The Biggest Taxation No-No’s. EVER!

Canada Revenue Agency
Canada Revenue Agency (Photo credit: John Bristowe)

Working in the Canada Revenue Agency for almost 11-years, I learned a thing or two about how the CRA operates as well as what is a red flag for them and what the CRA often let’s slide.  It helps when I negotiate with them that I know their policies, procedures and how to navigate their systems as well as they do, or even better.  I’ve used this knowledge to help my clients save millions of dollars of taxes.

With that in mind, I want to help you save unnecessary expenses, so I decided to reveal the 8 Biggest Taxation No-No’s EVER.

8.  Try and do it yourself.  Taxation is a complicated topic for many and if you don’t live and breathe tax then you should consider either hiring someone to help you along or at the very least hire someone to set you up correctly and who will take the time to learn about you and your business so that you are getting all of the tax deductions and credits available to you all the time.

7.  Think that you are above taxation.   Everyone pays taxes no matter their income level; whether it be income tax, payroll tax, or consumption tax.  To think that there is a magic “Pay no tax” card is a huge mistake and the CRA does not take “detaxers” or the underground economy lightly..

6.  Brag about not paying taxes / scamming the government.  Our tax system here in Canada is a self-assessing system with the government’s responsibility being the checks and balances.  It’s not that they don’t trust you but… They don’t trust you, which is why they have huge departments responsible for catching the tax cheats.  If the government doesn’t get you, your ego might;

5.  Post information online about yourself or your business and think that the government will not see it and use it against you.   The “government” are a bunch of people like you and I who are trying to make a living.  If you claim you are suffering from financial hardship yet post pictures on Facebook showing yourself living it up, or if you claim to be Canadian and your profile states that you are born in the US, the collectors or auditors will find it and us it against you.

4.  File late, miss installment payments or fail to make remittances.  All this will do is add penalties and interest onto your tax account and there are very few excuses the government will accept to have them reversed or cancelled.   Many large tax debts start in just this way.

3.  Carry a balance.  If at all possible it is critical to make sure that you do not carry a balance with the CRA.  With interest being charged at a floating rate of just over 10%, compounding daily, your balance can grow at a shocking rate.  The CRA is not a bank and you should not think it’s okay to treat their debt as a bank loan.

2.  Don’t be afraid to search online for your tax advice.  Not only has the CRA moved to strengthen their online presence but there are a lot of professionals online who have posted their experiences with the CRA and steps they took to resolve tax problems for themselves and their clients.  Anyone suggestion otherwise is doing so to avoid you from finding out there are other – better – tax solution providers in Canada.

1.  Thinking that anyone can help you.  This is the absolute biggest tax no-no I have encountered in 17-years of taxation.  If you have an electrical problem at home, do you call a plumber?  Would you ask a dentist to perform open-heart surgery?  How about asking a former auditor to help you with a collections problem, or an appeals officer to help you correct your payroll nanny account issues?  How about going to an Insolvency firm to have a lien removed from you house which was placed there by CRA collections?

It doesn’t make sense but don’t get me wrong.  If you have created a tax crime, such as tax evasion,  you will need a tax lawyer, and if you need tax returns prepared, they need to be done by an accountant, and a former CRA auditor is the right solution if you have a difficult, complex corporate tax audit underway,

In taxation it is critical that you have experience on your side when you work to resolve your tax issues and understanding the way the CRA operates is more important than you could imagine.

Tax debts begin with audit or compliance issues.

Then they go to collections.

Collections leads to enforcement – garnishments, requirements to pay (RTP), liens, seizures, director’s liability, and much more.

You need experienced former collections staff to help you, and with almost 11-years of progressive collections experience in all areas, from collector to resource officer, to team leader, believe me when I say that experience helps!

When your representative knows more than the collector, or trained that collector, you know you have the best representation possible.

To leave your $250,000 tax liability to anyone else would keep me up at night too.

