Lack of tax knowledge could be costing Quebecers: C.D. Howe Institute reports

I came across this article from the Montreal Gazette;

I strongly recommend that you take the time to read it.  It is brief, but very informative as it tells the story that I have been trying to tell for the past 20-plus years!  There is that there is a significant percentage of, not just Quebecers, but Canadians who leaving money on the table because they don’t understand the tax system, according to a report released by the C.D. Howe Institute last week.

The report — which bases many of its conclusions on a survey of 1,000 Quebecers — suggests that lack of knowledge is one of the reasons many people don’t take advantage of credits and savings vehicles, like RRSPs, which could reduce their tax burden.

“People might be missing out on benefits that they’re entitled to,” said Antoine Genest-Grégoire, a tax policy researcher at the Université de Sherbrooke and one of the authors of the report.

“It can take various forms, people can simply not know about the existence of the credit … sometimes, they know it exists but they don’t know how to use it or they find it too complicated.”

Survey participants were asked a series of questions about how the tax system works and the average score was just 55%.

It wasn’t just tax credits that left participants stumped. Respondents scored poorly on questions about progressivity — the idea that people with higher incomes pay a higher tax rate, a core principle of the Canadian income tax system.

While almost 90% of respondents knew that income tax rates differ based on how much people make, many struggled with the concept of bracketing — when different segments of an individual’s income are taxed at different rates.

“We hear a lot of people thinking that once you reach the top income brackets, you essentially pay close to 50% of your income in taxes,” Genest-Grégoire says, when in reality, it’s only the income above the cut-off for the highest tax bracket that’s taxed at the highest tax rate.

Only 26% of survey respondents were able to answer a question about that correctly.

While survey respondents generally had a good sense of whether they pay sales tax on everyday purchases, like groceries, prepared food and clothing, there were some exceptions.

For example, Quebec provincial sales tax doesn’t apply to books, a decision made to encourage literacy and support book publishers in the province. Only 21% of survey respondents knew that.

The result, Genest-Grégoire said, is that the public policy objectives of the tax exemption are unlikely to be realized.

The lack of tax literacy doesn’t just affect individuals pocketbooks, Genest-Grégoire said.
“People who don’t understand taxes tend to have lower trust in the tax system.  The Canadian tax system, even though you’re obligated by law to produce a tax return, works on trust.  The government doesn’t audit everyone,” he said. This lack of trust “makes tax avoidance, tax evasion more probable.”

Genest-Grégoire said the provincial and federal revenue agencies have taken steps to put more information online, but the system itself remains complex. One solution would be to make benefits that are currently provided through the tax system more accessible and for government to automatically enrol people, as is already the case with many benefits for children.

Warren Orlans, a former CRA Collections Employee turned Taxpayer Advocate has been saying for over a decade that the CRA needs to continue putting out information on the Internet, however it needs to be available in many different formats in order to be most effectively accessed by Canadians everywhere.  “Not everyone learns the same way, so having a concept explained in text, showing steps, and possibly with an example and even with little videos would expose the greatest number of Canadians to the message at once.”

“Every day, I deal with Canadian taxpayers and corporations of all sizes as they try to understand and interpret the CRA.  My 11-year’s experience at the CRA and 10-years outside the CRA have afforded me the ability to diagnose and resolve even the most complex of tax matters”, Orlans said.

If you need help understanding the CRA, or interpreting their letters or actions, contact the best, at inTAXicating – a member of Goldhar TAX Solutions.  http://www.goldhartaxsolutions.ca.  Email: tax@goldhar.ca.  Or call us at 647.812.0181, or Toll Free at 1.877.TAX.AID1.

Toronto-based, Canada-wide tax experts.

 

Are There Really “Red Flags” At the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)?

Are there “Red Flags” at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)?

How not to get noticed for the wrong things, this Tax Season.

One of the most commonly asked questions of me is about being “flagged” by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and how to avoid getting flagged, or, what gets your flagged.

