Canada: Get A Head Start On Your Year-End Tax Planning

1 Advice for businesses

Nobody likes to pay too much tax. Luckily, there are a number of tax-saving measures that can help with just that—both for businesses and individuals. But, in order to capitalize on these opportunities, now's the time to review your 2015 tax situation to see if any apply to you.

Salary, bonus or dividends? What's the right compensation strategy for you?

If you're the owner-manager of a closely held Canadian-controlled private corporation (CCPC), you should consider the mix of salary, bonus and dividends in your compensation package. A bonus is often preferred over salary, since the payment can be deferred until after the company's year-end.

Salary and bonus are both considered earned income which is used to calculate your RRSP contribution limit for the subsequent year. For 2015, you will need earned income of $140,945 to make the maximum RRSP contribution for the 2016 tax year of $25,370.

If your spouse and/or children work for you, consider paying them a reasonable salary or bonus as well. This will be beneficial where their marginal tax rate is lower than yours. In addition, it will give them earned income for CPP and RRSP purposes.

Owner-managers of private corporations often declare a bonus at year-end to reduce the corporation's income to the amount that qualifies for the small business deduction. However, a corporation can also pay dividends to its shareholders. Certain dividends qualify as "eligible dividends," which are subject to a lower rate of tax than other (regular) dividends.

For a dividend to be an eligible dividend, it must be designated as such in writing by the corporation paying the dividend. Late-filed designations may be permitted in certain limited situations, provided that the corporation makes the designation no later than three years following the day on which the dividend was paid. Consult with your tax adviser if you want to make a late-filed eligible dividend designation.

Watch your company's taxable capital—aim to maximize the small business deduction.

The first $500,000 of federal active business income of CCPCs receives preferential tax treatment by qualifying for the small business deduction. This deduction begins to be phased out where a corporation's taxable capital (on an associated corporation basis) for the prior taxation year exceeds $10 million and is completely eliminated if it exceeds $15 million. In general, the taxable capital of a corporation is equal to its retained earnings, share capital and long-term debt. As a result, the small business deduction may be reduced for corporations with a significant amount of debt financing. The taxable capital of a corporation is determined at its year-end. If your company's taxable capital is likely to exceed $10 million, there are strategies available to reduce this amount.

Have you borrowed funds from your corporation?

In general, to avoid tax consequences, debts you owe to your corporation have to be repaid within one year following the end of the corporation's taxation year during which the loan or advance was made to you. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If you have borrowed an amount from your corporation, you should review the tax consequences with your Grant Thornton tax adviser.

Acquiring and disposing of assets—understand the tax implications.

If you are planning to purchase an asset, you should generally acquire it before the end of your fiscal year. However, to benefit from a tax deduction, the asset must be "available for use." On the other hand, the disposal of assets that have appreciated in value can create significant income tax liabilities. Although it's generally recommendedthat you dispose of an asset at the beginning of the next fiscal period, there may be options available to defer or reduce the potential tax liability on the sale of a significant capital asset. If you are thinking of acquiring eligible manufacturing and processing equipment, there is an added benefit to acquiring the property before the end of 2015. Such assets qualify for a 50% straight line depreciation rate. Commencing January 1, 2016, the acquisition of such property will still qualify for a 50% depreciation rate, but on a declining balance basis, which is a slower method of depreciation than straight line.

Non-taxable gifts for employees—understand the rules.

If you want to give your employees a non-taxable holiday gift, the CRA's current position on what qualifies for tax-free status is as follows:

  • Non-cash gifts and non-cash awards to an arm's-length employee, regardless of number, will not be taxable to the extent that the total aggregate value of all non-cash gifts and awards to that employee is less than $500 annually. The total value in excess of $500 annually will be taxable.
  • In addition to the above, a separate non-cash long-service/anniversary award may also qualify for non-taxable status to the extent its total value is $500 or less. The value in excess of $500 will be taxable. To qualify, the anniversary award cannot be for less than five years of service, and it must be five years since the employee last received a long-service award. Items of an immaterial or nominal value, such as coffee, tea, t-shirts with employer logos, mugs, plaques, trophies, etc., will not be considered a taxable benefit to employees and will not be included in the above $500 threshold.
  • Although such gifts/awards may not be taxable to your employees, the amount paid can still be deducted as a business expense. Note that gift cards are considered equivalent to cash and do not qualify for tax-free status under these rules.

Performance-related rewards (for example, for meeting a sales target) and cash and near-cash awards (such as gift certificates) will continue to fall outside the administrative policy and will be taxable to the employee. Also, similar to the previous policy, all gifts and awards to non-arm's-length employees will be taxable.

Keep a vehicle logbook to support the business use of a vehicle.

