How do I correct or dispute inaccuracies on my credit file?


I get lots of questions related to Credit Bureaus and items which show up well after they have been paid or which do not belong on there at all.

Having worked for Equifax many, many years ago right after I started working for the CRA and they release all the temporary staff for an 11-month period due to budget cuts, I can proudly say that Equifax makes it very easy to communicate with them regarding any such issues.

It’s all laid out on their website, but I provided a summary here:

Complete and submit a Consumer Credit Report Update Form to Equifax.

It is necessary to specify what information is incorrect or what information does not belong to you.

Equifax will verify that information afterwards as part of their investigation.

You will need to include photocopies of all necessary documents and identification to update your personal Credit Report (Ex: receipts, legal documents, 2 photocopies of pieces of valid identification, including proof of current address)

Fax the request to them at:

Fax: (514) 355-8502

Your request will be processed within 10 to 15 business days. After this period has elapsed, a confirmation letter will be sent to your mailing address.

OR

By Mail:

Equifax Canada Co.
Consumer Relations Department
P.O. Box 190, Station Jean-Talon,
Montreal, Quebec H1S 2Z2

Your request will be processed within 15 to 20 business days . After this period has elapsed, a confirmation letter will be sent to your mailing address.

Equifax will verify the necessary information and mail you a confirmation.

 

Could it be any easier than that?!?

 

Why Your Tax Representation Matters

Every couple of days I receive a call from a taxpayer or corporation regarding huge sums of money they have paid to other so-called “tax solution” firms, without any apparent movement or resolution of their file.  Usually these stories involve secrecy and the requirement for additional funds in order to bring the file to a close.

Would you go to a dentist who treated you like that?

Or have your vehicle repaired at a shop where you were not even sure they had any mechanics there?

When dealing with tax-related matters there should be no secrecy.  There should be questioning whether work was done or not and there certainly should not be doubt that the job was not completed.

Unfortunately this happens more and more.

The representation you chose, when under fire by, not just by the CRA, but all areas of government, like the WSIB, RST, or CRTC, is far more important than you could possibly imagine.  Especially in light of the fact that the CRA, for example, keeps a permanent diary record of your conversations and their attempts to resolve your tax file.  They also carry forward an account summary every 6-months, so in the instance where an account has been transferred to another collector, that new collector will know within minutes how the CRA wants to treat you and / or your representative.

Lie to them.

Break promises.

Call them names, like the “taxman”.

It’s all there and its used against you… Forever.

Case in point:

A couple of years ago I met a couple of directors of a corporation who booked a 2-hour meeting with me for only $500 plus HST. They had come with the intention of having me assist them in negotiation with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) who were in the process of raising a Director’s Liability Assessment against them the unpaid debts of the Corporation they operated.  They could not afford to pay the balance in full and were worried the CRA would take their house.

These directors had also heard about a way to reduce penalties and / or interest and they wanted more information.

They had already met with 2 other tax solution firms and one of them had fed the CRA with a sob story which the CRA did not buy, and after failing to return calls, and have any meaningful conversation with the CRA, disappeared with their money.  The CRA kept trying to reach this representative and the directors had no idea how quickly the collections efforts had progressed and how upset the CRA had beceome.

The second firm charged them a lot of money, then set out to make a payment arrangement with the CRA, even accusing these directors of “fudging” their records in order to show less income than they actually had.

They were frustrated, had spent a lot of money and had now incurred the wrath of the CRA.

Then we sat down together to talk, and after only a few questions and a review of the notices they brought with them, I notified them of the statute of limitations the CRA must follow when raising a Director’s Liability Assessment under s.227.1 of the Income Tax Act and S323.1 of the Excise Tax Act, which was 2 years from the date the corporation ceased to operate or the date the director officially resigned from the corporation.

They said the business closed 3 years ago, and that their accountant had officially closed the corporation with the government.

We talked about the Taxpayer Relief Program and about key language to use when speaking to the CRA in order to begin to change the permanent diary record they keep on the corporation and the directors.

The meeting concluded.

I immediately pulled a corporate profile report, checked that against the date of the assessments the CRA were raising and found them to be beyond that limit.

