Canada: Winter 2016/2017 Insights – Year End Tax Planning Guide

Last Updated: December 20 2016
Article by Garrett Louie

Introduction

Welcome to our 2016 tax planning issue, full of topics and opportunities that we believe you should consider as we reach the end of 2016 and look forward to 2017. This publication is not intended to be a summary of the technical provisions of the Income Tax Act. Before you undertake any tax planning strategy, it is important to review it thoroughly with your tax advisor.

Missed Opportunities Mean Extra Taxes

Thousands of Canadians pay more income tax than they should. By not taking full advantage of deductions, you may be one of those generous Canadians without even knowing it. Are you aware of all of the deductions that are available to you? Do you file your return on time? Do you pay tax instalments quarterly to avoid interest charges? Here is a look at some of the commonly missed opportunities that could be contributing to your larger than necessary tax bill.

Carrying charges and deductible interest

Borrowed funds must generally be used for the purpose of earning income (e.g. investing) in order for the related interest to be deductible. Maintaining proper documentation of loans and interest payments will help support claims for interest deductions. Deductible carrying charges may include investment counsel fees, bank fees or similar charges.

Charitable donations

Charitable donations made by you or your spouse during the year should normally be added together and claimed on the income tax return of one spouse. A higher credit is available for donations over $200, so it makes more sense to combine the donations and claim them on one return. If your total donations are less than $200 there is no advantage to claiming them on one return. The key to supporting your claim is to keep the official tax receipts. If you are donating certain publicly-listed securities, your donation credit is based on the fair market value of those securities. Furthermore, you will not pay tax on any accrued capital gains on the donated securities.

Donations can also be carried forward up to five years so if you find a donation receipt that was not previously claimed, bring it in to review with your tax advisor.

Childcare expenses

Subject to certain limitations, childcare expenses may be deducted from income by the lower income spouse. These expenses include day-care, babysitting, boarding school and day camps. Note that you will have to provide the Social Insurance Number of any individual you paid for childcare and supporting documentation is frequently requested by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

Children's fitness and arts tax credits

If your child participates in fitness or arts activities, you may be able to claim the related cost as a tax credit. 2016 is the final year for which these credits can be claimed as they are both repealed for 2017. In order to be eligible, the child must be under the age of 16 at the beginning of the year (or 18 if he/she qualifies for the disability amount). In order for the program to qualify, it must be ongoing (eight consecutive weeks or five consecutive days), supervised and suitable for children.

Programs qualifying for the arts tax credit include artistic or cultural activities, those focusing on wilderness or the natural environment, development and use of particular intellectual or interpersonal skills or those providing enrichment or tutoring in academic subjects.

Note that where a program qualifies for both the fitness and arts tax credit, the expenditure can only be claimed once. Ordinarily the receipt will indicate if it qualifies for a tax credit. If you are unsure if an expenditure qualifies under one of these programs, include the receipt with the tax documents that you send to your tax advisor for review.

Disability tax credit

This credit is available to a person with a severe and prolonged impairment in physical or mental function, subject to certain criteria. To qualify, CRA must approve an application signed by your doctor. Areas that may apply include the following:

  • Vision/blindness
  • Life-sustaining therapy
  • Impairment to speech
  • Impairment to hearing
  • Impairment to walking
  • Impairment to elimination (bowel or
  • bladder functions)
  • Impairment to feeding
  • Impairment to dressing
  • Impairment to performing the mental
  • functions necessary for everyday life

Once a person with a disability has applied for and is deemed eligible for the disability tax credit, the following may also be available:

  • Enhanced children's arts tax credit and children's fitness tax credit
  • Registered disability savings plan

Other credits may be available to those supporting certain family members who are dependent on them due to a physical or mental infirmity:

  • Amount for infirm dependents age 18 or Older
  • Attendant care and nursing home Expenses
  • Caregiver amount
  • Family caregiver amount

Attendant care and nursing home expenses

For persons who qualify for the disability amount, attendant care expenses may be claimed for:

  • Part-time or full-time attendant care in a self-contained domestic establishment (the person's home, for instance)
  • Full-time attendant care in a nursing home
  • Attendant care in retirement homes, homes for seniors, or other institutions

Attendant care expenses can be claimed as medical expenses to a maximum of $10,000 per year if the disability tax credit is claimed. However there is no maximum amount if the disability tax credit is not claimed.

When the expenses are for full-time care in a nursing home, there is no limit on the total expense that can be claimed as medical expenses. However, the disability tax credit can not be claimed.