I hate to break everyone’s bubble, however, there are no red flags!

For the majority of Canadians who file their taxes year-in, year-out, and who make remittances, make their payments, open businesses, close businesses, make money, lose money, and everything in between, your tax account is just a record of transactions, conversations and payments received and made.  Even for those Canadians who should be doing the above and don’t or who fall behind and catch-up on one mass filing, their accounts have a bit more information due to CRA research, however, No flags.

For those engaged in criminal behaviour, however, there are no “flags”, because you are being investigated criminally and whether you know it or not, the CRA knows you and is watching your activities and comparing that to what you file.  Your tax account is known because it is being actively worked by someone.  There are words or phrases placed in your permanent diary which tell anyone who reviews your account what you are up to, but it certainly doesn’t mean you’ve been red flagged.

So why do people talk about flags?

They’re actually talking about stuations like some described below which catch the attention of the screeners on a case-by-case basis, and could result in them being audited outside of their normal audit review period.

1) When you get your tax returns completed and filed for the year, and there are issues, possibly mistakes, which the CRA catches and in anticipation of getting the solution, have a hard time getting a hold of you.

2) You are suddenly self-employed and you are not sure what to claim, or how much you are entitled to, or you claim things or amounts different from your industry standard.   The CRA compiles industry profiles which they use to assign you a “SIC Code” and they compare your returns with the Industry Standard to ensure you fall in line.

3) The dreaded “Net Worth Assessment”.  If you appear to the CRA to be unable to afford the lifestyle that you are currently living in, then the CRA can, and will, issue a Net Worth Assessment and force you to prove that you are not hiding income.  Yes, this can be a challenge, especially in light of the assessments being done from tax centres outside of the Greater Toronto Area who cannot fathom a million dollar house and a $75,000 income.  They don’t take too kindly to the concept of being being helped by family or personal wealth.  Just be warned that a tax return showing $1.00 of income for the year and an address in a wealthy neighbourhood is cause for further questioning.

4) Big changes from year-to-year.  If there are major changes in your income or expenses whether personal or business-related, are going to draw the attention of the CRA.  The CRA wants to make sure that you have not made a mistake, or worse, that you have bought into a tax scheme.  Expect questions, so get proof ready!

There are some tax situations that are just automatically looked at closer – each the year the CRA with the help of the Department of Finance choose a sector of industry to look at in closer depth usually because something has been detected in previous years or because there is a lot of cash floating around these business, such as construction, or dentists, doctors, IT consultants…

Home office deductions for example are frequently looked into as this is often a common problem for taxpayers claiming the home office in order to use deductions without actually utilizing their home as their office.

Even if you honestly never ever use your company vehicle for personal use, it will take some hard doing to prove to the CRA that this is true. Just driving back and forth to work in the business vehicle is classed as personal use. Your best protection here is to keep very detailed records concerning the business vehicles.

6) Renting for income:  Do not assume that rental losses are going to be accepted at face value by the CRA.  While the CRA will give you some grace time to start generating a profit from your rental business, it will still be watched with a close eye based on your industry, location and address(es).

7) Who prepares your return matters!

The CRA is starting to follow the IRS and taking a long hard look at tax accountants and tax preparers to see if there is a pattern among certain firms / indivuduals who either claim deductions they are not allowed to claim on your behalf, or who are missing certain expenses or deductions.  The CRA’s hope here is to weed out the bad apples, and educate the current crop to ensure they take advantage of the deductions and tax credits available to each client.

Should be a valuable change to the Canadian tax filing scheme.

But at the end of the day, doing it right, and on time, is the best way to stay out of the CRA’s bad books.

If, however, you have any questions, concerns or comments, please feel free to reach out to me at any time, at worlans@intaxicating.ca.

 

Thursday Thirteen Tax Tips: 13 Important Considerations Before Hiring Tax Representation

Trying to decide if it is time to hire a tax representative is a difficult decision and if made incorrectly, can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars plus add significant amounts of stress and reputational damage to you and / or your business.

