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.

 

Expected Changes to CRA’s VDP: Preview

On June 9th, 2017, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) launched a 60-day online consultation with Canadians on the Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP), in which the CRA is seeking input from the public to ensure that the program is more “responsive, innovative and fairer for all Canadians”.

One of the key asks by the CRA is this question; “We are asking you – when should the VDP apply? Should it apply only to those who knowingly choose to not pay their taxes or also to those who make mistakes on their returns?”

Based on that question, many organizations have been putting out materials stating that the CRA is changing the program and that it is already been decided, however that is not the case, yet, as the consultation period has not even ended.

What Is Voluntary Disclosure?

The Voluntary Disclosures Program (VDP) gives Canadian taxpayers a chance to change a tax return they have previously filed or file a return that should have filed and by making these changes through the VDP, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) may give relief from prosecution and penalties.

By applying to the CRA under the VDP, a Canadian taxpayer might only pay the taxes owing plus interest.

The disclosure MUST meet all four of the following conditions to be valid;
1. A penalty would apply
2. It is voluntary, which means it is made before the CRA takes any compliance action against you
3. the information is at least one year overdue
4. it includes all the relevant information – meaning it is full and complete.

Anyone can use the VDP, including individuals, businesses, employers, payers, trusts and estates, whether a resident or a non-resident of Canada.

Why Changes to the VDP?

When the CRA found out that there were Canadian taxpayers hiding money offshore, they began to consider whether the current VDP was fair for all Canadians. Should a taxpayer who forgets to include an income source be granted the same relief as a taxpayer hiding money overseas and failing to disclose that income in order to reduce the amount of taxes they would have to pay in Canada?

The answer clearly is no, it’s not fair, and the CRA wants to change the program to make it easier for actual errors and omissions to be fixed, while making it much more difficult to allow tax evaders to utilize the program to avoid prosecution.

The most meaningful change expected in the VDP is the introduction of a two-track system:
1) the General Program, and
2) the Limited Program.

The Limited Program would limit the availability of the program in certain circumstances or where there is a “major non-compliance” as such relief for penalty and partial interest relief could be seen as “overly generous.”
Under the General Program, taxpayers who qualify for the VDP will not be charged penalties or referred for criminal prosecution with respect to the disclosure, and may be entitled to partial relief for any interest in respect of assessments preceding the three most recent years of returns required to be filed.

Whereas under the Limited Program, applications that disclose “major non-compliance” will not receive the same level of relief as they would under the current VDP. Taxpayers will not be referred for criminal prosecution and will not be charged a gross negligence penalty with respect to the disclosure, however, other penalties will be charged as applicable such as a late filing penalty, a failure to remit penalty, an instalment penalty or an omission penalty. Additionally, no interest relief will be provided.

What Might Constitute “Major Non-Compliance?”

Major non-compliance might look like this:
• Taxpayers who undertook active efforts to avoid detection through the use of offshore vehicles or other means
• Large dollar amounts being disclosed
• Multiple years of non-compliance
• A sophisticated taxpayer, or use of sophisticated tax avoidance techniques under the advice of a sophisticated professional, and
• The disclosure is made the CRA has released information aimed at cracking down on taxpayers failing to disclose all their income

The determination of whether an application should be processed under the Limited Program will be made on a case by case basis.

Other Considerations
While determining the status of an application to the VDP, the CRA will also consider;
• If they will require payment in full of the estimated taxes owing as a condition of acceptance
• If transfer pricing cases and applications from corporations with gross revenue in excess of $250 million qualify
• If applications that disclose income from the proceeds of crime will be allowed access to the program

The CRA will continue to cancel VDP applications if they learn that the disclosure was not full and complete, or if was intentionally inaccurate.

The release of the changes to the CRA’s VDP will be announced in the fall, and the above is speculation as to what the new program will look like. If you, or anyone you know has failed to fully or accurately disclosure income, it’s best for them to speak to a professional now, especially before there are changes to the program which might disqualify them.
We, at Goldhar TAX Solutions, are always available to discuss the CRA’s VDP and you can find us at http://www.goldhartaxsolutions.ca, or send us an email to tax@goldhar.ca

 

“New” CRA Powers are Not so New after all! Unless…

Recent radio advertising and newspaper or online articles would have you believe that the CRA has been ramping up staff in order to break down your door in the middle of the night and arrest you for tax fraud.