I used the signed authorization forms to contact the CRA, and that 5-minute conversation resolved the account… Forever.

I provided the directors with a report of the meeting, including the information we discussed, the CRA’s actions to date, their likely next steps, plus recommendations about how to deal properly with the CRA going forward, and I explained to them that there was no need for a payment arrangement because the account had a zero balance.

Luck?

No.

Additional fees?

No.

Were they happy… You could say that.  After they wiped away the tears and finished squeezing the life out of me, they talked about the relief they felt knowing this matter was finally behind them, and how they had other tax matters they wanted me to handle for them.

If representative #1 or representative #2 knew anything about collections or looked beyond their huge payout, they could have helped these directors with this assessment, with the 9-month-long audit that followed or the issues with WSIB, and the CRTC so that these directors owed nothing and their files were closed and in good order.

Does representation matter?

You bet it does!

#inTAXicating

Can You Describe What You Do To A Stranger? Tell People What You Do!

If you have been reading my posts on The Urban Daddy, or on inTAXicating, you will know that I sometimes put on my MBA-hat and question everything about the way we do business.

One of the questions I have had for a long time has to do with how businesses choose to identify themselves to the public. We all know that keeping customers is much easier and much cheaper than getting new ones – so they say – which makes the next example even that much more puzzling to me.storefront without sign

Storefronts, in particular, have very limited space to let potential customers / clients know a whole lot about what they do, so that you will use their goods and services, yet many businesses continue to put their brand name on the store, or use an unreadable font which limits their ability to get new customers who are not walking by the store and who have the time to look in the window and walk in.

As I question this, I think back to one of the more complex collections cases that I handled while working at Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and how after years of being unable to get a cent out of this establishment, I had much different results.  This case had to do with a very large restaurant just North of Toronto which had fantastic food, very positive reviews, incredible decor, and $3,000,000.00 owing in taxes, without a single payment made to arrears in years.

The owners of this restaurant were perplexed at the spiralling debt and their bleak prospects for operating in the future because what started off as a very profitable business venture went south, quickly and at massive costs – both personal and professional.  When their debt grew, they started to cut costs, but it was the wrong costs – like having fresh food on the premises daily, reducing the variety and portion size on their menu and by running out of options at meal time.

Regular patrons became frustrated with the frozen additions or the cutting out of their favourite meal choices and as their clientele dwindled to handfuls of patrons during the day and at night, it only made matters worse.

With their personal assets fully leveraged to keep the business running, they were steps away from bankruptcy and losing everything.  They also were not paying their tax debts, but they were staying current on their filing obligations, and between the threats from previous collectors and their power being turned off all the time, they knew the end was near.  After hearing this, I thought I would need to see it myself, so I took my newly earned MBA and headed out to have a conversation with them about what they had intended to do with these debts.

But I could not find the restaurant.

It was supposed to be 15,000 square feet, and I knew the intersection quite well, but could not for the life of me find their establishment.  I called the owner and while I was circling the plaza on the corner he was frazzled about how I could not see their fantastic place, which I found to be very bizarre.

I ended up parking on the plaza on the corner and walked past a couple of stores before finally seeing what I had been circling for the better part of 20 minutes.  Their restaurant.

The outside of the building looked run-down and there was no name on the building.  I could not even tell where the front door was, and once I got to the door, I didn’t even know if it was open.  There was no sign that even said “Restaurant” or specified the type of food that was in there. There was some very hard to read script writing near the top of the building and near the door, but it looked more like graffiti than it did, a brand name.

Having been there a couple of years, locals knew about them, ate there but to an onlooker, there was no way of knowing there was a restaurant there.  I started to see a pattern emerge.

Upon sitting down with the owners I immediately suggested they perform a search on the business on the Internet (Alta Vista, I believe) and there right in front of their eyes, were people commenting about how they had made reservations but could not find the building, so did not go, or that they arrived but could not tell if the place was open, or where the front door was.  There was obvious frustration.