With so many people and organizations on the Internet promising to do so much for you, how do you know who to trust and more importantly, how can you tell if the specific tax matter you have is something they have experience (and success) handling?

Well, I’m going to give you some tips, so feel free to share them, about how I would go about finding a tax expert for my situation and what important questions you need answered before you hand over your hard-earned money, Social Insurance Number (SIN) and / or Business Number (BN).

The first thing that you must be comfortable doing is asking questions and if you do not understand the answer or if it seems like the response you get is part of a sales pitch, then think twice and get another quote.  It’s okay.  Anyone offering these services will either expect that you have spoken to more than one person, or will be confident that their expertise is what you need and know that you will come back.

Do they offer a free consultation?  It’s helpful if you do not know exactly how much trouble you are in, if at all, and having a few minutes to ask will put your mind at ease and help build a relationship for the future if it’s necessary.

During a 15-minute free consultation I usually do not know how many other tax representatives they have spoken to, if any.  As a result, I have to be clear, honest and set the price based on the amount of work involved, only.  It works for me, and it works for my clients.

keep-calm-youre-hired

Once I begin working with clients I get to hear what others promised, or wanted to charge, and often times I am surprised both by the recommended course of actions and the price quoted / charged.I thought it might be a good idea to expand on this topic and provide the 13 IMPORTANT considerations to look for before hiring tax representation:

13) Knowledge – Does this person or organization have significant knowledge in the area you need?

12) Experience – Knowledge is great to help you understand more, however, is their knowledge based on books they studied in school, or was it gained through hands-on experience?  If you are lucky, you can get both.

11) Fit – Can you work with them? Are they able to explain in a manner that you actually understand what happened, and what the next steps are.

10) Advertising – Odds are good that if they are spending a lot of money on advertising, they are going to have to charge you more in order to re-coup the costs.  A lot of advertising doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best, it just means they value advertising, or need clients..

9)  Social Media Presence – Taking into consideration that people do NOT advertise they have a tax problem online, it can be difficult to see if your prospective tax representation is worth your hard-earned dollars.  A good way to check up on a prospective hire is to have a look at their followers and who they follow.  It may seem great that a firm will have 5000 followers, however, followers can be bought, so a Canadian firm with 3000 followers from, say, Turkey might be a tip-off that something is not right.  Also look at their posts and comments via mainstream media.  Are they commenting on articles to educate or does everything they publish and promote look like it has been written by a marketing firm aimed at trying to get you to hire them.

8) Flexibility – Are they flexible in their pricing, or are they so set in their fees that they will not, or can not, recommend someone else or reduce their fees to assist.

7) Promises – Do they promise to save you money through reviews of your tax filings or do they take the easy way out and recommend bankruptcy, or a proposal?

6) Fear Mongers – If you notice that the tone of everything coming from a prospective firm / representative seems like they are trying to scare you, they are, and that’s a good sign to proceed with caution.  If they tell stories of the CRA hiding in your bushes, reading your emails or coming to arrest you, you should think twice.

5) What is their catch? – You know what you need, but what do they want, or what do they want from you?  There might be additional things relating to your tax issues that you did not know about and would benefit you, but if it’s not necessary and they won’t back away from it – like a financial analysis – then be concerned that they just want to put you though a cookie-cutter program instead of working towards solving your problem(s).

4) Do they play nice with others? – Blog posts aside, are they active in community networking groups (like on Linked In) and are they contributing to the discussions or do they have their own agenda and are just posting articles aimed at the wrong crowd – ie/ pitching their services to individuals in a group full of tax lawyers.

3) Sticks and Stones – How do they  refer to the Canada Revenue Agency?  Do they call the CRA the “Taxman”?  Do they have other negative nicknames?  I can tell you with the experience that 10-plus years of working for the CRA has afforded me that the CRA HATES that and do you really want your representation to start your negotiations off on the wrong foot?