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CRA Tax Auditors Target Condo Sellers in Hunt for Flippers – Nothing New!

We, at inTAXicating, came across an article this morning in the Toronto Star newspaper entitled; “Tax Auditors Target Condo Sellers in Hunt for Flippers“, and immediately read through looking for something new or developing in the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) battle to tax those who should be taxed on taxable transactions.

But there was nothing new here.  While the article does, however, get a very important message across in a somewhat alarming and shocking manner probably meant to draw the attention of those who have no interest in taxation – the truth speaks for itself.

Capital Gains tax or proof, please.
Capital Gains tax or proof, please.

CRA auditors have always been looking at condo sellers and house sellers to determine who are flipping these properties for profit,  If they are, then they have to pay a capital gains tax on the profit they make during the flip.  If they hide it and are found out, then they have to pay the capital gains tax on the flip, plus they get required to pay a penalty plus interest.

For those of you who are unaware of what the article said, it essentially outlined that there are citizens who were not aware that if they buy a property and sell it within 6 months, or if they buy it but never move into it and sell it. they are liable to be taxed by the CRA, in what a Toronto tax lawyer referred to as “abusive audit practices” by the CRA.

The article seems to focus on the fact that the CRA audit group are reviewing condo sales in the two hottest markets – Toronto and Vancouver – for instances where a flip was evident and in doing so are trying to find the truth.  To do that, the CRA follows their usual practices which means some people get phone calls, some get letters, some legal warning letters and some just get assessed.  In the Canadian tax system, the burden of proof is on the taxpayer, so in this case they would have to prove (or explain) why they should not be subjected to a capital gains tax when all evidence points to it being owed.

At issue here is that there are some people who were forced to sell within that 6-month window due to circumstances beyond their control and they have been hit with a massive tax bill – or in the most recent case I successfully defended, a letter from the CRA real estate audit group indicating that the CRA would assess unless other information was provided.

From the article, even the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) stated; “the rules are generally clear on the amount of time one has to occupy a unit (as a principal residence) to benefit from a capital gains exemption.”

So what is the problem?

According to this article, the law does not stipulate a specific amount of time so people have been receiving assessments “for at least 50 per cent of any gains made if they’ve sold before living in the property 18 months to two years.”  An assessment like that, I would certainly challenge!

The CRA, however, through their spokesman Sam Papadopoulos, said; “We’ve just been a little more aggressive in sending out questionnaires.”

In addition to keeping an eye on capital gains, the CRA also are seeing an increase in GST/HST housing rebates being claimed, so if a letter is sent your way regarding missing information, it is advisable to provide the information to the CRA, or seek professional help, such as the Tax professionals at Intaxicating Tax Services to make sure the CRA is comfortable with the information provided and that your interests are represented throughout the discussions.

While I would not agree that this is a “full frontal attack on everybody out there who has bought and sold a property”, I would recommend anyone who received a questionnaire or an assessment notice from the CRA but do not fall in the 6-month window, or who were required to sell for reasons beyond their control, to contact us, because we can help.

Recently, we helped out a former Live-in caregiver who came to Canada almost 20 years ago, and worked 2 jobs to buy her dream home.  She purchased a condo which was scheduled to be built in 15 months, and when her floor was ready, she moved in.  When tragedy struck her family back home, she was required to sell the condo and send home money to help her family.

To add insult to injury, the CRA sent her a bill for $45,000.

She had no idea such a tax existed and was an emotional wreck at the time we met.

After 2 weeks of discussions and negotiations with the CRA auditor (some of which surrounded our clients actual ability to pay for a condo based on her income of $350/yr – the auditor was reading the educational expenses, not the income field) our client received a letter from the CRA stating that the CRA would not be raising the assessment.

Problem solved.

So no matter what tips or tricks, or techniques the CRA utilizes, the approach is consistent;  If you have the facts, and you can support them, then do so.  If the CRA disputes your facts, then you can file an objection and you can present your case to an appeals officer.

