Why Getting the Largest Tax Refund Possible from the CRA is NOT a Good Idea

After spending close to 11-years working in the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), I have a very good idea what gets people into tax trouble.

Okay, I know exactly what gets people into tax trouble, and while it’s nearly impossible to list them all, I can tell you that there are ways to get out of tax trouble which many have never considered.

I also know that getting a refund back from the CRA isn’t always a good idea.  More on that later.

I can honestly say, without any prejudice that the main problem has to do with firms advertising at tax time about getting the most money in the fastest way possible.  These ads are aimed at people who equate getting their money back fast through the quick, cheap filing of tax returns.

The ads go something like this;

“Get the Largest Tax Refund Possible”.

“Get the Most Back.”

“Get the Most You Are Entitled To.”

“Get your Money Back Now!”

Just hearing those advertising slogans scare me, and it should scare you too.

Getting money back from the government at tax time, does not mean what you might think it does.

You are not getting money from the government because you fell into a threshold, but what you are doing is getting your money back from the government.

Your money that you overpaid (or were over-deducted at source) which the government kept during the year – held interest-free in fact – which you are asking for back.

Amazing.

It’s akin to lending someone money for a year – they use it, or invest it and make money off of it – and then a year later you ask for it back and you get it, while they made money off of it.

So how does this tied into tax debt?

History has shown me that people do not wake up in the morning and decide that they want to start carrying a balance owing to the Canada Revenue Agency.  Nobody wants to worry when they go to use their debit card that there might not be funds there as a result of a CRA bank garnishment, or when they go to sell their home find out that there is a lien on it.

Tax problem occur over time and as the time passes and interest accumulates, people find their ability to deal with it declines and before you know it, the amount owing is massive and the CRA is breathing down your neck.

So imagine if after rushing to have your tax return completed – so you can get back a couple of hundred dollars – you find out that you owed money instead.  Now you have a tax problem.  A tax problem that you have not budgeted for.  Now in collections, you have time find a way to pay off this amount owing, and fast, before the CRA takes legal actions.  You can ask friends and family for money, or consider a second job to pay that off.  It can be done, it can take time, or it can snowball and you become a chronic tax debtor in the eyes of the CRA.

Now the fun starts.  Visits to your house, your employer and notices to your bank or clients all run the risk of causing you long-term embarrassment.

If only there was a solution available to help out the repayment.

Well, there is.

This scenario could be completely different if you have taken the time to speak with an accountant, or a reputable tax firm and knew in advance that you might owe and together you had the opportunity to determine the best way to handle this impeding debt by placing money into your RRSP, or applying for, and claiming deductions to reduce your amount of taxes owing at year-end.  With a good accountant, your tax planning is not just for the current year, but also for future years.  

Wouldn’t that make more sense?

One of the first questions I ask a prospective client, or anyone who comes to me for tax advice, is who completed your tax return and what are their credentials.  It’s important because I have taken tax returns which owed the CRA $3000, $4000 or $5000 each year and turned them in to $4000 and $5000 credit returns just by claiming deductions and tax credits available to those taxpayers which their tax preparation service either didn’t know about or didn’t care about.  You only get so much service for $50.

There is nothing illegal in doing that, and provided that there is legitimate supporting documentation, the CRA wouldn’t reject the claim.

So instead of rushing to have your return completed for $40 or $50, think about spending the extra money this year and take advantage of an accounting firm which will sit with you, determine how to minimize your tax expenditures for this year and for future years.

Pay what you owe and not a cent more, and if you’re getting money back every year find out why.  Learn which deductions you may be eligible for and start keeping your receipts.

Take control of your year-end tax filing and stop sending the CRA penalty and interest revenue.

If you already have a tax problem, you need to have tax experts review your prior year tax returns to look for missed deductions and credits.  With a simple amending of the return, your balance could be reduced or wiped out completely.  This really is the best way to start resolving your tax problem.

It’s what I do.  For you.

It’s worth the money!

If you are looking for an alternative, some assistance, or have tax questions, contact us at info@intaxicating.ca and let’s get the ball rolling.

 

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Lien on Me: The CRA and Liens. Questions Answered.