2) Which Way is Up – Does their projected course of action come with terms, such as; “I think, this will work” or “I can try this…” or does the word “maybe” come up a lot?  The good part of that language is that it is a sign that they want to try a course of action and they expect the outcome to be positive or they have no clue what to do and after they run you through their cookie-cutter service, they hope you will be in a better situation.

1) You are Smarter – If you finish your conversation and get the feeling that once all is said and done you will be in a much better place both mentally and financially and you are armed with enough information and understanding of what got you there in the first place and that you can and are able to identify and address all future issues, then you might just be in the right place!

Good luck!

 

Warren

Reminder: If Extreme Weather Conditions Affected your Ability to File or Pay Taxes, the CRA wants you to apply for Taxpayer Relief.

If the recent extreme weather conditions affected your ability to file or pay taxes, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants you to remember about the Taxpayer Relief program.

From the CRA website, Dated June 27th, 2014.

“The Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of National Revenue, today reminded taxpayers affected by recent extreme weather conditions, as has been seen in recent days in Alberta and Ontario, that the taxpayer relief provisions of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) are available to them if they are unable to meet their tax obligations.”

Corporations who are unable to file their T2 returns by the filing deadline of June 30, 2014, due to flooding or other circumstances beyond their control can apply to have interest and/or penalties waived or cancelled using Form RC4288, Request for Taxpayer Relief.

Business owners and self‑employed individuals who are unable to meet their filing and payment obligations may also be eligible for relief.  The CRA understands that natural disasters may cause great difficulties for affected taxpayers whose primary concerns during this time are their families, homes, and communities.

The taxpayer relief provisions provide a balanced approach to assist taxpayers in resolving tax issues that arise due to circumstances beyond their control.   Under these provisions, taxpayers can apply to the CRA to have interest and/or penalties waived or cancelled in situations where they are unable to file a tax return and/or make payments on time because of a natural disaster, such as tornadoes, floods, landslides, hurricanes, or forest fires, or as a result of other extraordinary circumstances.

The CRA will consider these requests on a case-by-case basis and during the time it takes for the CRA to review the application, it is likely that there will be notices sent to the taxpayer / organizations which have a penalty / interest balance.  It is always recommended where possible to pay these amounts owing as soon as possible as doing so stops the interest from continuing to accumulate on the balance.

Paying off the penalty and interest balance does NOT impact the decision made by the Taxpayer Relief group.

Also keep in mind that it can take the CRA upwards of 9 months to complete a review under the Taxpayer Relief program and that full relief of penalties and / or interest are not guaranteed.

If the initial request is denied, the CRA will send a letter indicating why, and what information is missing.  Taxpayers have another opportunity to apply for relief before considering whether a 3rd review – judicial review – is required.

 

For all your tax needs, contact inTAXicating at info@intaxicating.ca.

The Elevator Pitch! How Important Is It?

The elevator pitch, otherwise known as your ability to tell someone what you do for a living in 15-20 seconds without leaving out any critical details.

Wikipedia calls it this; “An elevator pitchelevator speech, or elevator statement is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event and its value proposition.”

The name “elevator pitch” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride of around 30 seconds.

The term originates from a scenario of an accidental meeting with someone important in the elevator where after the brief pitch, the other party is interested in learning more. thus continuing the conversation after the elevator ride or through en exchange of a business card or smart phone details.

As a tax consultant, I thought I had the perfect elevator pitch that went something like this; “I help people who have problems with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).  I worked in the CRA for over 10-years – pretty much out of university – and worked my way up through the collections division until leaving for the private sector.”

I found it to be too long, and open for interruption so much that I would add details, such as that I completed 3-years of my accounting (CGA) designation and a 3-year MBA before leaving, or that I spent a significant part of my time at the CRA training the staff, handling the most complex accounts in the office and helping improve processes.

Then it became an elevator pitch for a 65-story building ride… To the top and all the way back down to the bottom.