If you have questions, or don’t know something, then ask.

Contact us today for a free consultation, or to help you resolve your tax problem(s) once and for all.

inTAXicating Tax Services is a full-service boutique tax firm run by actual former CRA staff who over a combined 22 years have learned, applied and taught other CRA staff about the ins and outs of the CRA’s collection and enforcement divisions.

Who better to trust that the people who trained the CRA on how to do their jobs!

Our website is http://www.intaxicating.ca.  Our blog can be found on our website, and here, at http://www.intaxicating.wordpress.com

We can be found on Facebook here, and on Twitter, here.

Our email is info@intaxicating.ca

 

The Importance of a Social Media Policy and Compliance to that Policy

English: Data from April 2011 Editor Survey th...
April 2011 Editor Survey that lists Social Media activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a user of the Internet, for work or for play, it is extremely important to know and understand what the consequences can be when you use social media.  

Many do not.

I am constantly amazed that people get caught doing, saying or showing things online which they later regret and the consequences of their actions can be very severe.  It certainly changes the way people see them, and can change the way people treat them, with bullying, job loss, or lack of promotion some of the worse case scenarios.

I learned this the hard way.  In the almost nine years since I started blogging I did so with the mistaken assumption that no one read my it and that the 5-10 hits a day were complete strangers who arrived there by error.  Not having any comments, and being able to see the search engine terms used to get there it was easy for me to write whatever I wanted in complete anonymity.  My blog was my forum to bitch, moan and complain about whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it.  Getting it all off my chest made me feel great.

Then it all came crashing down.  I can recall this as if it were yesterday, when I hit send on one particular post from 2005 in which I complained about my employer and also lambasted some colleagues for their lack of work ethic.  I never thought for a moment that there was a remote possibility that anyone from my company was reading my blog and that the information I wrote in that post, or in any of my previous posts were going to be spread around the office and used against me, like they were.  

My hits over the next couple days went from 5-10 to 150 on that post and I started to receive anonymous ominous comments on that post.  Stuff started to disappear from my desk, and I would get hang-ups in the middle of the night.  Then some of my colleagues would start random conversations with me and include information from my blog that they would not have known if they did not read it there, like “how was the movie you saw Saturday with your wife at Yorkdale.”  I was perplexed. 

It was soon thereafter when I realized that I had made a really stupid mistake and if I wanted to continue to work there without having my stuff disappear, I would need to go into damage control and implement my own social media policy.

Some of the key points are below;

1) No mention of work. Ever.  I’m a blogger building my brand first and foremost.
2) No mention of names of my family or friends unless they give me permission.
3) No posting of pictures on any form of social media except for family pictures on Facebook that I would be comfortable sharing with the world or a future employer.  
4) I would never say anything online that I do not believe in or would not say face-to-face to someone.
5) If I am going to be critical of something or someone it had to be fact based and that required sources and a ton of research.  No gossip or hearsay.
6) I am my own brand. I want my brand to be respected and taken seriously so I will have to treat others that way – good and bad.

The next thing I had to do was take a step back and see how this new social media policy worked for.  I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress and kept it hidden until I was sure that I could play by these rules.  Once I came out from hiding, I not only started to play fairly, but I started to informally educate others about the consequences of using social media for I realized that whatever you post that can be traced back to you, or your brand, can and will be used against you at some point in your life.

I have seen people tagged in photos where they are with friends and drinking, and the picture is most unflattering – maybe they are winking but look drunk – or the comments to a photo are unflattering or rude, or a photo taken in an inappropriate position – like on the toilet, and even an innocent comment like “I’m bored” which shows up next to a mention about your place of employment.  All these examples can have long-lasting consequences far from the original intent.  Ignoring them is not an option and just removing them usually does not suffice either.  Not being in that situation is the best choice a person can make, and letting others know if equally as important.

I’m being tough on myself, but it’s nothing compared to the tolerance that certain industries have for themselves and when tracking their massive employee base. 