Deep down inside you knew that you should have opened a BN number and GST/HST account for your child\s lemonade stand because even though they were significantly under the $30,000 sales threshold, if registered, you could have claimed the Input Tax Credits – but you didn’t and the CRA wants their money!

You also know that if you had a question, the CRA call centre were going to mislead you, or lie to you so that you would be forced to pay even more money.

You also know that you might need help for a tax accountant, tax lawyer, tax broker, tax solutions firm, or tax audit specialist… but you cannot choose because the different names must mean they do different things and you don’t know which category you fall into, and … the CRA are so coming to get you… now!

(Is that rustling in the bushes in front of my house?)

spyingWell all of these new powers and the threats that they are going to break-down your door and arrest you on the spot are not really true.

You only have to fear the CRA breaking down your door (really the RCMP, but I’m sure the CRA would be there somewhere along the way) if you have done something wrong.  Very wrong.  Criminally wrong.

You should be concerned if the CRA knows you’ve done something criminally wrong, or have been involved in terrorist financing or activity because they’ll pass that along to the police.

The Canada Revenue Agency gained the little-noticed new authority, which does not require a judicial warrant, through an amendment tucked into the government’s most recent budget bill.

Previously, confidentiality provisions in the law prevented the CRA from handing information about suspected wrongdoing, on its own initiative, to law enforcement.

The exception was information that pointed to tax-related crimes.

The new provisions apply to offences including breaking and entering, vehicle theft, arson, corruption and kidnapping and in return, the CRA can now receive information from local authorities about any offence with a minimum prison term, or one with a maximum sentence of 14 years.

The list of offences is broad and is a significant shift in confidentiality policy allowing the CRA to pass along information to law authorities without a court-ordered warrant, even when the alleged crime(s) have nothing to do with taxes.

Interim procedures for administering the new powers were issued to all CRA employees in June 2016 not too long after the legislation received royal assent.

The intended use of this new tool, is that an exchange should occur when an employee gathers information in the course of their regular duties.

This information exchange was intended to be one-way and would be closely controlled through a set of strict criteria.

As an aside, it would have been nice to know who might be carrying on criminal activity, when I was working at the CRA and went to visit a business to determine why they stopped filing GST returns, only to learn that they were conducting illegal activities and was physically threatened before getting the heck out of there.

The following day the RCMP showed up, cleaned out the place and arrested the operators.

I never did get my outstanding GST returns, however, which could have been prosecuted as a criminal offense (but was not).

All potential referrals to police will be vetted by the agency’s criminal investigations personnel and must be approved by the assistant commissioner of the department’s compliance programs branch, CRA has reported.

The key points to remember are this;

  1. If you happen to have partaken in a criminal activity, you might not want to disclose that to the CRA collector.
  2. Make sure to stay compliant!  File up to date and don’t give the CRA reasons for looking for stuff.
  3. Take all of the tax-related advertising with a grain of salt.  Their intention is to scare you and force you to drop a ton of cash at their business.  Instead, I recommend you do your research, ask questions and get the solution that fits your tax problem.
  4. If you’re not sure… Ask.  Then use your judgement.

 

Tax Freedom Day, 2017. Working For Ourselves Now… Theoretically.

June 9, 2017 is Tax Freedom Day!

What is Tax Freedom Day?

Does it really exist?

What might it mean to me?

In their annual report, the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think-tank added up all forms of taxation — from income and sales taxes, to more hidden costs such as gasoline taxes, carbon taxes, tobacco and alcohol taxes, municipal property taxes, payroll taxes and even CPP and EI premiums — to come up with a figure for the overall tax burden for Canadian families, and this year, they have determined that the average Canadian family with two or more people will earn $108,674 and pay 43.4% in taxes.

Based on the Fraser Institute math, 100% of income earned thus far in 2017 has been gobbled up by government in taxes, and only now are you working for yourself until the end of the year.