Although there is nothing that requires the completion of a logbook to substantiate business travel, as the percentage of business use increases, more substantive documentation is expected to be available. Where you are self-employed or otherwise carrying on a business, the CRA has published guidance on the documentation that can be kept to support the business use of a vehicle that is used for business and personal purposes. Rather than keeping detailed records showing the usage of the vehicle for the entire year, there is the option to establish the business use of a vehicle in a base year,1 and then keep detailed records for at least one continuous three-month period in each subsequent year. The results can then be extrapolated to provide the business usage for each subsequent year provided certain conditions are met. If you hope to benefit from this optional method, you should start taking steps to get this logbook in place as soon as possible.

Note that this alternative calculation method is not available for employees.

Review your remittance thresholds and determine if you can reduce the frequency of employee source deductions.

The frequency of required remittances of employee source deductions (for income tax, CPP, and EI) depends on what the total average monthly amount of your remittances were for your business two calendar years ago. For example, if this monthly total was between $25,000 but less than $100,000, you are required to remit deductions up to twice a month (depending on how often your employees are paid). For monthly totals of at least $100,000, the required frequency is up to four times a month.

There are also new rules for new employers. Currently, new employers are required to remit monthly for at least one year, after which time they may apply for quarterly remitting if certain conditions are met. For withholding obligations that arise after 2015, a new employer can remit quarterly as long as it has a perfect compliance record and its monthly withholding amount remains under $1,000.

Consider reviewing your business's remittances to determine if you can reduce the frequency of your business's payroll remittances.

Consider if you can benefit from lower corporate tax rates.

The small business tax rate, which is currently 11% on the first $500,000 of a Canadian-controlled private corporation's active business income, is decreasing to 10.5% effective January 1, 2016.2 This rate reduction will be pro-rated for corporations with taxation years that do not coincide with the calendar year. If your company has a December 31 year end, you may be able to save tax if you can defer reporting income to 2016.

Avoid unpleasant surprises caused by inter-corporate dividend payments.

New proposals could adversely impact the taxation of significant inter-corporate cash or stock dividend payments, by converting all or part of a tax-free inter-corporate dividend into a taxable capital gain. If there are inter-corporate dividend payments within your corporate group, don't hesitate to contact us so we can help to determine how these new rules might impact your particular fact situation.

Assess the steps you need to take to avoid having to withhold and remit taxes for qualifying non-resident employees working in Canada.

Where an income tax treaty applies to exempt a non-resident employee's remuneration from Canadian tax, the employee currently has the option of using a Regulation 102 waiver process to avoid having tax withheld from their employment income. Based on proposals announced in the 2015 federal budget, qualifying non-resident employees may no longer have to get a waiver in respect of payments they receive from qualifying non-resident employers.3 If enacted, these changes will apply in respect of payments made after December 31, 2015.

To avoid having to withhold and remit the tax, the employer must be certified by the Minister at the time of the payment. Additional clarification concerning the certification process is still required, including application and supporting information to be filed with the Minister. We will provide an update on these requirements as soon as they are known.

If you employ qualifying non-residents in your business you should take the steps needed to ensure you are certified by the Minister. You will also need to closely track and monitor the status of your employees to ensure that they continue to meet the qualifying non-resident requirements at the time of payment.

2 Advice for Employees

Minimizing the taxable benefit relating to an employer-provided automobile—consider your options.

If your employer provides you with an automobile, you'll have a taxable benefit included in your income related to the personal use of the automobile. The taxable benefit consists of two components—a "standby charge" and an "operating cost benefit." The standby charge can be reduced if the vehicle is used more than 50% of the time for business purposes and annual personal driving is 20,000 kilometres or less. If you are close to the thresholds for 2015, consider reducing your personal use of the vehicle from now until the end of the year. You must advise your employer in writing by December 31 if you want to use this alternative method to calculate the standby charge. You should keep accurate mileage records to support the amount of business and personal use.

Since the standby charge is calculated based on the original cost of the vehicle, consider purchasing an older vehicle from the company for its current fair market value.

You may also be able to reduce your 2015 operating cost benefit by reimbursing your employer for some or all of the operating costs by February 14, 2016.

New tools acquired by tradespersons—watch the timing of purchases to maximize your deduction.

If you are an employed tradesperson, you may be entitled to a tax deduction of up to $500 for the cost of new tools that you are required to purchase as a condition of your employment. This measure applies to new tools other than most electronic communication devices and electronic data processing equipment.

The amount that may be deducted for 2015 (up to the $500 limit) is the amount by which the cost of the eligible tools acquired in the year exceeds $1,146.

If you are an employed tradesperson and have not yet purchased new tools costing at least $1,646 in the year, try to acquire any additional planned purchases before the end of the year.