Financial services, for example, can be especially tough due to the high regulation and as an employer they must ensure that their employees are clear about the organizations expectations and the social media policy.

I, for example, when hiring for my tax units always spends a few minutes to check out the candidates Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and then I Googled them to see if there are any warning flags.  To not do so, would be not be responsible on my behalf.  If they post anything and their profiles are not neat and tidy it means either they are going to be social media nightmares for the company or I am going to have to do a lot of coaching and mentoring them to ensure they don’t get caught online harming the company’s image of their own brand.

One of the first discussions I would have with staff is to caution them about what they say when using certain social media outlets, like LinkedIn.  If they are choosing to comment on posts and join discussions they have to remember that they are not just individuals commenting there but they are also employees so they have to be cautious to keep their comments on topic and away from anything which could get them fired or the company sued.

I treat all my online activities, whether blogged, tweeted, liked or commented on, which relate to any external business as being monitored and recorded by someone if the company is not doing it themselves.  I expect the same from my staff, my colleagues and my peers.  I know when I talk to staff who are not practicing safe, social media that it is just a matter of time before it catches up to them.

Implementing an effective social media compliance process isn’t rocket science especially when the company has a clear social media policy and everyone abides by it and that policy has to be more than reactionary and punitive.  Effective companies outline how they interact with the world via social media and how they expect their employees to do so as well.  Leading organizations empower employees to build the corporate brand but it is certainly a team effort every step of the way.

Almost every other department has a key role in shaping the message.  Marketing defines the scope of the message, the IT group outlines which social technologies will be used and provides the devices to be used while the legal and social media compliance groups are critical to ensure that the messages meet the necessary regulatory criteria.  Once all that is in order it is absolutely critical for the training and learning group to be engaged so that the organization be trained to understand the pros and cons of using the various forms of social media, the most common being Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. 

What most employees in large organizations do not know unless they are trained is that any output on a social media platform goes through a series of serious checks and balances before someone hits send.  Static content, for example – such as Facebook and LinkedIn profiles – require documented pre-approval before being posted online, while interactive content such as updates to Twitter, LinkedIn, and other networks do not need to be vetted, however, regularly monitoring the content is extremely critical to ensure that there are no compliance violations or negative comments. 

What most employees fail to understand is that these tight rules not only apply to business-related items posted by the organization but also if it comes from the employees personal social media accounts.  It pays to think twice before speaking about your organization, their practices, clients or earnings.

Organizations keeping a close eye on their social media content in order to control the public message and ensure it is compliant with the organization’s policies and procedures.  It also allows organizations to control their message and that makes sense from a brand perspective as quick accurate responses to comments shows a proactive organization while quick responses to, or removal of, derogatory or inappropriate messages displays a proactive social media policy.  Keeping negative comments unanswered in a thread is a message to the general public that it is okay to pile on with more negative comments and spam the site.  If these comments are removed and/or responded to quickly than others will think twice before hitting send. 

Even prior to the monitoring the output, employees usually are not aware that many organizations prefer to control the message by utilizing tools to prevent rogue posts from ever hitting the web.  Organizations assign limited permissions to certain employees and once that employee is finished creating a tweet, comment or update it is them moved into a queue to be edited or for managerial review before it moves to the compliance group, then on to marketing before it is approved and posted.

The best of these systems even come with their own archiving tools already built-in as financial services are heavily regulated and keeping all outgoing messages for a certain period of time, are a requirement of regulators.

Banning social communications altogether and hoping for the best, is no longer a viable alternative.  Restricting communication, access to information and people networking is a practice which many organizations have been moving away from since smartphones have become commonplace on the hips of many employees.   There is also the opinion that if organizations continue to resist, that their competitors and customers are moving ahead and talking about them to their current customers and to their potential customers. 