Last year, in 2016, it came a day earlier, on June 8th and because of variances in all types of taxes in different provinces, Tax Freedom Day differs across the country, ranging from May 21st in Alberta to June 25th in Newfoundland and Labrador.

One of the reasons for the extra day is to account for the fact that Canadians’ tax bill has risen, on average, by $1,126 this year, according to the Fraser Institute. Of that increase, $542, came from higher income taxes, but sales taxes (up $311) and other energy-related taxes (up $204) also took a bigger bite while liquor, tobacco, amusement, and other excise taxes, payroll and health taxes, and import duties all decreased.

The Ottawa-based Broadbent Institute, however, disputes the math behind the annual Fraser Institute report, because the Fraser Institutes uses “average” tax rates instead of median tax rates.

To come up with its “average” tax rates, the Fraser Institute simply adds up the amount of cash income earned by a taxpayer, and then divides that by the number of people. It then takes “outliers” and excludes those extremes from the calculations.

The Broadbent Institute said that skews the numbers in a certain way, and a better way than the average would be to use the median — the exact mid-point between the top and bottom and the rationale behind this surrounds the fact that the average income of Canada will always be higher than the median because of the small number of very high-income earners in Canada, which skews the average income amount higher.

Adding up only federal and provincial income taxes, the “average” Canadian in prime working years (between 25 – 54 years of age) earned $62,600 last year, and paid $12,000 in taxes, or around 19%, according to tax filings. Using the Broadbent method of calculation, the median for that group earned $50,500 last year and paid $7,000, or 14%, in income taxes.

Another main difference is that the figures used by Fraser Institute report doesn’t just include income taxes. It tabulates all sorts of fees that taxpayers don’t directly pay, such as payroll taxes and resource royalties that companies pay when they extract things like oil, minerals and timber.

It also only considers what it calls “cash income” on the other side of the ledger. That excludes employee benefits, investment income from pension plans and other forms of cash income.

The Fraser report also takes into consideration indirect costs like payroll taxes and other taxes which businesses pay in their calculations because even though businesses pay these taxes directly, the cost of business taxation is passed on to Canadians.

So now that we’re working for ourselves, let’s push all levels of government to treat our tax dollars more wisely, and let’s earn as much as possible (while continuing to pay our taxes on time!)

Canada Turns 150, the Income Tax Act turns 100

Bob Hamilton, the Commissioner and Nancy Chabwan, the Deputy Commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Celebrates 100 Years of Taxes with #Canada150

2017 marks not only Canada’s 150th Birthday, but also the 100th Anniversary of the Income Tax Act (ITA).

To mark this anniversary, the CRA has put together a video that highlights the history of income Taxes in Canada and the role they play in building the country and lifestyle of Canadians – as well as how the CRA has evolved to meet the needs of Canadians over the years.

The 150th birthday of Canada is July 1st.

The 100th anniversary of the ITA is September 20th

Watch the video, and share with a de-taxer near you.

Insolvent or in Tax Trouble? Don’t Let the CRA Decide.

Insolvent or Tax Troubles?  Don’t Let the CRA Decide!

In my experiences which includes almost 11-years working in the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), you should never allow the CRA to decide whether you can fix your tax problems or whether you should go bankrupt.

From the stand-point of a CRA Collections officer, going bankrupt is great because it removes the account from their inventory of accounts to collect / resolve.

Your file disappears from their inventory and re-appears in the CRA’s Insolvency Unit inventory.

From the perspective of the Collections Department, it’s case closed!

 

There are 3 ways a CRA Collections Office resolves one of their accounts;

1) Collect it / fix the compliance issue(s)

2) Write it off because they cannot collect it

3) Move the account to the Insolvency unit

 

Go Bankrupt!

The CRA’s Collections Officers are not allowed to tell you to go bankrupt. In fact, they are taught in their training that they are not allowed to do that, and that sentiment is reinforced at all future training they attend.  As someone who trained CRA Collections staff for 5-years, I can confirm this fact.

Collections staff are not allowed to even suggest that you go bankrupt.  They might confirm it, but that’s all they can do.