When the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) registers a lien against your home, they are securing their interest by attaching the repayment of their debt to your property.

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The CRA considers a lien to be enforcement action and this tool is commonly applied where there are properties in the name of a taxpayer who has a tax debt.  Collection officers at the CRA should be registering liens, or securing the Crown’s interest, much more frequently then they currently are, and it should be done whenever there is a tax debt of a considerable amount owing.

Below are some answers to common questions about CRA property liens to help you understand what to do, and where to turn for help.

1.  How to tell if there is a lien registered against your property 

A title search on your property will reveal the existence of a lien.

It is CRA policy that they advise you by letter when a Certificate has been registered in Federal Court which identifies the property in question and the balance owing for which they are preparing to register a lien.  This does not mean that a lien has been registered, but this is essentially a warning of impending action.

If, however, the CRA does not have your correct address you will not receive any notices and thus may only discover there’s a lien when you try to sell or refinance your property.  A title search reveals the existence of liens.

2.  When the CRA registers a Certificate do they always then register a lien?

Not necessarily.  The CRA could be using the Certificate in several ways, including; to secure their interest in the property to make sure that before the tax debtors interest in the property is liquidated, the tax debt is paid in full, or in order to get the attention of the property owner so they will begin negotiations with the CRA, or they may have the intention of proceeding with the seizure and sale of the property in order to pay off all or part of a tax liability.

3.  Will the CRA take my house and leave me homeless?

It is CRA policy to not seize and sell a property when it would result in the property owner having nowhere to live.  If this property is an income property or cottage or secondary place to live, then the CRA will likely proceed to realize on the property and pay off their debts.

4.  Have I lost title to my home?

No. A lien is a registration on the title of that property which prevents you from selling or refinancing that property until either the tax debt owing is paid in full, or there is a written arrangement to have the proceeds from a sale or refinancing directed to the CRA for full payment of the debt.

5.  What is a Writ of Fi Fa / Writ of Seizure and Sale?

If a Certificate has been registered in the Federal Court and the tax balance still exists, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will register a Writ of Fi Fa (abbreviation of “fieri facias” which is Latin and means “that you cause to be made”).  It is a writ of execution obtained in legal action which is addressed to the sheriff and commands him to, in this case, seize and sell, the property of the person against whom the judgement has been obtained.

This is a very serious enforcement action and after your property is sold, you are entitled to any proceeds left over after the tax arrears have been paid in full.

6.  What are my options now that a Certificate has been registered and a lien applied to the property?

Even though the CRA has an interest in the property, you can still access the equity and use that equity to make arrangements with the CRA – or the Department of Justice – to refinance the property or even sell it with the understanding that this can only be done in conjunction with the CRA receiving full payment of their tax debt.

7.  What is the CRA’s priority regarding my property should I decide to sell it?

Assuming your mortgage is a traditional mortgage through a recognized financial institution, the proceeds from a sale should fall in this order (depending on the type of tax(es) owing);

1. Financial institution holding the mortgage

2. Secured lenders

3. Canada Revenue Agency

4. Other creditors who have registrations against the property

5. Property owner.

So if you have other debts including a tax liability (and the two tend to go hand-in-hand), then it is possible in this scenario to have nothing left over by the time the property is sold and all debtors are paid off.

8.  What if I owe CRA more than there they get from the sale of my property?

If, after the sale of your property there are still taxes owing to the CRA, them your tax balance is reduced by the amount the CRA is paid and the remainder is still owing to the CRA.

9.  What if I am not the only one on title – ie/ jointly with a spouse?  

In the case where there are more than one person on title in addition to you, it’s important to keep in mind that the CRA can only realize proceeds from your share of the equity in the property.  So if you sell, re-finance or are forced to sell, only your share of the equity can be paid out the CRA. The CRA cannot seize your spouses’, or anyone else’s equity.

Keep in mind that in order to get the Certificate, the CRA has to reconcile the account, determine the share owned by the tax debtor and then use that figure when sending the Sheriff out to seize and sell the property.

10.  The CRA has registered a lien against my property.  Can I sell my interest to someone else and get removed off title?