There is another deduction for the cost of new tools acquired by eligible apprentice mechanics. The deductible amount is determined by a formula that generally allows a deduction for the total cost of eligible tools less the greater of $1,646 or 5% of the individual's apprenticeship income for the 2015 year. Since this deduction has a much higher threshold than the deduction for an employed tradesperson, where you qualify for both in the year, consider which deduction is more beneficial.

3 Advice for investors

Maximizing the tax benefits of your capital gains and losses.

If you have realized a capital gain in 2015 or in any of the last three years (2012–2014), consider if it makes good investment sense to sell investments with accrued losses before the end of the year, so that the losses can be used to offset or reduce the capital gains in those years.

There are rules that will deny the loss if you sell the property to certain related parties. In general, the loss will be denied if you sell the property to your spouse, to a corporation controlled by either you and/or your spouse, to your Tax-Free Savings Account or to your RRSP. A loss will also be denied in certain situations where the property is reacquired within 30 days. However, you can sell or gift the loss property to a child or other family member without being caught by these rules. Before gifting properties to relatives, you should consult your Grant Thornton adviser to discuss the tax consequences.

If your spouse or common-law partner has realized a capital gain and you own investments with an unrealized loss (or vice versa), there are ways to transfer the loss to the spouse with the gain.

When disposing of Canadian shares, remember that the disposition is deemed to take place at the settlement date, which is generally three business days after the trading date. If you want a sale to close in 2015, you should contact your broker to ensure that the transaction settles before the end of the year. Different dates may apply for foreign exchanges.

Purchasing or selling long-term investments or mutual fund units? Timing is key.

In general, individuals must report interest earned on investments on an annual basis, regardless of when the interest is actually paid. If you are concerned about having to pay tax when no income has been received, consider buying investments that pay interest annually. If you will soon acquire or rollover a short-term investment such as a GIC or a T-bill, consider arranging for a maturity date early in 2016. This will allow you to defer the reporting of the interest income until you file your 2016 tax return.

It's important to consider the timing of the purchase or sale of a non-registered mutual fund investment. Since most mutual funds distribute income and capital gains once a year around mid-December, deferring the purchase until January 2016 means that you won't have to report any income for 2015. Alternatively, if you're planning to sell, consider selling before the distribution date.

Structure your loans correctly and deduct the interest.

In general, interest is deductible for income tax purposes provided it is paid or payable in the year, there is a legal obligation to pay the interest and the interest was incurred on money borrowed to earn business or property income (other than capital gains). Therefore, borrow the maximum amount for business and investment purposes, and as little as possible for personal reasons. Conversely, when repaying debt, always pay off loans on which interest is non-deductible before you repay those on which interest is deductible.

Selling a business? Reinvest the proceeds in another small business and defer the tax.

If you realize a capital gain on the sale of an eligible small business investment, and invest some or all of the proceeds in another eligible small business investment, you may be able to defer taxation on some or all of the gain. To qualify, the proceeds must be reinvested in an eligible business at any time during the year of disposition or within 120 days after the year-end. Eligible investments are newly issued common shares in a small-business corporation with assets (including assets of related corporations) not exceeding $50 million immediately before and after the investment.

Do you expect to realize stock option gains next year? Consider realizing them in 2015 instead.

Currently, when stock options are exercised and a benefit or gain is realized, a 50% stock option deduction can be claimed, subject to certain conditions being met. The new Liberal government is considering imposing a limit on how much can be claimed through the 50% stock option deduction. Any limit will likely not be effective before 2016. Start-up company employees with up to $100,000 in annual stock option gains are expected to be exempt from any new limits imposed. If you believe that you may be impacted by new limits on the 50% stock option deduction, consider exercising and realizing your stock option benefits before the end of 2015.

4 Other advice for individuals

Loan money to your spouse or common-law partner and split the income.

With current interest rates at low levels, you might want to consider loaning funds to a spouse or common-law partner who is in a lower marginal tax bracket than yourself. Your spouse or common-law partner can invest the loan proceeds and include any income/capital gains in his/her income, provided you are paid interest on the loan at the prescribed rate in effect at the time the loan is made. For example, the prescribed rate in effect for the fourth quarter of 2015 is 1%. This rate will remain in effect for as long as the loan is outstanding—even if rates increase in the future.

To avoid negative tax consequences, your spouse or common-law partner must pay you the interest owing on the loan for 2015 no later than January 30, 2016. This requirement to pay interest on the loan by January 30 of the following year applies on an annual basis for as long as the loan is outstanding.

Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)—contribute and save.