To further that point, many organizations who are already heavy in social media are forging ahead with new social media positions, such as the social media compliance officer who among other things, lines up tweets for management’s approval and works closely with legal, marketing and training to ensure the right message is getting out and that all staff have been trained in a meaningful manner on the risk of non-compliance to these policies both for their personal brand and for their company.

Banks in particular, are moving forward quickly in all areas of social media, and with great reason.  These customers tend to be more affluent and faster adopters of new, expense-cutting technology such as online and mobile banking, which makes them particularly valuable at a time when revenues are low and expense cutting makes the most sense.  Getting them on the bank’s side also helps on the public relations front as these tech savvy folks are just as likely to comment online about good experiences, as they are to complain about bad ones.

So next time you fire up the computer, smartphone or tablet, make sure that before you press send that you are doing so responsibly.  You don’t want to ruin your brand in a manner of seconds (or a few words) considering how long it took you to build it up. 

FATCA Fallout: This was NOT what the IRS intended with the upcoming FATCA Regulations

This image depicts the total tax revenue (not ...
This image depicts the total tax revenue (not adjusted for inflation) for the U.S. federal government from 1980 to 2009 compared to the amount of revenue coming from individual income taxes. The data comes from the Office of Management and Budget’s record of the ‘Budget of the US Government FY 2011’, specifically the ‘Historical Tables, Table 2.1.’ The information is also here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been all over FATCA since March 18th, 2010 when President Obama passed the Hires Act through Congress, aimed at getting Americans working and taxing the wealthy (isn’t that what all socialist and democratic governments do?)  Out of this Act comes FATCA, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act which is set to become law January 1st, 2013 and unlike most new taxes, FATCA changes the way taxation is administered globally.I’m going to outline why FATCA was brought in, what the US government is trying to do, and why there have been a couple of events in the past 2 weeks which have come to light which leads me to believe that this was not what the US government was thinking when they pushed the Hires Act through Congress.

So FATCA, in case you are unaware, is on its way to becoming the world’s first global tax on Americans, administered by financials institutions and non-financial entities around the world… OR else.  Can the IRS do this, you ask?  Apparently yes they can.  Why do they need to do this you are wondering?  Because US investors have been evading taxes by hiding their identities from the IRS or they have created offshore companies to hold their investments out of sight and out of reach of the IRS.  The net result here is that the IRS needed to find a way to track down all these US persons who should be filing US tax returns disclosing all their worldwide income but are either not filing, nor including these items.

The estimated lost tax revenues from these US taxpayers using offshore schemes to evade US income taxes is in excess of $100 billion dollars per year.  Think the US could use these funds?  Yeah, I thought so too.  Say hello to FATCA.
So how can the US crack down on these US persons who are hiding their funds?  Well first they tried asking some foreign banks for a list of Americans who they had on their registry.  That did not go over well at all.  The banks said, you have a specific person you want information on, we will give you details, however the IRS didn’t know, they wanted everyone and the foreign banks we not going to give us their revenue sources.  So the US government sued beginning with  Switzerland.  Not the best way to win friends, globally, by suing them, so the US government and the IRS them began pushing FATCA on everyone.
In a nutshell, it requires all foreign banks and foreign institutions to provide information to the IRS as soon as they find a US person on their system / in their bank.  The IRS intends on using this information to locate, audit and potentially prosecute US persons who are evading the paying of their fair share of taxes.  The scope of FATCA is global.  The complexity of FATCA is massive.
The IRS figures through FATCA that every organization globally will opt in to FATCA and will become agents of the IRS and within 5 years will have flushed out every US person to the IRS – both those who are complying and those and those who are not (those who are not have a catchy new name: recalcitrant).
The IRS even offers a way out of FATCA if you are an US person… Just give the IRS 1/3rd of your worldwide income and renounce your US citizenship and you’re out.  For good.
Recently, however, I came across two fantastic articles through my FATCA research which clearly shows me that the IRS and the US government may not have thought through the full implications of FATCA.
So here is problem number 1, in a great article from Bloomberg;

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-08/u-s-millionaires-told-go-away-as-tax-evasion-rule-looms.html.  This article outlines the international response to FATCA as the deadline to sign up with the IRS gets closer and closer.  Instead of gearing up systems to flush out these US investors who have been hiding millions and millions of dollars (the FATCATs), these foreign financial institutions (FFI’s) and non-financial foreign entities (NFFE’s) are going through their foreign policies to find ways to instead remove Americans from their business.  The costs associated with complying with FATCA outweighs the benefit of US monies.  Oh oh.