Then I found an article in Forbes magazine which provided 6 alternatives to the elevator pitch so I tried them out to see if they worked better for me.  The list is below:

1. The One-word pitch – for me, it is “TAX”.  Then I watch their eyes gloss over.

2. The Question pitch – “Have you ever had (or have clients who had) problems with the Canada Revenue Agency (or Revenu Quebec, or the IRS, or WSIB, or the CRTC?)

3. The Rhyming pitch – Could not even try this.

4. The Subject line pitch – like sending an email to someone – mine would read something like “Former CRA collections officer helping people with CRA problems.”

5. The Story form pitch – I have thousands of stories… Literally.  I usually break into one of these after my introduction.

6. The Twitter or 140 character or less pitch #WhatIAmAllAbout.   I like this because it’s like using Twitter except that you really cannot tell someone that you “hashtag” Help People.  But it does give you the opportunity to state your case in a brief number of words.

So practice your pitch – no matter which method you choose – and practice them out on people to see if it gets across the message you want it to.  If not, maybe you would benefit from a different pitch or by adding or removing information to your existing pitch.

As for me… “I’m a former CRA officer who knows the CRA collections process, policy and procedures better than they do.  I help people with a variety of tax issues including but not limited to negotiation, payment arrangements, liens, RTP’s assessments, and getting them current and out of debt.  If there is a CRA issue, I have already seen it, and I know how to fix the problem.”

#x-taxer

Others make promises.  I fix problems.

If the conversation continues I explain my services are for individuals, businesses, and professional organizations who cannot proceed further with a client due to their tax issues – ie/ getting a bank loan, renewing a mortgage, confirmation of actual amounts owing before filing for bankruptcy, wage garnishments on employees, or cleaning up past tax issues for separation agreements or divorce.

#inTAXicating

Free consultation.

info@intaxicating.ca

416.833.1581

 

 

 

Ready to File your 2013 Personal Income Tax Return? Do you have all your slips?

Are you ready to file your 2013 Personal Tax Return here in Canada.  Are you chomping at the bit to get your refund?  Before you push forward and get that return in, have you checked to make sure that you have received all the tax slips you should be getting?

Are you sure?

In my world, I found that the best way to ensure my clients – and myself – have received all our required slips is by preparing a spreadsheet of what slips I received the previous year – identifying which member of the family it belonged to, when it was received and then stapling that list to the box of file folder that I use to house all potential tax-related materials for the year.  At tax time, it’s an easy checklist to make sure all is in order and that I am not filing without all my paperwork.

Not that there is a huge problem with doing it this way, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) does receive copies of all the slips you receive and they use their copies to re-assess you if you do not amend your return, but there is that opportunity for things to get delayed, and next thing you know it, you have a balance owing to the CRA and they are charging you penalty and interest.  It can easily escalate from there!

As well, for 4-years I was the Tax Manager for Computershare Trust Company of Canada / Computershare Investor Services and was responsible for the preparation, filing and submission of tax slips to the millions of investors Computershare kept track of, so I understand more than anyone the importance of getting slips out to the holders on time, and accurately, and then to the government on time and without penalty.

So here is a copy of my list of slips, their mailing date from the provider.

RRSP – If you were one of the many who used the March 1st, 2014 deadline to make your contribution for 2013, then you would be receiving that slips beginning March 15th.  All other RRSP contributions which were made prior to the 60-day extended period saw their tax slips mailed beginning at the turn of the calendar.  They are T4RSP slips and RL2’s for residents of Quebec.

T5 / RL3 and NR4’s begin to get mailed January 17th.

T4RIF / RL2 withdrawals from a RRIF, are mailed the 3rd week of February.

T5/RL3 for investment interest income coming from a mutual fund are mailed the 3rd week of February.

T3 / RL16 reporting dividend income from mutual funds are mailed by the 3rd week of February.