What CRA Collections can do, however, when they feel you are insolvent, is to force you into bankruptcy via their collection actions, which include but are not limited to;

  1. Bank garnishment
  2. Wage garnishment
  3. Lien on a property
  4. Enhanced garnishment to accounts receivables (in the case of a business)

All the while, why applying these garnishments, the CRA refuses to release the hold on the accounts.

They freeze every source of income that you might have and you are faced with the decision to come up with the funds to pay them, or file for a proposal or an assignment in bankruptcy.

In some cases, a bankruptcy is unavoidable and the right solution, but not in every case, which is why I strongly recommend speaking to someone who is looking after your interests first and foremost.

There are tax-related companies who are fronts for insolvency firms, so they might appear  to want to help you, but they want you to file for bankruptcy, and there are other tax-service firms which gather your information and they unable or unwilling to help you, pass you along to a trustee.

You don’t want or need either of those.

You need a tax firm which has the experience in CRA’s collections, and who have the relationships with not only Insolvency firms, but mortgage brokers, reputable accountants and investment professionals so that you’re options are laid out for you to decide the best option.

Not the CRA.

In order to resolve your tax issues you need to disclose the details so your options can be determined, and you need your tax help to do the same.

Ask your tax-help the following questions;

  1. Are you committed to finding me a tax-solution first.
  2. If that solution is not going to be accepted by the CRA, what other options do you feel would work.

Don’t be weary if a firm wants to charge you a small fee to diagnose and plan out your solution.

You should be weary if they want to charge you a significant amount of money to diagnose it  and not give you a plan.  If they want to keep the plan a secret, and not educate you along the way, it’s because there is no plan.

Likely their solution it to drag you along the process knowing that the CRA will come along and lower the boom and then suggest to you that your only option is to conveniently have them file bankruptcy for you.

Don’t ask the CRA if you should go bankrupt.  You might not like the answer.

If you owe money to the CRA and you’re not sure if the debt is a tax matter which can be resolved, or if bankruptcy or a proposal are better options, just ask!  Send an email to info@intaxicating.ca and let’s talk!  We’re here for you.

Tips To Keep the CRA Collections Group Happy!

The following are tips to keep the CRA’s collections department happy.

This list in not fully inclusive of everything that you can do because you cannot send them gifts, they have to reject or toss them, and if you do their work for them – they might like that for a bit – until there are no more accounts, and then they will have no more work to do, and then no job.

 

So here are a few tips to keep CRA happy…

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  If they have to contact you, they’re already angry.
  2. Don’t be a jerk on the phone to them.  Everything you say goes into a permanent diary and that diary is summarized semi-annually.  You don’t want anyone who accesses your account to think you’re a jerk
  3. Don’t accuse them of being out to get you…  They likely have 400-500 accounts and their goal is to collect some, write some off and let the others pay or go bankrupt.  Just show them some progress on any of those fronts and you’ll be in much better standing.
  4. Ask for the best and lowest settlement offer.  The CRA does NOT do that unless it is through insolvency or a formal proposal in bankruptcy.  The IRS settles debts, but this is not the IRS… The CRA is WAY better!
  5. If you enter into a payment arrangement, ensure there are sufficient funds in the account to pay the cheques. If a cheque is returned NSF (not sufficient funds), then the CRA collections officer will take immediate collection actions and getting those Requirements to Pay removed can be next to impossible.
  6. Keep current!!!  Whether during the period of a payment arrangement, or just through discussions with the CRA make sure you are up-to-date on all filings and payments (including GST/HST, income tax, payroll taxes, etc).   If you fail to remain current, the CRA can – and likely will – end the payment arrangement and pressure you for more.
  7. Understand that the CRA is not your bank, and treat them that way.  At a bank, you are earning credit, but at the CRA, in collections, you are paying 10% interest compounding daily… It’s not in your best interest to take your time re-paying them.
  8. If you have nothing to hide (and even if you do have something to hide), be honest with the CRA collections officer. Things you say may cause the CRA collections officer to become concerned.
  9. Provide the information that is requested by the CRA collections officer. If the CRA collections officer trusts you, he/she will be more likely to exercise discretion before pressing confirm on that Requirement To Pay.