You must make your 2015 RRSP contribution by February 29, 2016. However, if the beneficiary of the plan turned 71 in 2015, the contribution must be made by December 31, 2015. When planning your RRSP contributions, you should consider the following:

  • Any amount can be contributed, up to your maximum to your own RRSP, an RRSP set up for your spouse or common-law partner or a combination of both. You should check your 2014 Notice of Assessment to confirm your RRSP contribution room. If you are 71 or over, but you have earned income and your spouse or common-law partner is under the age of 71 at the beginning of the year, you can still make a spousal contribution to his or her plan.
  • Contributions to a self-administered RRSP do not have to be in the form of cash. Qualified investments can also be transferred to your plan.
  • There are rules on the types of assets your RRSP can hold. If your plan has acquired assets that don't qualify, you should remove them from your plan as soon as possible. For example, shares in companies in which you (and related parties) have an interest of 10% or more are "prohibited investments" for RRSP purposes and may have to be removed from your plan to avoid penalties. If you have private company shares in your RRSP,4 you should contact your tax advisor to assess the impact that these rules have on you.
  • You can over-contribute to your RRSP—within limits—without having to pay a penalty tax. In general, the cumulative amount you can over-contribute to your plan is $2,000.
  • Consider delaying your RRSP contribution if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future.
  • Alternatively, make the maximum contribution each year, but don't claim the amount as a deduction until a future year when your taxable income is higher.
  • If you've received an amount that qualifies as a retiring allowance, a special RRSP contribution may be available that is over and above your regular contribution room.
  • Although your RRSP funds are intended to provide retirement income, you might consider withdrawing funds from your RRSP in a year of low income.
  • There are rules that provide for the rollover of a deceased individual's RRSP proceeds to the RDSP of a financially dependent infirm child or grandchild. Check with your professional advisor for more details on these rules.

Consider taking advantage of the Home Buyer's Plan.

If you are a first-time home buyer, consider participating in the Home Buyer's Plan (HBP), under which you may be eligible to withdraw up to $25,000 from your RRSP to finance the purchase of a qualifying home. Where you have a spouse or common-law partner, this limit is effectively doubled, providing up to $50,000 towards the purchase of a home. Note that contributions made to your RRSP less than 90 days before the withdrawal are not eligible for an RRSP deduction.

The qualifying home must be purchased by October 1 of the following year. Repayments are not required until the second calendar year following the year of withdrawal, and minimum payments must be made over a period of up to 15 years. Therefore, if possible, consider deferring the withdrawal until 2016 to extend both the home purchase deadline and the repayment deadline by one year.

If you are required to make repayments under the HBP for 2015, to avoid an income inclusion, the minimum repayment must be made by the deadline for making your RRSP contribution for 2015 (see above). Your minimum payment required for 2015 can be found on your 2014 Notice of Assessment.

Why limit yourself to RRSPs? Consider making contributions to other registered plans.

You may be able to make contributions to other registered plans such as the Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) and the Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA). Unlike an RRSP, the contributions to these plans are not deductible for tax purposes.

There is no tax on the income earned in an RESP or RDSP until the amounts are withdrawn. The plans may also be eligible for government grants. The amount of the grant is based on the amount contributed to the plan and the family income (up to a maximum).

Any income earned in a TFSA is never taxed, even when it's withdrawn.

If you require funds for personal purposes, consider withdrawing the amount from your TFSA. You will not be subject to tax on the amount withdrawn, and it can be re-contributed to the plan when you have sufficient funds. However, withdrawals from your TFSA will not be added back to your TFSA contribution limit until January 1 of the following year. Therefore, to avoid penalties, you must be careful not to exceed your limit when re-contributing to your plan.

For example, if you contributed the maximum amount to your TFSA in the years 2009 to 2015 inclusive, and you withdraw an amount from your plan in 2015, the amount withdrawn should not be re-contributed to your TFSA until January 1, 2016 (or later) or else you will be subject to a penalty tax.

The annual contribution limit for TFSAs has increased from $5,500 to $10,000, for the 2015 tax year. If you haven't already done so for 2015, consider increasing your 2015 TFSA contribution up to this limit5.


1 This requires the taxpayer to fill out and retain a logbook covering a full 12-month period that is typical of the business. The 12-month period is not required to be a calendar year.

2 Further rate reductions are effective January 1, 2017 (to 10%); January 1, 2018 (to 9.5%) and January 1, 2019 (to 9%)

3 A number of conditions need to be met in order to be considered a qualifying non-resident employee and a qualifying non-resident employer. You should consult with your tax advisor.

4 The rules apply equally to RRIF investments and can also apply to public company share investments.

5 Although the new Liberal government intends to reduce the annual TFSA contribution limit back to $5,500, this is not expected to impact the $10,000 limit for 2015.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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