Receipt of contribution from an estate rolling over funds to a spouse produce a T4RSP / T4RIF / RL2 – issued for receipt of contributions from an estate rolling over funds to a spouse – sent  out the first week in February

T4A / RL1 are issued for RESP withdrawals and are produced and mailed the first week in February.

NR4’s showing income for non-residents of Canada are mailed the 3rd week in February.

If during the year you received Employment Insurance (EI), Old Age Security (OAS) or Canada Pension Plan (CPP) payments, you can follow this 3-step process to make sure everything is in order and get your tax slips online directly from Service Canada;

Hope this helps!

Happy filing.

inTAXicating Tax Services for all your tax needs and specializing in providing solutions to your tax problems.

416.833.1851

info@intaxicating.ca

I am Writing a Book to Help Canadians Deal With Tax Problems. Preview Inside.

I have always wanted to write a book to help Canadians deal with tax problems, or tax debts with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

There is no better time than the present, so here is a preview;

Chapter 1.

Call me!

Chapter 2.

If you have a tax debt, tax problem, are behind on filing, made errors on your return, missed deductions or slips or if you owe money and cannot pay. You need a straight shooter who can tell you what to do and do so without costing you an arm and a leg.

Welcome to my company.

It is my goal to help each and every Canadian who has a tax problem through either a free 15-minute consultation, a one-hour meeting or through engaging my services.

I’m going to tell you what you need to know and not what you need to hear. If you are exposed to the CRA, I will tell you. If you are not legally required to pay a debt, I will tell you that too.

What I won’t do is mislead you into thinking that the CRA spends all day searching your keywords looking for you, unless you have done something criminally wrong, then I am recommending you speak with one of Canada’s top tax lawyers who will treat you in the same no-nonsense manner.

I also won’t lead you to believe that I have an army of former CRA staff at my disposal or that the CRA likes being referred to as the “taxman”. They do not.  My network of CRA tax experts is vast and reside all over Canada.  I have friends still working in the CRA and many who have left.  I firmly believe that knowing what questions to ask is much more valuable than the answers given.  I know what questions to ask, and I will ask them for you.

I do, however, have 10-years of experience at the Canada Revenue Agency – as a collector – and as a resource officer, field officer, team leader, and I have significant experience in fairness / taxpayer relief, managing the Director’s Liability and s.160 inventory, and for 5-years, I trained the collections staff at Canada’s largest Tax Services Office how to do their jobs.  I cannot and will not list all the areas of the CRA that I worked in, because I wanted to learn, experience and help taxpayers while working there and I still want to do the same now that I am on the other side of the negotiating table.

Common sense tells me that if you have a tax, collections, or enforcement problem, you do not need a trustee, or a tax lawyer, or an accountant, but you need a former CRA collections expert to steer you clear of trouble.

Don’t let the CRA or other “tax” firms decide that you need to go bankrupt. You decide!

If you need forms filed with the CRA, or tax returns prepared for individuals or businesses, I work with the best accountants and accounting firms who share my philosophy of putting you first.  Together we make sure your past filings are accurate and that you have claimed the correct amounts legally allowed.  We don’t add things or make up deductions because that is what gets you in trouble.

My firm is Toronto-based, however accessible throughout Canada and around the world – as my clients have found out.

I’m not going to pull out a horse and pony show and try to entice you with fancy expensive ads which I will need to charge you extra to pay for – but I’m going to listen, process, and advise you what to do based on my experiences and based on 17-years of handling matters with the CRA, IRS, Revenu Quebec and with WSIB and the CRTC.  I spent the majority of my time at the CRA working on the corporate side, so GST/HST, payroll, corporate tax and personal taxes are all in my areas of expertise.

I will tell you what the CRA is doing, and what they will be doing next. It’s nice to be a step ahead!

And throughout this whole process, you have to understand that the CRA will be working with us to resolve your tax matter and not working against us. It’s what they get paid to do. The only difference is they do it with us and not against us.

Conclusion:

So, why reach out to me? Why not!

I can be reached at info@intaxicating.ca, or by phone at 416.833.1581.

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