Employment expenses

Employees who are required to use their own automobile for work (other than for traveling to and from their work place) without reimbursement from their employer can deduct the business portion of their automotive expenses. If you are reimbursed and the amount of the reimbursement is not "reasonable", you can still claim a deduction for the non-reimbursed portion. In order to claim employment expenses, your employer will have to provide you with a completed form T2200 Declaration of Conditions of Employment.

Filing on time

The normal deadline for filing an income tax return for the previous year is April 30th. This filing deadline is extended to June 15th if you or your spouse are self-employed. However, income taxes payable are still due on April 30th. Similarly, the information return for "Specified Foreign Property" having an aggregate cost over $100,000 CAD at any time during the year (Form T1135) must be filed by the individual's filing deadline.

Taxpayers who do not file their income tax returns on time face significant late-filing penalties: 5% of the balance due plus 1% per month to a maximum of 12 months for the first offence, plus applicable interest on the penalty. The penalty can more than double where the taxpayer fails to file on time for a second time in three years and if a formal demand for filing has been issued by the Minister.

Interest and penalties are not tax deductible and add up quickly at the rates charged by CRA. Even if you cannot pay the amount of taxes due, ensure that you file on time.

Home buyers amount

If you are a first time home buyer, you may be eligible to claim a tax credit of $5,000. Generally speaking, you may be considered a first time home buyer if neither you nor your spouse or common-law partner owned and lived in another home anywhere in Canada in the calendar year of the purchase or in any of the four preceding calendar years.

Medical expenses

You may claim medical expenses for yourself, your spouse and dependent children. While either spouse can make the claim, as with charitable donations, medical expenses should usually be added together and claimed on the income tax return of one spouse (usually the lower income spouse). You are not restricted to claiming on a calendar year basis as you can claim medical expenses for any 12 month period that ends in the year. The most commonly missed expenses are dental bills, eye glasses, private medical insurance (including certain travel medical insurance premiums) and certain travel costs such as travel to regional or provincial centres for treatment.

Moving expenses

If you moved during the year to be at least 40 kilometres closer to a new job, to run a business or to attend a post-secondary educational institute full-time, then you may be able to deduct certain moving expenses. The amount you can deduct is limited to the amount you earn at the new location in the year. Unused deductions can be carried forward and deducted against the related income in a subsequent year.

Some examples of allowable moving expenses are:

  • Accommodation, meals and temporary living expenses near your new or old residence
  • Cost of changing your address on legal documents, cost of replacing your driver's license
  • Cost of cancelling the lease for your old residence or expenses for selling your old residence such as real estate commissions and advertising
  • Cost to maintain your old residence (maximum of $5,000)
  • Certain expenses related to purchasing your new residence
  • Transportation and storage for household Effects
  • Travelling from your old residence to your new residence
  • Utility hook-ups and disconnections, etc

Proper documentation of your expenses, including receipts, is critical as the CRA generally requests support for moving expenses.

Penalties for failing to report income

If you have income from several sources, make sure that you do not miss reporting any of it. By failing to report income on your return in the current year and in any of the three preceding years, you could be subject to federal and provincial/territorial penalties based on a percentage of the unreported income or the understated tax liability on the unreported income. We recommend that you ensure that you have information on all of your income when having your return prepared.

Student loan interest

Interest paid on student loans obtained under the Canada Student Loans Act, the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act or similar provincial or territorial government legislation for post-secondary education can be claimed as a tax credit. If you do not use the credit for the year in which the interest is paid, the unused amount can be carried-forward for up to five years.

Tax instalments

Failure to pay quarterly income tax instalments when required may result in interest charges. It is possible to make catch-up payments and reduce or offset the interest charges. Contact your tax advisor if you are unsure if you are required to make tax instalments.

Transit passes

Amounts paid for monthly transit passes and for certain weekly passes for you, your spouse or common-law partner and children may qualify for a tax credit.

HOW TO IMPACT YOUR 2016 TAX BILL

Accounting fees and legal fees

Certain accounting or legal fees such as the cost of representation on tax disputes are deductible in the year paid. If you have these costs be sure to pay them before the end of the year.

Charitable or political donations

If you are planning to give money to a charity or political party, make sure the gift is made before December 31, 2016 to ensure you can claim the tax credit on your 2016 return.

Equipment purchases

If you have equipment you are planning to purchase for your business early next year, consider purchasing it before December 31, 2016 or before your corporate year end as applicable. The tax depreciation only starts when the equipment is available for use in your business.

Family trust

Ensure that any desired distributions to or from a family trust are made by December 31, 2016. If distributions are planned, ensure appropriate dividends are paid through the Trust by year end. Payments by cheques deposited and distributed before the end of the year are required, unless detailed steps are completed.