If a tax debtor initiates a transaction which puts an asset out of reach of the Canada Revenue Agency not at Fair Market Value, the CRA has the ability to initiate a section 160 Non-Arms Length assessment and assess the person(s) who received the asset for your liability (minus consideration received).  

11.  Will bankruptcy free me of a lien?

Filing for bankruptcy, or filing a consumer proposal, does not discharge a lien against your property. If you go bankrupt on your CRA debt, the lien remains and – even worse – accrues interest over time. Even after your discharge from bankruptcy, the lien remains in force, until you eventually sell your home and the CRA’s priority is now second in line after the bank.

If after all that the tax debt is still remaining, then and only then because of the bankruptcy, will the tax debt no longer be owing.

Who Can Help?

The bottom line here is that tax liens can cause serious problems and it’s best to seek our help to resolve your tax issues before it gets that far.  Even if a lien is in place in order to secure the Crown’s interest, it’s best not to ignore the CRA.

We have handled hundreds of liens, and will find the best solution for you.  It might be refinancing your mortgage, paying out the lien, or temporarily lifting the lien in order to improve your arrangement with the CRA.  Whatever the problem, no matter how complex, we have helped and can help.

Initial consultations are always free.

inTAXicating Tax Services.

Visit our website or send us an email at info@intaxicating.ca.

Toronto-based.  Canada-wide.

 

Tax Season in Canada… When can you expect to see your slips, receipts and returns?

Tax time in Canada.

April 30th for most Canadians and June 15th for self-employed Canadians.

So much fun… Really.  Organizations who issue tax slips, tax returns or contribution receipts have been working hard perfecting their processes since the end of the last tax reporting season and have been working through the summer putting any necessary changes in place and gearing up for the next tax season – which all begins next month in November for many top organizations.

Since issuing organizations are gearing up, so should you, the investor, start getting ready to file your income tax returns and to do that, it really helps if you have an idea as to which slips your investment(s) will generate and when you can expect them.

Of course, even if you do get all your slips, as expected, there could always be amended slips sent to you as well resulting from an error or late directional change from the company / fund.  Even the CRA sometimes are required to make changes to their tax forms, or to the calculations contained therein and there is nothing you, nor your tax preparer can do, let alone the poor folks issuing your tax slips.  You have a slip, assume it to be correct and file to the CRA with it only to find out it’s incorrect when another version comes, with a letter, to be used instead.

Take 2010, for example… The CRA changed the dividend tax rate by something like 0.0007% and they did that 5 days before they expected T5 slips to have been received by holders and in actual fact, most of the T5’s were already issued with the incorrect rate before the CRA realized what they had done.

Since the CRA determined that the rate change would be adjusted internally, there was a communication fired out industry-wide notifying those who received T5’s that no further actions would be taken on the holder side and that they should not need to go back to their bank, financial institution or transfer agent to have it amended.  I remember a few individuals demanding their slips being amended for a total change of $7.00.  But this is what you do – with a smile when you’re in that industry.

Back to the topic.

One of the most common frustrations during tax preparation time comes from those holders who are eager to file but are unsure of what they are getting and when, roughly, it should arrive.

Due Dates

Keeping tabs on due dates can be quite difficult, especially if you’re getting them from an organization which has not fully embraced social media and are unable to provide you with a timeline, or expected dates per slip depending on what you should be receiving.

For example, T4 and T5 tax slips must be mailed out by February 28th whereas, tax slips for mutual funds, flow-through shares, limited partnerships and income trusts are not due until March 31st.

When there are late deadlines, like March 31st, a lot of pressure is then placed on your accountant as it creates a heavy backlog in April, when accountants must rush through the preparation of personal tax returns for their clients – sadly unable to give each return the care and oversight that they deserve.

I just don’t understand why all slips are not made available on the web or by email all by say March 10th in order to allow time for issuing organizations to prepare better their processes to allow for additional oversight and for time to correct errors.  This way organizations preparing the slips will have to begin auditing the slips traditionally due in February for errors and get the March ones completed – have them all merged together in the same file and made available sooner rather than later for the holder.  In addition, with a fixed deadline, the CRA or MRQ would then know when they can or cannot change slips or information on slips.