To me, it was common sense, that this building needed a sign that read “Italian Restaurant”, so at least people would know where they were going, or people who drove by or walked in the plaza would know there was something there.  On a more obvious scale a giant arrow pointing at the building would have been better but this was a very classy place, and that would cheapen the brand, they felt.

Needless to say, I spent 3-4 hours there, we talked about everything relating to their business, their debts – business and personal, and at the end of the day I decided to give them a couple of months to sort things out, reduce some costs, and try to attract more business which they knew they needed.

All of this effort was rewarded when they sent in a cheque for $250,000 at the end of the following month to the CRA.  By the end of the year, they had paid off $1.8 million dollars of their debt, and by the end of the next year, they were fully paid up (including penalties and interest) and business was booming.

Is it 100% a result of something I said? Probably not. Did I afford them the time to make money and pay off the debt, yes I did, but I also went through their options should they have chosen bankruptcy, a proposal, or to ignore the CRA completely and wait for their assets to seized and the directors assessed.

With all that information they were able to make an informed decision, the most obvious to me being that they improved their signage, cleaned up the outside, and put a neon sign which flashed “OPEN” on a very visible spot near the sign and near the door (with a classy arrow pointing towards the door).

But how does this apply to you and to me?

I recently took part in a challenge on LinkedIn to say what I do for a living in one sentence. I thought how hard could it be, and I wanted to check out what others had written before me. With over 300 respondents, I would have plenty of samples to review before taking the plunge, but I was shocked by what I saw.

I saw people – people I do not know – in businesses I did not know who wrote things like this;

“I solve all of your problems.”
“I get you want you need at the price you want.”
“I’m what you need.”
Even, “We’ve got you covered.”

I looked further at their business profile to see if I could tell what they did, however their business name, or description was equally as vague.

I read and read and read, almost 100 of them by now, and when I came to a comment by a lawyer, I was dumbfounded when I saw this; “I practice law.”

I immediately thought about what I would do if I came to this networking group for a professional to hire in a very specific area and I saw “I practice law” as someone’s description… Would I contact them to find out what kind of law? Or would I go to the next person.

I went to the next person.

Then the next and the next and the next.

Then I posted challenging people to go back and edit their posts. Be proud of who you are and the services you offer. Tell everyone what you do, be clear, but be brief, and if someone has more questions or wants information, they will reach out to you.

So what about my post?

Now I had a lot to live up to, because I called out the patrons of the group and if my post sucked, boy would I be the biggest hypocrite in the world.

So I posted this;

“My expertise is with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and their Collections / Enforcement division and I use this knowledge to help people and business understand taxes and pay only what they owe, on their terms.

Then I said, “please read this and if you do not know what I do, or if there is feedback – positive and negative – please provide it. I too would love the perfect pitch and I appreciate any input from this fantastic group.

So next time you are looking for a restaurant to take your family and you drive by one which only has a name and not a type of food, think about how much business they could be losing by placing their focus on themselves and not on the service or product their offer.

#Tax

Reminder: T4’s and T4 Summaries are due February 28th to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)

I’m worried.

Not for me, but worried for you. I’m worried that you have forgotten to prepare the T4 for your employee, or nanny, and that you will not be able to submit the T4 with the T4 summary to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) by the February 28th deadline.

If you have not completed the T4 or T4 summary yet and are weighing your options, I have some information you need to consider.

First, provided you have been making regular remittances to the CRA, you already have the information you need to submit to the CRA.

Secondly, if you have been making regular remittances the CRA will have sent you a code which allows you to complete the T4 and T4 summary online and which allows you to file online.

Third, if you let the deadline slide by, you are going to pay a penalty.

Say what you will about the Canada Revenue Agency, but they ask and they listen. If you have had the opportunity to attend a CRA information session (or be on a panel as I have) you know that the CRA wants to know what bothers people and how they can improve things. They really do.

In the good old days, when I worked at the CRA, late filing of a T4 was a minimum $100 penalty (plus interest) and late filing of a T4 summary was a minimum $400 penalty to a maximum of $2500.