Home office

If you are a self-employed individual using a home office as your principal place of business (more than 50%), or exclusively for earning business income and on a regular and continuous basis for meeting clients or customers, then you may be able to deduct home expenses related to the office space. Such expenses include the business portion of rent, mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities, insurance, repairs, and telecommunications.

Investments

If you have realized capital gains in the current year, consider selling investments with unrealized capital losses before year end. This strategy will reduce your tax bill as capital losses can be offset against capital gains. The key is to trigger these losses in 2016 so the last settlement day for 2016 must be considered. Where a loss has been triggered, you or an affiliated party cannot reacquire the same or an identical investment within 30 days of the sale or the loss will be disallowed. Further, we recommend that you consult your tax advisor and your investment advisor prior to undertaking this strategy.

Old Age Security (OAS) claw back

If your net income in 2016 is over $73,756, you are required to repay some or all of your OAS benefits. This "claw back" is the lesser of your OAS benefits received in the year and 15% of your net income that is over $73,756. The OAS claw back is calculated solely on your net income and is not affected by your spouse's income. Note that if your net income is $119,615 or greater in 2016 (and you are not receiving an increased OAS entitlement – see below), you will be required to repay all of your OAS benefits. If you are eligible to receive OAS but are subject to a full claw back, you may consider deferring receiving OAS until a year in which the claw back is reduced or eliminated. Deferring the receipt of OAS will increase your OAS entitlement when you begin to collect it and it will increase your maximum annual net income to receive OAS. Contact your Crowe MacKay tax advisor if you have any questions about OAS.

Pension income-splitting

If you are earning eligible pension income (excluding Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and certain foreign pension income), you may be able to split up to 50% of this income with your spouse or common-law partner. This pension income-splitting may be done by filing a joint election with your income tax return and can result in significant tax savings if your spouse or common-law partner is in a lower tax bracket. Your spouse or common-law partner may also be able to claim the pension income amount tax credit on the income that he/she is deemed to have received (see below).

Pension tax credit

A $2,000 pension tax credit is available if you earn eligible pension income, which typically includes income from a registered pension plan, income from a registered retirement income fund (RRIF) and annuity payments from an RRSP. If you are 65 years or older and are not receiving any pension income, you may consider converting a portion of your RRSP to a RRIF in order to receive eligible pension income on which the pension tax credit can be claimed.

Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP)

The RDSP is a registered long-term savings plan specific to people with disabilities who are eligible for the disability tax credit. Contributions may be made by the beneficiary, a family member, or by any other authorized contributor. There is no annual limit on contributions; however, there is a lifetime contribution limit of $200,000.

Although contributions to the plan are not taxdeductible, income earned inside the plan is not taxed until it is withdrawn by the beneficiary. Contributions can be made until the end of the year in which the beneficiary turns 59 and payments from the RDSP must begin by the end of the year in which the beneficiary turns 60.

There are currently two income-based programs in place to enhance the funds that are contributed to the RDSP. The Canada Disability Savings Grant Program (CDSG), and the Canada Disability Savings Bond Program (CDSB).

The rules related to RDSPs can be complex and we recommend you speak with your Tax advisor if you believe this program may be right for you or a family member.

Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP)

Make any contributions to an RESP before December 31st to qualify for any 2016 grants you may be eligible for. As in years past, the government will pay a Canada Education Savings Grant of 20% of annual contributions you make to all eligible RESPs for a qualifying beneficiary to a maximum of $500 in respect of each beneficiary. Additional grants are possible where there is unused grant room from a previous year and for families with lower net income. Canada Education Savings Grants have a lifetime maximum of $7,200.

Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)

Regular and spousal contributions for the 2016 taxation year may be made up to March 1, 2017. Similarly, if you must repay a portion of your Home Buyers Plan or your Lifelong Learning Plan, payments must be made by that same date.

Overall tax savings are most significant for individuals who are currently in a high tax bracket but will be in a lower bracket when the RRSP money is withdrawn. We suggest that you contact your Crowe MacKay tax advisor if you have any questions about RRSPs. The RRSP contribution limit for 2016 is $25,370.

Shareholder loans

If you have a shareholder loan from your company that has been outstanding since the December 31, 2015 year end (i.e. it is at risk of showing up as a debit balance on 2 consecutive balance sheets), ensure it is repaid by December 31, 2016 or earlier. Consult your tax advisor to determine if the amount must be repaid and to discuss repayment methods such as dividends or net wage compensation.

Spousal loans

If you have spousal loans, ensure the interest is paid by January 30, 2017 by a "documented" method such as a deposited cheque. These loans (with interest as low as 1%) are typically used for income-splitting where families have large investment pools (generally over $1M).