Does the IRS and US government really want to prohibit US persons from investing outside of the US?

Problem number 2 came recently when Brazilian-born Eduardo Saverin, the billionaire Facebook co-founder, renounced his US citizenship he gained as a teenager in advance of the company’s impending IPO and moved to Singapore to avoid paying capital gains taxes on his approximately $3 billion stake in Facebook.

This is FATCA response #2.  Renounce your citizenship and you’re out.  So instead of staying in the US and paying taxes, the very rich do not appreciate carrying the taxation burden for a tax and spend government and they take their wealth to another country where it will be appreciated.

Caught red-faced the US government needed to respond so they looked to do to Saverin what they did to the foreign banks who had US persons on their registry.  They threatened to sue.  Then they changed the law.  The US senate introduced a bill under which any expatriate with either a net worth of $2 million, or an average income tax liability of at least $148,000, will be automatically presumed to be leaving the country for tax purposes — enabling the IRS to impose a tax on any investment gains that person makes in the future.  Crazy.  Greedy.

Apparently Saverin filed to give up his US citizenship in January of 2011, but the news didn’t surface until the federal government released the information in a routine report. Saverin may be barred from re-entering the US if authorities decide he left the country for tax reasons because you don’t want a super-rich guy coming into your country and buying things!  That will show him.

Singapore doesn’t have a capital gains tax. It does tax income earned in that nation, as well as “certain foreign- sourced income.”  Saverin won’t escape all US taxes because Americans who give up their citizenship owe what is effectively an exit tax on the capital gains from stock holdings.

Saverin maintains that his renunciation of American citizenship, which actually took place last September, wasn’t a ploy to skip out on American taxes, but rather an attempt to free himself from FATCA, which he described as a burdensome restrictions on American investors abroad. US citizens are severely restricted as to what they can invest in and where they can maintain accounts.  Many foreign funds and banks won’t accept Americans so it was for financial reasons and not tax related.

It’s true that FATCA is making life more difficult for US persons, including the IRS’ global reach (many countries tax based on residency); foreign bank account reporting rules; and FATCA.  As a result of all the regulations, some foreign banks are dumping more U.S. customers.

Saverin is hardly the only one taking this particular route to big tax savings. The number of those renouncing US citizenship stands at around 1,800 last year.

While I cannot see the US government pulling back on FATCA I think they need to look again at what they are trying to accomplish and how they plan on getting there before all their high-income earners not in the US disappear from the radar within 5-10 years of FATCA being in force.  So the tax pool will grow, then diminish and the IRS will be looking for newer ways to increase tax revenues.

Social Media Code of Conduct

Please read this post;

http://rinkcomms.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/adopt-a-social-media-code-of-conduct/

I totally agree that there is nothing better for brand recognition and respect than having a presence on the web. I also agree that with that presence comes a huge responsibility to keep the brand in the most positive light.

In one of my earlier stops in my taxation career I came across some Twitter comments from a young lady who had started working in one of our US locations and in her tweets she was trashing the company and doing this while sitting at her desk.

I notified IT and she was removed from the company for conduct detrimental to the company.

Bottom line… Don’t be stupid. If you are supposed to be working from home or out of the office don’t update your facebook status. If you want to use your facebook account to post pictures of you getting drunk of half-naked, make sure it’s viewable only by your friends because you don’t want your potential employer at a law firm, CA office, etc. seeing you like that and letting it cloud their judgement of you.

Be smart.