The CRA has instituted a new administrative policy that applies to certain information returns to ensure that late-filing penalties are charged in a manner that is both fair and reasonable for small businesses. The penalty is the greater of $100 or a penalty determined as follows:

Relieving administrative policy – penalties
Number of information
returns (slips)
Penalty (per day) Maximum penalty
(100 days)
1 – 5 Not applicable $100 flat penalty
6 – 10 $5 $500
11 – 50 $10 $1,000
51 – 500 $15 $1,500
501 – 2,500 $25 $2,500
2,501 – 10,000 $50 $5,000
10,001 or more $75 $7,500

Of course, if you have to get it done by the 28th and you are close on figures, you can always send them your best estimation and amend the return at a later date.  You won’t get hit with the late filing penalties unless your figures are WAY off from the real figures and the CRA feels you sent these numbers to in some way circumvent the rules.  Interest will continue to apply.

Hope you filed on time.

inTAXicating: Nominated for the 2013 Canadian Blog Awards

I just learned that inTAXicating has been nominated for the 2013 Canadian Blog Awards – under the law category.Canadian Blog Awards badge

If you would to see the other blogs nominated in the other categories or if you would like to vote for inTAXicating, you can follow the link here; http://cdnba.wordpress.com/

Voting ends February 22nd, 2014.

The Canadian Blog Awards are a great way to recognize Canadian blogging talent. By taking the time to read other Canadian blogs and through your voting you are supporting Canadian writers.

I checked out many of the other nominated blogs and voted in each and every category as a way to give back.

Thank you in advance and please keep reading, commenting and asking questions!  Also don’t forget to visit my webpage at http://www.intaxicating.ca for help with all your tax concerns.

The Rickey Henderson Effect: The Value of a Wink.

The Rickey Henderson Effect: The Value of a Wink.

I hope you are able to, and take the time to, read this post on the importance of acknowledging others – in business and in life.

In this specific article linked above, the author describes how as a young child, Rickey Henderson – then an outfielder with the New York Yankees – winked at him as he was leaving the baseball field in between innings.  That wink alone led the author to become a huge fan of Henderson’s and the author detailed how his mother purchased Henderson products and how he influenced his friends to purchase products and the net effect of that wink was money in Henderson’s pocket (he receives a share of items purchased in his name or his likeness).

Fast forward to 2014, and the author comments on the importance of a wink, or 😉 in social media and how it can also have the same impact on people.

I completely agree.

The most effective way to interact with people is to, well, interact with people.  Saying hello, nodding, winking, waving, or in today’s cyber-society with a wink, or a smiley face or even by personalizing emails through the adding of terms like; “Hope you are well”, “Warm Regards” or “All the best”.  These little additions tell the person on the other side that they are being acknowledged and by taking the time to do that you have an ally.

To that point, a personal story.

I had been working at the Toronto North Tax Office of the Canada Revenue Agency for 2 1/2 years and had become accustomed to putting my head down as I walked through the building as others do.  I have always been great with faces but terrible at remembering names, and it was easier to pretend there was no one there or that I was distracted so I didn’t have to say hello or remember a name.

Then one morning as I left the subway and walked towards the office, someone walked by me and said, “Good morning Warren!”,

Much to my surprise – and I am nowhere near shy or introverted – I looked up, did not recognize the face, but said hello back and then out of my mouth came this; “I’m sorry.  Normally I am great with faces but I cannot remember where I know you from.”

He responded; “I’m Mark.  You trained us last week on Director’s Liability.  Great class.  I learned a lot.”

It was that moment when I decided that I needed to acknowledge people too.  Stop walking with my head down.  Stop looking busy.  I needed to learn people’s names and a fact or two about them to show them I care and help bring the office closer.

From that morning on, I saw and addressed each and every person I came across by their name (or what I suspected was their name).  If I called them by the wrong name, they would just correct me, right.  🙂

For the next 9 years, I became that guy at the CRA.  The guy who knew “everyone”.  The guy people came to with questions, and for advice.  The guy who liked the people he worked with because he took the time to get to know them and as I moved into leadership roles, I was best able to get the most out of all my staff because I knew their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.  I wanted what was best for the CRA, but also best for the employees and if there was a dispute, there was that trust that I was not going to steer them wrong and it would benefit them in the end.