Tax Free Saving Account (TFSA)

Canadian residents age 18 and over are eligible to open a TFSA. Income earned in a TFSA is not taxable as it is earned nor is it taxable when withdrawn from the account. Contributions to a TFSA are not tax deductible.

For 2016, the maximum contribution is $5,500 plus any outstanding contribution room carried forward. The cumulative contribution room granted to Canadians since the start of the TFSA program is $46,500 to December 31, 2016. Please refer to your 2015 Notice of Assessment and/or your investment advisor for the maximum contribution you may make for 2016.

What's new for 2016

Personal tax rates

Effective as of 2016, the tax rate for the second lowest federal tax bracket ($45,282 to $90,563 of taxable income) decreased from 22% to 20.5%, and a new top federal tax rate of 33% has been implemented for individuals with taxable income in excess of $200,000.

Capital gains exemption

For 2016, the capital gains exemption for qualified small business corporation shares has risen from $813,600 to $824,177. This exemption will be indexed for inflation in subsequent years. The capital gains exemption for qualified farm or fishing property remains at $1,000,000.

Charitable donations

The first time donor super credit on up to $1,000 of donations will be available again in 2016. This increased tax credit adds 25% to the current credit and only applies to cash donations; donations in kind are not eligible. This credit is only available to individuals if neither the individual nor the individual's spouse has claimed a donation tax credit in the preceding five tax years.

Coinciding with the new top tax bracket mentioned earlier, the 33% tax rate will apply in calculating an individual's donation tax credit for charitable donations over $200 to the extent that he/she has taxable income in excess of $200,000.

New rules relating to charitable donations made by an individual by will came into effect in 2016. Essentially, these rules consider an individual's estate to have made the donation at the time the property is transferred to the donee, but they do allow some flexibility as to who can claim the donation tax credit if the estate is considered a Graduated Rate Estate. If you plan on making such donations through your will, we recommend that you contact your tax advisor to see how these new rules will affect you and your estate.

Estate Planning

Recent tax changes have significantly changed the taxation of estates. Planning that was incorporated into wills created before 2016 may no longer be effective as a result. We recommend you review the details of your will and related estate planning arrangements to determine whether changes are required as a result of these tax changes. Contact your tax advisor for further details.

Early Childhood Educator School Supply tax credit

The Early Childhood Educator School Supply tax credit is a refundable tax credit that is new for 2016. This credit will allow an employee who is a teacher or early childhood educator to claim a 15% refundable tax credit on up to $1,000 of purchases of eligible teaching supplies during the year.

Home Accessibility tax credit

Starting in 2016, the Home Accessibility tax credit is available for seniors (age 65 and older) and individuals who qualify for the disability tax credit. This credit allows these individuals to claim a tax credit on up to $10,000 of expenses incurred to perform a "qualifying renovation" on their home. Such a renovation must allow the individual to gain access to, or be mobile or function within the home, or reduce the risk or harm of the individual within or gaining access to the home.

Reporting the disposition of a principal Residence

In previous years, CRA had stated that the sale of a principal residence did not have to be reported unless the gain on the sale was not fully sheltered by the principal residence deduction. Effective as of 2016, an individual will now be required to report the sale of his/ her principal residence on his/her personal income tax return in order to claim the principal residence deduction. CRA has indicated that basic information relating to the disposition and the property (e.g. date of acquisition, proceeds of disposition and a description of the property) will need to be reported on the return. If you sold your principal residence during the year, please ensure that you retain the necessary documentation so that the disposition can be reported on your return.

U.S. AND CROSS-BORDER TAX UPDATE

Here are some U.S. and cross-border tax items to keep in mind:

Foreign Bank Account Reporting Form (FBAR or Fin CEN114)

The FBAR has previously been due on June 30th of the next calendar year (June 30, 2016 for the 2015 form). The filing deadline has been changed to the same day as the tax return and can be extended similar to the tax return. This form is required for all U.S. citizens or residents who have an aggregate of financial assets outside of the U.S. of greater than $10,000 USD at any point during the year.

Reminder of U.S. Tax Return Due Dates

April 15th for residents of the U.S. or anyone with US employment income who receives a W-2 Form.

June 15th for anyone living outside of the U.S. (who does not receive a W-2). Can be extended to October 15th with the filing of an extension.

Important numbers for 2016

  • Standard deduction is $6,300 USD and the personal exemption is $4,050 USD for 2016.
  • Foreign earned income exclusion is $101,300 USD for 2016.
  • U.S. Citizens or Residents - General lifetime exemption (gift and estate tax exemption) is $5.45 million USD for 2016 and $5.49 million USD for 2017.
  • Annual gift amount of $14,000 USD to non-spouses (2016 and 2017).

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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