with respect to that tax filing. Most taxpayers, therefore, would consider that their annual filing and payment obligations are done and behind them for another year.

Between 2009 and early 2022, Canadians lived (and borrowed) in an ultra-low interest rate environment. Between January 2009 and March 2022, the bank rate (from which commercial interest rates are determined) was (except, briefly, in the fall of 2018) never higher than 1.50% – and was almost always lower than that. Effectively, adult Canadians who are now under the age of 35 have had no experience of managing their finances in high – or even, by historical standards, ordinary – interest rate environments.

The age at which Canadians retire and begin deriving income from government and private pensions and private retirement savings has become something of a moving target. At one time, reaching one’s 65th birthday marked the transition from working life to full retirement, and, usually, receipt of a monthly employee pension, along with government-sponsored retirement benefits. That is no longer the unvarying reality. The age at which Canadians retire can now span a decade or more, and retirement is more likely to be a gradual transition than a single event.

By the time summer arrives, nearly all Canadians have filed their income tax returns for the previous year, have received a Notice of Assessment from the tax authorities with respect to that return and have either spent their tax refund or, more grudgingly, paid any balance of tax owing.

At a time when Canadian households are coping simultaneously with ongoing inflation, especially food inflation, as well as interest rates which are at their highest point in decades, every dollar of income counts. And where that income can be obtained with minimal effort, and received tax-free, then it’s a win-win for the recipient.