I took the time to wink.  Just like Rickey Henderson did, and it paid off exponentially.

Today, take the time to say hello to people you would not normally talk to.  Not too long, but just enough to let them know you care.  Or send an email that is a little less impersonal and a little more warm.

You will feel great and so will they!

😉

The Truth and Myths Around the CRA’s Taxpayer Relief Program

There is quite a lot of information on the Internet around the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) Taxpayer Relief Program (formerly known as fairness).  Understandably, there is also a lot of misinformation around this program.  After having spent almost 11 years working in the CRA – beginning as an entry-level collector and working my way up through the division to a team leader before taking my MBA and heading into the private sector –  I have learned quite a lot about how the Taxpayer Relief program actually works.Myth vs Reality

This post will identify the key objectives of the program straight from the CRA, and then highlights some common myths about the program and the actual fact about why it makes sense to invest considerable time and effort into an application, or engage the services of someone who knows the program inside and out.

The Taxpayer Relief program was set up to allow for the Minister of National Revenue to grant relief from penalty and/or interest when the following types of situations prevent a taxpayer (individual or corporation) from meeting their tax obligations:

  • extraordinary circumstances;
  • actions of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA);
  • inability to pay or financial hardship;
  • other circumstances

The program distinguishes between “cancelling” and “waiving” of penalties and/or interest as the CRA understands that granting relief to a taxpayer only to see them smothering in penalties and interest again is an exercise in futility.  The term “cancel” refers to a penalty or interest amount that is assessed or charged for which relief is granted, in whole or in part, by the CRA.  The term “waive” refers to a penalty or interest amount that is not yet assessed or charged for which relief is granted, in whole or in part, by the CRA.

The term “Taxpayer” includes individual, employer or payer, corporation, partnership, organization, trust, estate, goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax (GST/HST) registrant or claimant.

Now you or your client has been charged penalties and / or interest and you want to know if you qualify.  Look no further than the CRA website, and their section on Taxpayer Relief, here.

Circumstances that may warrant relief include;

Extraordinary circumstances

Penalties or interest may be cancelled or waived in whole or in part when they result from circumstances beyond a taxpayer’s control.  Extraordinary circumstances that may have prevented a taxpayer from making a payment when due, filing a return on time, or otherwise complying with a tax obligation include, but are not limited to, the following examples:

  • natural or human-made disasters, such as a flood or fire;
  • civil disturbances or disruptions in services, such as a postal strike;
  • serious illness or accident; and
  • serious emotional or mental distress, such as death in the immediate family.

Actions of the CRA

The CRA may also cancel or waive penalties or interest when they result primarily from CRA actions, including:

  • processing delays that result in taxpayers not being informed, within a reasonable time, that an amount was owing;
  • errors in CRA material which led a taxpayer to file a return or make a payment based on incorrect information;
  • incorrect information provided to a taxpayer by the CRA (usually in writing);
  • errors in processing;
  • delays in providing information, resulting in taxpayers not being able to meet their tax obligations in a timely manner; and
  • undue delays in resolving an objection or an appeal, or in completing an audit.

Inability to pay or financial hardship

The CRA may, in circumstances where there is a confirmed inability to pay amounts owing, consider waiving or cancelling interest in whole or in part to enable taxpayers to pay their account. For example, this could occur when:

  • a collection has been suspended because of an inability to pay caused by the loss of employment and the taxpayer is experiencing financial hardship;
  • a taxpayer is unable to conclude a payment arrangement because the interest charges represent a significant portion of the payments; or
  • payment of the accumulated interest would cause a prolonged inability to provide basic necessities (financial hardship) such as food, medical help, transportation, or shelter; consideration may be given to cancelling all or part of the total accumulated interest.

Consideration would not generally be given to cancelling a penalty based on an inability to pay or financial hardship unless an extraordinary circumstance prevented compliance, or an exceptional situation existed. For example, when a business is experiencing extreme financial difficulty and enforcement of such penalties would jeopardize the continuity of its operations, the jobs of the employees, and the welfare of the community as a whole, consideration may be given to providing relief of the penalties.