Let’s look a little closer at some issues and potential solutions;

Year-end trading summaries

Banks and brokerages use year-end trade summaries to report proceeds and commissions on each sale. However, the proceeds reported are sometimes net of commissions, which can lead investors to erroneously deduct the reported commission number a second time.  In addition, many banks issue multiple slips for each investment account, but send a consolidated summary of the slips to the CRA, which causes havoc when there is a missing slip or a question regarding one of them.

By keeping track of the totals or having them all come in March would allow the issuing organization time to audit and compare the slips to the summary before issuing to ensure they balance.

Another solution is for the issuing organization to make the slips available on their investor website and then holders can wait for the year-end summary to post – which of course would balance – and then before a holder does anything with their slips they can be comfortable that they balance.

An additional bonus would be for the issuing organization to also provide the calculations behind the slips on the website so that if there is a discrepancy, the holder can look to see how the slips were calculated and they can also learn more about how taxes are calculated.  It’s a win-win situation.  Accurate reporting and teaching the holder more about taxes.

Gain and loss reports

Many privately managed bank funds prepare gain and loss reports for clients. However, where there are US stock sales, often the cost reflects the US dollar purchase amount at the current year’s exchange rate, rather than at the time of purchase.

Traditionally, the onus is on the holder to figure out the historic exchange rate and the issuing organizations can and should assist by making this information available on their website for ease of balancing.  They should also make sure that there is accurate and complete documentation on their website and on all reports indicating the rate used and the rate needed for reporting.

T3 and T5013 tax slips

These are the two main slips which have a mailing deadline of March 31st because the trust/partnership has to finalize their books and prepare their tax returns in order to know the breakdown of the distributions so that the individual holders can then have their tax returns rushed to them – a high risk process indeed.  So once the T5’s have been received and accounted for, issuing organizations like transfer agents have only a month or less to then prepare the T3 and T5013 slips.

Let’s be honest here, it’s more like 2-3 days, due to the complexity of the partnership returns and one way around this is to ensure that any issuing organization is capable to preparing T5013’s by themselves, or that they have an organization capable of preparing them in an expedited manner.  In addition, the partnership should be contacted to let them know that the quicker they get their books in order, the quicker the rest of the slips can be prepared.  If enough people come forward, I guarantee it will get done faster.

Final Review:

When reviewing your slips before filing your tax return, keep in mind a few small differences;

T4’s vs. T4A’s – A T4 is issued by your employer and reflects the income you earned during the year, as well as showing the amount of deductions you had removed from your pay, such as; CPP, Employment Insurance (EI) and tax.  A T4A, on the other hand, is issued by a pension plan administrator and reflects the pension income you received from a pension source. T4As will not have figures listed for CPP or EI contributions since these are not deducted from pension income.

The T5 investment income slip – identifies the various types of investment income that residents of Canada have to report on their income tax and benefit returns.  T5’s are NOT issued to report income paid to non-residents of Canada, however, if you earned US interest on your investments, it will show up on your T5, with a note at the bottom saying that the interest is in US dollars.

It’s not always clear to the holder that this figure needs to be converted at the average exchange rate for the year, as set out by the CRA.   T5 slips also have both eligible and ineligible dividend boxes, which holders can accidentally reverse on their returns.

Investment loan interest

Most banks do not issue receipts for interest on investment loans unless specifically requested, resulting in a missed deduction for the client.  Borrowers should request receipts well in advance of the tax-filing deadline to ensure they arrive in time.

All in all, it’s best to keep track of investments you have and to check off when they are expected and when they are received in order to ensure you can file at your earliest convenience or reach out and ask your issuing organization / bank / transfer agency to step up and find a solution.

It’s never to early.

Even in October.

CRA employees steal $300,000 in refunds from Canadian Taxpayers

The Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) credibility is reeling after an Access to Information (ATIP) Probe revealed that 2 senior employees in the Debt Management division were found to have been stealing from Canadian Taxpayers.

This massive fraud was detected in 2008 and had been going on for almost 8 years in both cases, which shows that it was very detailed and well thought out because no one knew about it for such a significant period of time.