Other circumstances

The CRA may also grant relief if a taxpayer’s circumstances do not fall within the situations described above.

The CRA expects these guidelines to be used when applying for relief and that the requests are made within the deadlines for requesting relief, which is limited to any period that ended within 10 years before the calendar year in which a request is submitted or an income tax return is filed.   The 10-year limitation period rolls forward every January 1st.

If filed using the correct form, with sufficient supporting documentation, a response from the Taxpayer Relief Program can take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years due to the amount of requests.  In order to ensure that you are making the best claim possible, you really should engage the services of a professional, as they would be able to assess whether or not your request is sufficient, and they would ensure that you meet all the other conditions which must be in place for the CRA to review and consider your application.

At the end of the day, if you have a reasonable chance of being successful under this program, the investment made to have it written, reviewed or monitored by an expert is a worthwhile expenditure.

Now let’s have a look at some common myths around this program which are floating around the Internet.

Myths:

Myth: That the CRA’s Taxpayer Relief program is a one time program and that you had better take your best shot the time you decide to apply.

Reality: Not true,  This program is available to all Canadians who have been charged penalties and / or interest and as such, they have the right to ask for relief each and every time it is warranted.  The Taxpayer Relief Group do not maintain collection inventories and as such they review each case on the merit of its submission without any influence from the permanent collections diary or the collector assigned to the case.

Myth: That the CRA’s Taxpayer Relief Program is used in order for the CRA and a taxpayer to negotiate a deal which would resolve the taxpayer’s debt issue by settling the debt and accepting less than the actual amount owed to them.

Reality: Never, ever, ever!  The CRA does NOT settle debts outside of bankruptcy or a proposal, and they certainly do not use the taxpayer relief program for this purpose.  As a matter of fact, I can speak of a first hand experience where a collector used the word “settle” in the permanent collection diary of a corporation which had paid a principle tax debt of $650,000, because they wanted to fight the $775,000 in penalties and interest through Taxpayer Relief.  The CRA sent back the $650,000 and re-opened negotiation with the corporation because they did not want to set the precedent of settling tax debts through the Taxpayer Relief Program.

Myth: I cannot afford to pay my taxes, so I am not going to file my tax return, and then when I have a debt, I can ask for relief because I had no money?

Reality:  Failure to file a tax return is a criminal offence which can result in prosecution, so you should always file, and be clear to the CRA upfront that money is tight.  But before an application is made to the Taxpayer Relief Program, all outstanding returns must be filed up to date, and all instalments must be accounted for.  Otherwise, the application is set aside until everything is current.

Myth:  Having a disability or illness from birth qualifies me for Taxpayer Relief.

Reality: Probably not.  If you have managed to conduct your affairs for a period of time without any tax issues, but then something happens which cases the accumulation of penalties and interest, you cannot use your disability or illness when applying for relief, unless something happened during the period in which the penalties and / or interest were applied as a result of a worsening of your disability / illness.  In that case, you would need to substantiate this with supporting letters from your doctors and specialists.  

Myth:  I met with someone who is going to write a letter to the CRA asking for relief and they have sent me the letter to review.  If I sign it, and they send it off, am I now being considered for relief?

Answer:  Not any more.   Years ago, taxpayers were able to send in letters to the fairness department which contained their reasons for asking for relief and some would include supporting documentation, while others would not.  However, since the CRA revamped the Taxpayer Relief Program, they require that the form RC4288 be included in the package or the claim will be rejected.

Myth:  I need to be pre-qualified for the CRA Taxpayer Relief Program.

Reality: No.  You can determine if you may qualify, or you can seek a professional to help you determine if you have grounds for relief, but there is no pre-qualification of this program.

Myth: If my claim is rejected, then I have to pay the penalties and interest.

Reality:  You should make arrangements to pay the penalties and interest in any case in order to stop the interest clock from ticking should the claim be denied – wherever possible, however, the Taxpayer Relief Program allows for a second-level review to be performed (usually with additional information provided) and there is an option for judicial review should the second level review be unfavourable.

 

So take some time to look around when you are considering an application under the Taxpayer Relief Program and make sure that if you engage someone you do so for the right reasons.