At the time this fraud was brought to light, there was a belief that it further implicated the lack of quality management inside the CRA – that it’s just not up to par with the responsibilities they are required to perform.  With access to people SIN numbers, and the ability to move billions of dollars annually, the current crop of team leaders, managers and all of senior management are shown yet again to lack the competency to properly manage staff and protect the interests of Canadian taxpayers.

What makes this fraud even more appalling is that while uncovered in 2008, the CRA kept news of it from going public for more than a year, until the facts were released through a request under access-to-information law.

In the one case, a veteran male CRA employee routed approximately $300,000 generated from illegitimate returns into his bank accounts. In the other case, a veteran female employee defrauded the Canadian public of approximately $100,000 through manipulating their systems into issuing refunds and payments to accounts she had set up and controlled for this purpose.

On September 16th, 2009, the CRA refused to name the fraudsters or reveal whether they were fired or charged and convicted, saying that to identify them would violate “privacy laws”.  The CRA also refuse to confirm or deny that any or all of the stolen monies were recovered after the fraud was discovered in 2008.  CRA spokeswoman Caitlin Workman did, however, reveal that “They no longer work here,” she said.  She also dismissed the notion that this fraud would erode the publics’ credibility in the CRA and that these two individuals actions an anomaly, “We have close to 45,000 employees here, and they deal with millions of tax and benefit files on a daily basis. And here we are talking about two individuals.  Yes, we take it very seriously, but it should also be put in perspective.”  Ms. Workman said internal fraud of this magnitude is very infrequent, “I don’t have any numbers for you but they are very rare.”

The Crime

The male employee took more than $300,000 by routing bogus refunds and related Canada Child Tax Benefit and GST credit payments to his personal accounts, the ATIP documents revealed.  “For the last eight years, at least, he had filed tax returns and claimed [benefits and credits] for individuals he did not know,” the Internal Audit investigation revealed.  “Based on the information gained and the list of social insurance numbers found at his workstation, it is reasonable to believe that [he] may have had a role to play in the issuance of illegitimate refunds on more than 50 accounts.”

The female CRA employee, prepared and filed hundreds of illegitimate returns, ensuring the tax refunds and goods and services tax credits were routed to her own bank accounts.

This was made public through access-to-information requests made by researcher Ken Rubin.

An important note is that anyone is entitled to make an ATIP request into their own personal tax information at any time.

Internally, this fraud was brought to light after other CRA employees became suspicious when they tried to verify some of the claims and could not reach the taxpayers in question.  The ATIP request found internal documents stating; “After reviewing the motor vehicle records and conducting credit bureau checks … [a staffer] was unable to determine the whereabouts of the taxpayers involved and could not establish whether or not they actually existed.”

Where it appears that CRA management failed the Canadian public the most is that the internal investigation turned up that both employees had made thousands of unauthorized searches into taxpayers’ accounts, including gaining access to their own files, and members of their family.

Unauthorized access is the most severe offense at the CRA, a current employee who did not want to be named stated that, “We are required every year to sign a document stating that we will not access information that does not directly relate to our work-load and for every account we enter, we are required to fully diarize the reasons for accessing it.  We are told that if we access information that we should not be accessing, we will have our access suspended immediately pending investigation and if found guilty, suspended or fired”.  There is no way that “thousands” of an authorized accesses should have been allowed.  It just goes to show that management let down the Canadian public by not knowing what employees are doing on a daily basis, or for allowing these accesses to occur without punishment.

It might come down to the fact that these (now former) employees were part of the “old boys network” and that their transgression were tolerated until it was brought to the attention of someone senior at the CRA who would not let it occur anymore.  The contact at the CRA stated that there are others who have been suspected of carrying out similar frauds who still are employed by the CRA including putting themselves on the payroll of companies they are auditing, or by accessing information of friends, colleagues or even staff their manage.

The bottom line here is this… Your information is safe at the CRA, and the CRA employees take privacy and security extremely seriously. There are significant consequences relating to access to information which can result in suspension or termination.  Every time there is a breach, the CRA immediately steps up and puts plans and procedures in place to make sure it never happens again.

So before you start bitching about the CRA, and about taxes – which is your right – make sure you take care of your own backyard and file your taxes on time, pay your taxes, and don’t carry a balance owing at the CRA.